Garmin Saves Marriages

by Bianca @ Italian Fix

Driving from Grossetto region (in southern Tuscany) to the Amalfi Coast takes about six hours — with a few quick stops for food. Our destination was Positano.

If your trip to Italy includes Rome, I would suggest sleeping in Rome a few nights. That would cut the driving time in half, and it’s “on the way” between these two places.

Obviously Rome is a destination in itself but we’re not visiting any big cities (apart from Palermo, Sicily) on this trip.

I’ll tell you why in a minute.

We were invited to an amazing “grigliata” (a BBQ on a wood fire) at the family’s country home of Elisabetta. We couldn’t say no – but we knew lunch in Tuscany meant night driving the Amalfi Coast.

But going to a beautiful outdoor lunch in the mountains with twenty lovely Tuscans trumped any well-laid plans.

In traveling (like in life), when something comes up that sounds better than what you had shakin’ – just go for it. (Plus – isn’t that the fun of traveling — not sticking to a schedule like you’re working.)

The grigliata was amazing of course. I’m really glad we stayed. Their hospitality was so warm and relaxed.

(Basically the opposite of the feeling you get driving through Naples.)

Really though, driving the Autostrade in Italy is a breeze (except in Basilicata and I’ll get to that in another post).

But driving the side roads in places like the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast takes a driver with a strong will to survive. And a strong stomach. If you’re not a confident driver – roads like the one along the Amalfi coast will completely freak you out.

Good thing my hubby has been driving a scooter since he was twelve (back in the day when helmets weren’t required, and it was expected that you’d roll a cigarette, talk to your friend riding behind you, and drive at the same time).

Another note about driving in Italy — it would have been impossible/scary/hard to drive this route in 6 hours without a GPS. See my notes about the GPS below.

#BiancaTravelTip: Seasons

When you come to Italy – you might want to consider what season you’re traveling and wether or not you will ever be back to Italy. If you know you’ll be back (or of you’ve already been here before) you can pick and choose your itinerary based on the season. Of course, if this is The One Trip you’ll be doing to Italy — then forget all the rules and just go for it!

For many of us, here are seasonal considerations:

If you’re planning a trip in the Italian winter months or spring (like November, December, January, February, March) then hit the cities like Venice, Florence, Rome, Milan (and satellite places like Sienna, Lake Garda, Turin, Genoa) Why? Well for a few reasons. First, the beachy places like Cinque Terre, Amalfi, and the islands (Sardinia, Sicily) have limited services in the winter. For example, you might find just a handful of restaurants open in the village of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. And going to the beach when it’s wet and cold isn’t exciting in my books.

Another reason to stick to the cities is that you can spend your afternoons indoors at all the galleries, museum and shops in the cold or the rain. Then go tuck into some delicious wintery food from the best restaurants in the world. Also, Christmas in any large Italian city is fantastic.

Are you planning a trip in high season? The high season is anytime after Easter until the end of September (or end of October is some places). I hear a lot of people talk about traveling Italy in the spring or September to avoid the crowds. September is just as busy as July and early spring can be rainy in the north and the sea can be cold in the whole country.

My personal philosophy is that you don’t come to Italy to avoid crowds. Even if there was not one single tourist in Italy – Italy is inherently just a crowded place. There are 60 million people here and probably double the scooters and cars. Come to Italy to enjoy the vibrant and energetic pace – or else you’ll just go crazy trying to “avoid the crowds.”

Check out my post about the weather in Italy for an overview of the situation.

Of course, you can avoid people entirely (and just hang with crickets and chickens) by renting a car and just staying at country “agriturismi” (farm stays). In the Italian summers stay at places in the mountains (cooler) and in the spring and fall stay anywhere. You can’t visit agriturismi if you travel by train in Italy.

#BiancaTravelTip: Driving

1. Don’t drive in Italy without a GPS. I won’t let you.

Seriously – Garmin saves marriages (just like decorators save marriages during renovations). Alessandro and I have had major bust-ups during tense paper-map reading in the car. We laugh about it now – but pre-Garmin it once took us four hours to complete a two hour journey in Tuscany. We got crazy lost in the hills. And we speak Italian!

2. Consider buying your GPS instead of renting one if you’re renting a car for more than five days. The daily GPS rental rate is 12-20 euros.
I did the math and at 18 euros a day, that’s 126 euros a week. We had two weeks of car rental and 252 euros for a rented GPS is just silly.
For 60 euros, we bought a Garmin, fully loaded with Italian maps. If you bring yours from home, it likely won’t have the European maps loaded, so you’ll need to do that before you go. The alternative is to buy an Italian one online (we used Amazon.it) and ship it to your hotel in Italy. If your navigation (like Tom-Tom, Garmin) is bought in Europe, it will obviously have the correct maps. When we bring ours home to Canada, we will load our Italian Garmin with North American maps. You can also program any language.

Car rental companies gouge for extras like your GPS and child car seats. I hate getting gouged. Of course, you do too.

3. The GPS will fail in some cities. In Palermo, Sicily it’s impossible to rely on a GPS. Our Garmin also failed in a super sketchy part of Naples at night. I now buy paper maps of Italy because if it all goes to shit, I have a backup. I like backups, and I’ll talk about that more in the Positano post.

4. Autostrade are the fast highways in Italy with a max speed of 130 km. The Autostrada and many secondary roads have tolls. In Italy – you don’t drive for free! We paid about 25 euros in tolls for our Tuscan-Amalfi leg. To give you another idea, it’s about 30 euros in tolls from Milan to Cinque Terre (about the same price of a train ticket).

5. I don’t have a specific car rental company that I use. I just go and search online (this year we used Europecar). If you have car rental tips for our travel community here, please leave a comment!

6. There is a wonderful thing on the highways in Italy called Autogrill. Inside Autogrill, they serve amazing food! You can get risotto, salads, fruit and REAL FOOD. And you don’t have to exit the highway – it’s all on the side of the road. One thing I hate about road trips in Canada is being stuck without real food.

Hope these driving and seasonal tips help you with your own trip!

If you have any tips or comments about driving in Italy, I would love to hear them.

With love + lemon gelato from the road,
Bianca

P.S. Follow me on Instagram for more pics of my trip.

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