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Is It Safe To Drive?

So, this coming Nov., we are planning to visit Italy for a couple weeks. As of now, we are planning to fly into Rome, stay a day (we have been before) and then drive to Tuscany where we will stay in Lucca. We would like to have a car to explore all over and that brings me to my question. There are several towns we would love to visit along our way to Lucca from Rome, however we would have all our luggage and I'm concerned about leaving it the car while we stop for lunch or to explore. It doesn't make sense to check into our hotel in Lucca and then backtrack for hours to see these places . . . but . . . is it at all safe to leave our packed car? Thank you!!

Posted by
6438 posts

Yes it is safe, just take anything you can not afford to lose with you when you leave the car. Also you should research more potential problems about driving in Italy, for example, driving in the zones where cars are not permitted. Many tourists who have not made effort to familiarize themselves on the rules of the road in Italy (assuming they are the same everywhere ) often report here about receiving moving violation fines of large amount in the mail after arriving home. If you search "Drive Italy tickets" at the top of the screen you will see this topic has come up often

Posted by
40 posts

Thank you for your reply. I've driven there before, but I will definitely have a look as it's been a very long time. So, if I'm hearing you correctly, we would have to traipse around hill towns, museums and restaurants will all of our luggage with us? It is not safe to leave it locked in the car? That's pretty much what I thought and it's disappointing :(

Posted by
6438 posts

Most base themselves someplace like an agro-tourism and take day-trips from there using the car.

Posted by
3541 posts

Take any valuables with you and do not leave anything in sight. Car break ins are very common. Put away maps or other tourist type info from view.

Posted by
40 posts

Thank you! We would be based in Lucca and plan to make day trips from there, but there are many towns we would like to see on our way there. It makes no sense to backtrack for hours from Lucca when they will be on our route (just way too much unnecessary driving), so I think we will give this a pass and see if we can figure out something less stressful. I don't think driving in this area sounds appealing any longer, sadly, but thank you.

Posted by
1567 posts

I stayed in Lucca and rented a car for a few days to take day trips. The driving from Lucca was quite easy. Driving in Tuscany might be stressful if you're not used to hilly driving on smaller roads.

Posted by
40 posts

Shipping our bags? Hmmmm ... something to think about. I had not considered that.

I don’t mind driving per se. Mountain roads and heights don’t bother me, but thieves do :( :( :(
It simply does not make sense to drive all the way from Rome to Lucca, leave the luggage, then drive all the way back. GRRRRR!!

Well, thank you everyone. I think I will look at other countries that will be easier to navigate and where this sort of thing won’t be a problem

Posted by
2463 posts

I've gotten the impression that car breakins are common in many countries.

Posted by
7185 posts

Choose a car that has a real “trunk” that closes and locks and keeps your valuables out of sight. Avoid estate cars (station wagons) which just has a hatchback and no real trunk. Locking your car while leaving your valuables/luggage in plain sight is not a good idea.

Posted by
1666 posts

I've gotten the impression that car breakins are common in many countries.

Especially the United States.

There was a story on the news the other day about a several breakins at the local ciniplex one evening recently. Windows were smashed in 5 cars.

Posted by
1666 posts

There are several towns we would love to visit along our way to Lucca from Rome.

Are you planning to drive from Rome to Lucca in one day? Which towns do you want to visit?

Personally, I don't see it possible to visit maybe more than two towns in a day on a trip like that. There are places where I'd be more comfortable than others when leaving the car for more than an hour or so. For instance, I'd be more comfortable leaving the car outside the Radda ZTL than parking in the stadium outside the Siena ZTL.

I can't remember if there are any distinguishing stickers that advertise that a car is a rental car. I agree that a car with a trunk might be preferable to a hatchback or SUV, but it might be harder to find. We were rented an SUV in Italy and a hatchback in France. If you procure a car with a trunk, also be sure to put away anything that would identify you as a visitor. Leave nothing in sight in the passenger area. Also put everything out of sight before you arrive to your parking destination and certainly don't open the trunk.

I'm aware that there is theft, but I think sometimes it might be overstated. I also think a lot of it comes from carelessness by the tourist.

