travel Northern Italy

My friends and I are going from Rome to Sienna then on to Cinque Terre and then on to Lake Como. We are thinking of renting a car to drive from Rome to Sienna so that we can explore some of the hill towns..and then take the train from Sienna to Cinque Terre and from Cinque Terre to Varena. Has anyone ever done such a trip, does this sound like a good plan or is there a better way? Can anyone recommend a car rental company...we have looked at figures from several and the prices seem to vary quite a bit. Any other hints or suggestions in regard to our plan would be appreciated. Thank you all.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

You could also consider driving the rental car all the way to La Spezia and return the car there. La Spezia is just minutes to the Cinque Terre by train. That way you'll save yourself the pain of going from Siena to the Cinque Terre by train. The train trip from Siena to the Cinque Terre is not a short one (over 3 hours) and it requires multiple changes (in Empoli, Pisa and La Spezia). That is somewhat annoying if you have luggage. The drive from Siena to La Spezia is all freeway and is just over 2 hours, unless you want to take some detours and visit places along the way.

Posted by Darleen
Narrowsburg, NY, USA
15 posts

Thank you Roberto. Our concern with keeping the car while I Sienna is that we have been told that parking Will be a problem or expensive. Sounds like you have made this trip..which hill towns would u recommend seeing?
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Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

I have also done the drive and it's easy as Roberto stated. As far as rental companies I typically go with either Hertz, Avis, Budget or Sixt (which I guess is National) but I go on priceline where you can compare many and I choose the cheapest. I never prepay my car, and when I have time I will periodically recheck priceline and if I find a cheaper rate I will cancel the first and book the cheapest. Sometimes it is even at the same rental agency I already booked. There is no logic to it. I had a car held in Orlando for tomorrow... I booked it about 3 weeks ago... kept checking and three days ago I found a car for $60 cheaper, so booked that one. I usually find something cheaper more than half the time. Only takes a few minutes to check.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

More than having done that trip before, I lived in that area (Tuscany) for a long time. If you have hotels arrangements in the historical center of Siena and plan to stay at that hotel for multiple days, then yes, it makes sense to return the car in Siena, because you can't use a car in the historical center of Siena. But if you plan to visit the towns of Tuscany you should not get accommodations in the historical center of Siena, but rather you should use as a base accommodations outside of Siena's city center or in a smaller town or in a farmhouse (agriturismo) where parking a car would not be a problem. Anyplace between Siena and Florence is good and central and perfect for being used as a base to visit Tuscany. If you stay close enough to the freeway that connects Florence to Siena it will be even better since it will make it quicker to get to places on your day trips. Siena can be visited in a day from wherever you are staying in Tuscany. When you get there park in one of the parking lots outside the ancient city walls near the stadium or the San Domenico's church and it won't cost you that much. There are hundreds of beautiful ancient hill towns to choose from in the Region of Tuscany or even in the next door Region of Umbria. This is a comprehensive guide of Tuscan villages. It's comprehensive with the main places by each of the Tuscan provinces: http://www.borghiditoscana.net/eng/index.html

Posted by Sheron
Alta Loma, CA, USA
1199 posts

Hi Darleen, we traveled the exact same route as you and took the train from Rome to Siena, picked up a car there and kept it for 4 days while traveling around Tuscany. We then drove to La Spezia, returned the car & took the train to the Cinque Terre. As Roberto said, if you're staying in the historic center or Siena, it does not make sense to keep the car in Siena but if you stay outside the city walls, then it's a great plan. We stayed at an agriturismo outside the historic center and had no issues with parking. We visited Siena on one of our days (and took a taxi to Siena in spite of having the car) and then used the car to visit other hill towns in the area. You said that you're thinking of picking up the car in Rome...I personally would not dare drive in Rome but I'm sure others wouldn't have a problem with this. I suggest taking the train from Rome to Orvieto, for instance, and then picking up the car there...or you could pick it up in Siena (outside the historic center). You didn't say how many days you plan to visit hill towns, but having a car is really the best way to get around in Tuscany. Have a great trip.

Posted by Darleen
Narrowsburg, NY, USA
15 posts

Thank you all for your help...I am talking to my friends and re-thinking a few things. We have been looking at various car rental companies and the prices do seem to change a lot. We will keep watching for a good price. I am now looking into staying outside of Sienna. I was reading in Rick Steves book about a town called Cortona and am wondering if anyone is familiar with it? Would it be a good base to see the area? The Castello di Montegualandro caught my eye in the book and sounds like the kind of place we would like. I love staying in unusual and quaint places. If anyone has any suggestions of inexpensive, but nice places to stay, I will look into them. Roberto, thank you for that site, I haven't looked at it yet, but I will. You have been very helpful and I appreciate it.
It is fun talking with other travelers.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Roberto and Sheron hit the nail on the head. Hertz' Orvieto office is just across the street from the train station, and it's a 70 minute ride from Rome Termini. And Orvieto is just 77 miles from Siena. I would suggest checking AutoEurope.com to see if they can beat Hertz' price for their own car. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.
It would be preferable to stay outside Siena rather than in the city center. Siena traffic is very congested, parking is difficult to find. The historical section is on a plateau up a big hill, and is a tough hike.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2501 posts

Cortona is a great little town but it is crammed with tourists during the summer, and it's at the top of a hill, so as a base for daytrips you'd need to allow a little more driving time. Parking is at the bottom of the hill, as I recall. If you prefer to stay in Siena, Hotel Minerva is right outside one of the city's main gates and has a garage for guests with a walk-through to the hotel (I think the per day charge was €10). You can walk to the historic center and some rooms have biews of it.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

The Upper Elsa Valley area (Colle Val D'Elsa, Poggibonsi, Monteriggioni) is logistically the best area to use as a base to visit the Tuscan most important hill towns. From Colle Val D'Elsa within 1 hour or 1.5 hours max you can drive to virtually every corner of Tuscany.