Hello! First time to Italy, so far goes like this: Venice, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Rome...we'll be using mainly trains & buses for travel but for Tuscany, thought about renting a car from Siena to explore the area and make our way down to Rome. However, I heard driving around Italy is not recommended....any advice?!! Many thanks!
What is not recommended is having a car while visiting large cities such as Florence or Rome (or Venice, since cars can't float). That is because those ancient cities have traffic restrictions in the historical centers and parking comes at a very high premium. So having a car will be an expensive hassle. Having a car to visit the countryside and small towns in Tuscany will be however enjoyable, easy and very efficient, because bus service to small towns is less frequent and therefore you can cover more ground with a car. If you base yourself in Siena to visit Tuscany with a car, be aware that Siena's historical center is also closed to traffic, therefore plan to find a hotel with (or near) parking located outside the ancient city walls.
We recently stayed at Il Canto del Sole, outside Siena, and traveled around Tuscany by car. Then drove to Rome to catch a flight. My husband is a slow cautious driver but we were fine driving in the countryside and the outskirts of Rome. We just got passed a lot!
I second Roberto that Tuscany is much better with a car. If you stay in a town, do choosing lodging outside the ZTL (where cars aren't allowed except for residents) or find parking there. I like knowing where I'll be parking at the end of a long day, so try to stay just outside the restricted zone at a place that provides guest parking. As for difficulty with driving itself, I love driving in the Italian countryside. It's a great chance to release your inner speed demon. Italians are very good but fast drivers. Just be aware that they are likely to come up behind you fast and follow closely until they can pass you. You'll be fine. Just stay to the right unless passing, bring GPS if you can, and learn the road signs, especially the one that let's you know you're approaching a speed camera. Here's a link that explains how they work. http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/driving/traffic_cameras_speeding.htm. Most of all, have fun and don't worry.
I also recommend having a car in Tuscany. It really allows you to see the beauty of the countryside at your own pace. We stayed just outside of Siena at Hotel Porta Romana. It was perfect. Easy to get out of town from there, plenty of parking, and we walked into Siena from there. Gorgeous setting, wonderful breakfast, very helpful staff. Hotel Porta Romana is also in RS Italy.
Thanks everyone for your great advice! I think I'm going to be brave and drive, and ditch the car in the outskirts of Rome. After all, I drove around england, standard transmission, wrong side of road etc. what could be harder, haha. Thanks again!