Posted by
99 posts

Hi, I've been living in Italy for 30 years and have travelled around quite a bit and have never had my car broken into. I don't think people need to be paranoid about this issue. There are some basic precautions which are useful in any country such as not leaving things in sight in the car and having essential items such as money, documents, essential medication with you and arriving at your parking place ready to set off without opening the boot and showing the world you have something interesting inside. Apart from that you could park in a pay car park with video camera surveillance and controlled access, most sizable towns and cities have them and in tiny and untouristy villages in Tuscany or most other parts of you are unlikely to need them.... Especially in November! Some places are notorious for car theft (Pisa for example I was reading on another forum, or Sicily), but even so such problems will only effect a very small percentage of people......!

Posted by
40 posts

Yeah, it can happen anywhere and the US is not immune of course, but it is not common and nothing we experience as a matter of course. Certainly nothing to worry over where we've driven in the US, primarily east coast/New England and everywhere in CA.

We had planned to drive up to Lucca in one day starting early morning. We had planned a stop in Montepulciano to sightsee and then somewhere else (not yet determined) for lunch before heading to Lucca. Maybe a third stop, not sure. My son is a photographer so it is not traditional sightseeing. Just walking around for an hour or so while he takes his photos. So, we are not decided upon the itinerary just yet and if we do this particular trip, I think it would be a separate post for help in determining where we should stop. The main focus of the trip would be towns close to our base in Lucca. Maybe we need to plan an overnight stop near Montepulciano then since leaving the car with luggage isn't an option. (I assumed we would get a car with a proper trunk but I have no idea at this point) and I have now read several posts on another site about trunks being broken into. Sigh!

Posted by
40 posts

Any suggestions for an overnight stay near Montepulciano? Any suggestions for other tiny beautiful towns very near there . . . focus being upon photography?

From what I can tell, Rome to Montepulciano is a couple hours, so we could leave Rome in the late afternoon and check-in for an overnight stay. We could leave our bags the next morning, then head out and visit a few towns, return and pick up our bags and head on to Lucca. It seems to be another few hours to Lucca. A bit whirlwind perhaps, but then we have Lucca as our base to slow down afterwards. Does this sound at all doable?

Thanks!!

Posted by
11981 posts

My car(s) was never broken into in Italy (and I lived there the first 27 years of my life, in addition to visiting, by car, yearly since).. in the other hand here in California our family cars have been broken into at least 5 times (twice in front of home, the rest at BART train stations).

Having said that, one can never know. Break ins happen in Italy too, albeit not as often in small towns as in big cities. Therefore it is important to employ these strategies:
- Do not leave luggage in plain view. Make sure luggage is all hidden in the trunk.
- Park your car in a guarded pay parking lot, if available. If not available park in a busy area with lots of foot traffic or in front of a busy restaurant for example. Thieves prefer to break into cars in secluded spots where nobody is around.
- Park your car backed into a wall or plant so that the trunk cannot be easily accessed and opened.
- If you can, open your luggage and scatter all contents in the trunk. If a thief opens it, he can quickly take away a full bag, but if all clothes are scattered all over, at most he has time to take only a piece of garment.
- Most importantly: DO NOT LEAVE. VALUABLES OR IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS IN THE CAR. Therefore, passports, credit cards, money, electronic devices (tablets, phones) should come with you in a small backpack while you visit the town.

Posted by
31055 posts

As the others have mentioned, thefts from cars are a possibility so you'll have to keep that in mind. Thieves seem to be able to identify rental cars.

If it's been awhile since you last drove in Italy, you'll have to be vigilant to avoid the ZTL (limited traffic) zones which exist in most towns, including Lucca. Each pass through one of these will result in hefty fines which you may not know about until several months after you return home. DO NOT drive into Florence as there are numerous automated ZTL cameras. There are also speed monitoring cameras (and tolls) on the motorways.

Also note that each driver listed on the rental form will require the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. IDP's are valid for one year and can easily be obtained at any AAA / CAA office for a small charge.

If you'll also be using public transit, there are some potentially expensive caveats to be aware of with that also.

Posted by
579 posts

There are several towns we would love to visit along our way to Lucca from Rome

You may be over-estimating how many towns you'll have time to see. We've found that 2 per day using a base in Umbria or Tuscany, is a relaxed pace and perhaps there is time to stop at a third. You have about a 4 hour drive, aside from hilltowns, and getting to a hilltown from the freeway will involve time on smaller local roads. Use Via Michelin or google maps and map out a possible route for what you are considering , see how much time is spent just driving.

