We’ve just returned from two-and-a-half weeks in Italy, and traveling in Tuscany was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip. The art and architecture are amazing, the rolling hills covered with vineyards and olive groves are lovely, and the food and wine are spectacular. You can’t buy a bad meal.
We used both Lucca and Siena as bases so that we’d have the opportunity to explore towns in the northern and southern parts of Tuscany. Although they’re not far apart, each is unique with an appeal all it’s own.
Driving in Tuscany.
Renting a car is the best way to see Tuscany, and it’s an easy place to drive. We took our Garmin portable GPS and it did a great job of getting us from A to B. We avoided the Autostrada – or American-style freeway – as much as possible, and enjoyed the scenery and lack of hassle the country roads provided.The truth is that there’s never enough time. So if you’re planning a trip to Italy, you should make up your mind that you won’t be able to see everything you want to see in one trip.
We reserved our car in advance through Avis and got an easy-to-drive Audi A3 with only 14,000 kilometers on it. As a rule, automatic cars are rare and expensive in Europe, so if you haven’t driven a stick shift in a while, you might want to take one for a spin to brush up.
In Italy, you have to wear a safety vest if you get out of your car on the freeway, so when you pick up your rental, make sure the vests are in the car and not in the trunk. It’s also smart to confirm what kind of fuel the car takes. If given the choice, you’ll get better mileage with diesel.
While driving in Tuscany is a breeze, parking – not so much. Don’t even think about trying to park inside the city walls. Find a parking lot outside the town and walk in. In the case of Cortona or Montepulciano, this may involve a steep climb. But it will be worth it.
Parking spaces with blue lines aren’t free. Usually, there’s a machine nearby where you purchase a ticket to put on the dash. To this end, you should start hoarding your one- and two-Euro coins. Merchant and vendors often ask for exact change, so sometimes it’s hard to hang onto them.
If there’s no machine where you pay, you may need to use a disco orario, which is a card that’s placed on the windshield. You use it to indicate to the parking police what time you parked. When you pick up your rental car, ask the agent if there’s one in the car.
You can park for free at spaces with white lines, just make sure to look for any signs that restrict the parking to certain times of day.
Tuscany is very safe, so we never worried about leaving the car parked with all our worldly good inside.
The region is wildly popular in summer. And even places like San Gimignano have tour groups arriving in the afternoon. Since the smaller towns don’t have hotels that can accommodate groups, your best bet is to arrive early, do your sightseeing, have a leisurely lunch, and then drive to your next destination in the afternoon. Take a nap, go for a swim, or just relax, then venture out again after 5PM.
Accommodation in Tuscany.
If you traveling during peak season – which these days is from June through September – it’s a good idea to reserve your accommodations in advance. Hotels in Tuscany are of a fairly high standard, and you can rent an apartment or villa if you plan to stay in one place for a week or more.
If you like to be out in the country, consider staying in an agriturismo. These rural farmhouses generally include breakfast and dinner. And your hosts will be happy to help you plan your sightseeing. These are also more likely to have parking than conventional hotels.
Breakfast is included with the nightly rate at most places. This can range from a simple buffet with croissants, juice, and coffee, to an elaborate spread with fresh fruits, meats and cheeses, eggs, and pastries.
We highly recommend this wonderful destination to anyone who enjoys history, art, and superb food and wine.
For more information about Tuscany’s best hill towns, see our Map of Tuscany.