If it was me I'd consider taking the train from Rome to Florence and pick the car up there. Or perhaps taking the train to an intermediate town such as Perugia, store your bags, visit the town, then get your car. You can find luggage storage places online such as https://bagbnb.com/luggage-storage/perugia

Thieves seem to be able to identify rental cars; one way is tourists are visiting places such as hilltowns during the week, a time and place locals are unlikely to be visiting. As said earlier, bring anything you absolutely can't lose with you (and don't hook your daypack over a chair or set it on the ground when at a restaurant, I keep it in my lap). Be sure nothing is visible in the car, everything in the trunk or glove box. As a good RS traveler you will have one carry-on per person so this shouldn't be hard. Another suggestion I follow is to never open the trunk when parking; if anyone is watching the lot you've just shown them a car to target. Stop a little way before arriving if you need to in order to get any jackets, umbrellas, etc.

We have driven in Italy on several trips without incident. A few precautions don't hurt. Also be sure to understand the ZTL which is common in smaller towns, and scrupulously obey the speed limits. Locals know where the radar speed traps are but you don't.

Posted by
1666 posts

Any suggestions for an overnight stay near Montepulciano? Any suggestions for other tiny beautiful towns very near there . . . focus being upon photography?

From what I can tell, Rome to Montepulciano is a couple hours, so we could leave Rome in the late afternoon and check-in for an overnight stay

I think this is a good plan. Here's my suggestion. Go to Google Maps and you can play along.

From Montepuciano, take the back roads to Chiusure. Just outside Chiusure is the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, which is gorgeous. We actually attended vespers there one night, they are celebrated with Gregorian chant. From Chiusure, take SP451 west to SR2 to Siena. Keep going on SR2 until you can catch SR222 just north of town. Follow the famed SR222 to Castellina. From Castellina it's 1 1/2 hours to Lucca.

Your son will have a great time photographing. Point your camera in just about any direction and there's a great photo awaiting.

Posted by
2463 posts

Car breakins are definitely a problem in the US, even in neighborhoods where you wouldn't expect this to be a problem. Many years ago, an uncle who lived in an upscale neighborhood in Tampa said that he always had to keep the fence to his yard locked so his car wouldn't be broken into. And our neighborhood association here in the suburbs(with no public transportation to bring in people from other areas) reminds us to lock any cars that are not in our garages because there have been breakins. There have also been breakins during the day at the nearby Y. I operate on the assumption that car breakins can happen anywhere.

Posted by
410 posts

Because of all the reports of break-ins, last year in Europe we brought along a wheel lock as well as bicycle locks; we locked our suitcases together for the 4 of us & attached them to the car. Other cars were broken into but not ours. It's a pain to bring these locks but we had peace of mind.

Jean

Posted by
40 posts

Jean, what a hassle but I can see how that would help deter thieves! I'll look into that if we have to store luggage in the car, but after all the reports of tourists being targeted, I would like to avoid having luggage left in our car at all. Thanks!!

Posted by
40 posts

DougMac, thanks for the suggestion! That sounds absolutely amazing!! I've got my Michelin map out and I'm looking and I'll check on google as well. Thanks!!

Posted by
1567 posts

Unfortunately you do have to err on the side of caution because while it may not be rampant, it does put quite a damper on things to have all of one's clothing stolen. I'd say never ever ever risk it in Pisa, where it seems to happen fairly often. I'd say I would personally risk it in a small Tuscan village, and have frequently done so. But then who wants the worry?

Your option to stay overnight near Montepulciano seems to solve the problem quite nicely--and making a couple quick stops is not likely to be a major risk anyway, enjoy!

Posted by
40 posts

John, thank you! I was thinking one town in addition to Montepulciano, so two total and then playing it by ear if time allows a third. Its mainly for photos, so we would not necessarily spend as much time in a town as others may. Once we get established in Lucca, then it will be a slower pace with more time to explore whatever towns we head to.

I like your idea of storing luggage and I'll definitely check that out. They don't break into that do they? LOL
I also like your idea of a train out of Rome and getting the car in a smaller town. I absolutely do not want to drive in Rome!

Thanks!!

Posted by
40 posts

So are these ZTL no/limited drive zones clearly marked ahead of time so that they are easily avoided? Are they easy to see and stay out of? Thanks!

Posted by
40 posts

Ken, there are expensive caveats on public transport? Trains? What am I needing to be aware of with that? I've been on trains all over Europe but not in Italy . . . so I'm going to have to google that. Thanks for the heads up

Posted by
1567 posts

So are these ZTL no/limited drive zones clearly marked ahead of time so that they are easily avoided? Are they easy to see and stay out of?

Yes probably, if you are familiar with the area and know where you are going. For me, when I last drove in Sicily, not so much because I was looking for street signs and turns and trying to find my way.

For me it was easy to lose sight of the clearly visible ZTL signs.

Posted by
579 posts

So are these ZTL no/limited drive zones clearly marked ahead of time so that they are easily avoided?

Kinda. Expect that cities and historical places will have them, so be on the lookout for the signs and don't plan on driving into old parts of town (unless you're staying at a hotel there and they have arranged access for you). You can find info online such as https://www.italybeyondtheobvious.com/dont-mess-with-ztl-zones

As for picking up a car out of town instead of a place like Rome or Paris, that's what we prefer. Planning, of course, takes time ;-) For Tuscany look at the list of stations at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_railway_stations_in_Tuscany and then pick some towns near where you'd like to be that have car rental (for example, Chiusi, not too far from Montepulciano). Then you need to look up the times the car rental place is open so you can figure out what train to take.

Since you are now thinking of staying near Montepulciano, that would make that first day easier. You can drop your bags at your hotel, then drive to visit towns in the area.

Posted by
1666 posts

So are these ZTL no/limited drive zones clearly marked ahead of time so that they are easily avoided? Are they easy to see and stay out of? Thanks!

Every place I mentioned has well marked ZTLs. The rule of thumb, especially for hill towns is that if it is a walled city, any place within the walls is ZTL. State roads like SR222 don't go through ZTL zones, you have to head to town first.

Check the web for examples of ZTL. I haven't been to Lucca, but I'm sure there's a good sized ZTL there. If you have reservations already, check with your accommodation. They can provide you with information.

Honestly, unless you are in big places like Florence or Rome, I can't understand how folks end up in ZTLs without knowing it. We had absolutely no problems with ZTLs or speed limits. We had a great, ticket free trip. As mentioned, adhere to the speed limits even out in the boonies. Sometimes a citizen might get a little impatient, but just turn off at the first chance and let them by. Trust me, it is so gorgeous you won't want to go fast anyway!

Posted by
31055 posts

jc,

A brief summary of the caveats when using trains, buses and other public transportation in Italy.....

If using Regionale trains with locally purchased tickets, you MUST validate (time & date stamp) each ticket prior to boarding the train on the day of travel. Failure to do so may result in hefty fines (~€50 PP) which are collected on the spot! Validation is also required for bus and metro tickets. With buses the validation machine may be on the bus rather than on the platform. You can see a photo of the validation machines (they may be green or yellow) on this website - https://www.seat61.com/Italy-trains.htm#Travel%20tips .

If using express trains (Trenitalia Freccia or Intercity), the tickets for these come with compulsory seat reservations and those are included in the cost of the ticket. The ticket will specify the Carrozza (coach no.) and the Posti (seat no's). These tickets are specific to train, date and departure time and can ONLY be used on the one train listed on the ticket. If you board the wrong train by mistake, you'll again be subject to hefty fines collected on the spot. AFAIK the rules for the competing rail network Italo Treno are the same for this type of train.

You can buy tickets online and in the case of Regionale tickets these come pre-validated and are usable within four hours of the stated departure time. There are no discounts for Regionale trains. They're the same price whether bought in advance or on the day of travel.

If you want to save some money and can commit to a specific train and departure on the express trains, advance purchase Super Economy and Economy tickets are discounted. There are a set number of tickets available for the cheapest S.E. tier on each departure and once those are soldout, the price moves up to the Economy level. Once those are sold out, the prices move up to Base fare which is the same price as buying a ticket on the day of travel. Note that S.E. tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable once purchased. The rules are a bit more flexible for Economy.

If you decide to buy any of your rail tickets online, you can buy from the rail network websites or from www.trainline.com, Loco2 or ItaliaRail. Trainline sells tickets for trains all over Europe as well as both major networks in Italy, so that provides "one stop shopping". I believe they now charge a small service fee, but it's not significant. They also have a smartphone app.

Buon Viaggio!