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DRIVING

Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

Planning a leisurely summer break in Italy but baulk at the cost of booking a rental car for more than a couple of weeks? This guide's for you.

Alternatives are available for those wanting to explore Italy while avoiding hefty car rental fees.
Alternatives are available for those wanting to explore Italy while avoiding hefty car rental fees. Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

Question: I am planning on spending around two months in Italy this summer, and I am wondering what my best options are regarding hiring a car. Standard car hire daily rates would be cost prohibitive, so I’m wondering whether something like short term car leasing would be an option?

If you’re going to Italy on holiday and want to expand your horizons beyond Rome, Venice and Florence, rental cars can be an easy and convenient way to get around.

But if you’re planning on devoting your whole summer to exploring Italy, renting a vehicle for the duration of your stay can indeed quickly become expensive – and constant worrying about small scratches and scrapes can suck the joy out of the experience.

Here are a few alternatives if you want to maximise your time in the country while avoiding paying a small fortune in car rental fees.

Car buy-back lease schemes

A car buy-back lease programme is one in which you technically (but don’t really) ‘buy’ a car with the guarantee that a rental company will buy it back from you when you’ve finished using it.

The programme is most widespread in France (as it’s French car manufacturers who offer the service through a French government tourism incentive scheme), but it’s also available in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.

The advantages of this set-up are that you get a brand new car (usually with built-in GPS at no extra cost), you don’t have to pay VAT, you get zero-deductible insurance as part of the package, and you can add additional drivers free of charge – all of which can amount to some significant savings, especially if you’re staying for more than a few weeks.

READ ALSO: Can second-home owners get an Italian residence permit?

You can also freely travel to eastern European countries like Hungary, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina on a leased car, an option that isn’t normally available with rental companies without a hefty surcharge.

To take advantage of the scheme, you need to reside outside the European Union and be at least 18 years old. You can lease a car for anywhere between 21 days and five and a half months.

The three main companies that offer the service in Italy are represented by Auto Europe. You can book online through their website at the links below for:

You will need to pick the car up and drop it off in either Milan or Rome, as these are the only two locations available in Italy.

Bear in mind that as a leased car is manufactured from scratch, you will need to make your order several weeks in advance.

Combine train travel with occasional short-term rental

Italy’s public transport services can be patchy depending on whereabouts in the country you are, but its long-distance fast trains are typically frequent and reliable.

If you’re planning a multi-week holiday that will incorporate a mix of city-based and countryside/ mountain/ coastal stays, consider using trains to get from one region to the next, and renting a car for a few days at a time only when it’s really necessary. 

For getting around the Amalfi coast, the Dolomites, or parts of the South, for example, you’ll probably want a car to give you total autonomy and access to more remote locations.

But if you’re moving between these places and better-connected urban areas up north, you likely won’t need a car for a good portion of your trip.

READ ALSO: 23 famous quotes to inspire you to travel to Italy

Driving along a road in Grimaldi in Calabria, southern Italy. Photo by Chris Holgersson on Unsplash

Most Italian cities have decent enough public transport networks as far as tourists are concerned, but if you prefer to get everywhere by car, car-sharing apps which allow you to rent for very short journeys at the touch of a button are available in the majority of Italy’s urban centres.

Ride sharing

This is a slightly more labour-intensive but very budget-friendly option best suited to small groups of people travelling without children (as it involves car pooling with another person/people who are unlikely to have space in their car for an entire family).

Websites like BlaBlaCar allow you to book a lift with someone who happens to be driving to your destination at the same time as you for a very small fee, as well as suggesting cheap coach and public transport alternatives.

READ ALSO: Seven crowd-free alternatives to Italy’s tourist hotspots

The disadvantage, of course, is that you may not be able to find someone who wants to take your exact route on your desired day and time, so you have to be flexible and willing to make up your plans on the fly.

You’ll also be thrown into the company of a stranger for a few hours, which you might see as either a benefit or a drawback depending on the kind of person you are.

If you’re a spontaneous extrovert and time is on your side, however, this is a very cost-effective and illuminating way to see the country, and you’re bound to get insights you wouldn’t otherwise have access to through conversations on the long car drives with locals.

Member comments

  1. Lease a Peugeot from Auto France. Worth the extra delivery charge, or fly into Geneva and pick it up on the French side. One month comes out to about 37 euros a day for a great car.

  2. This is of interest to us because we plan on spending weeks to months in northern Italy and need a car. Does anyone have a recommendation on which car companies to use, approx costs, tips , suggestions? Would appreciate any info on long term car rentals. Grazie

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For members

DRIVING

EXPLAINED: The traffic signs you need to know about when driving in Italy

When you start driving on Italy's roads, you'll need to get to grips with a host of new signs and symbols. Here are some of the most common ones you should know about.

EXPLAINED: The traffic signs you need to know about when driving in Italy

If you’re a visitor to Italy or are new to the country, you might be confused by the various traffic signs and what all the different symbols mean.

People who get their Italian driving licence have studied all these in-depth, but if you’re driving on holiday or you haven’t the need to sit the Italian driving test, you can easily get into trouble if you don’t understand the country’s particular rules of the road.

Here, we decode some of the most common traffic road signs you’ll come across.

Parking

Not knowing where you can park and for how long can land you with numerous types of fines.

Generally, if you’re not using a dedicated car park, you’ll need to take care and watch out for the colour of lines you see on the road and the signs you see on the street.

Blue lines mean you have to pay to leave your car there, usually via a parking metre.

Take care with yellow lines, as they are reserved for certain users, such as residents, workers or for going to the pharmacy. 

READ ALSO: How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties

If you see parking spots indicated by white lines, anyone can use those and they are usually free – but always check the roadside for any signs or instructions in case.

As you may expect, parking spaces are indicated with the letter ‘P’ (for parcheggio in Italian). In Italy, this is usually displayed on a blue background.

On the photo below, there are a few symbols you need to understand.

Starting from the left, this icon denotes a parking metre and means you’ll have to pay for a parking ticket to leave your car in that zone.

This is valid on workdays – demonstrated by the crossed pick-axes, while the cross means the rules also apply on ‘giorni festivi‘, which covers national holidays, as well as Sundays.

The dates and times below the symbols show when these rules are valid – here, it means from April, 25th to September, 30th, from 8am – 8pm, therefore.

Italian traffic sign showing when and how you can park. Photo: Karli Drinkwater
 
There is much more information in the following parking sign, including the changing tariffs for the days of the week and the weeks of the year.
 
We see the parking metre symbol again, with 8-20 written underneath – meaning you need to pay for a parking ticket between 8am-8pm.
 
 
Below that, there are different sections of the year where the rules on parking change.
 
The first part concerns ‘prefestivo di Pasqua‘, which means the day before Easter marks the start of this tariff, and it runs until May, 31st.
 
On holidays (festivi) or the day before a holiday (prefestivi), the tariff is 80 cents an hour or €4 for the whole day.
 
Feriali‘ means workdays (not to be confused with the similar sounding word, ‘ferie‘, meaning holidays), so from Monday to Friday in this period, parking is free (gratuito).
 
The next one down is valid from June, 1st to June, 30th and from September, 1st to September, 15th. The holiday and eves of holidays are the same tariff, but this time, workdays are also paid parking – 50 cents an hour or €2.50 for the day.
 
Below that are the rates for peak season, defined here as July, 1st to August, 31st. The cross and pick-axes can be seen again, meaning that this applies to all days and there are no free parking days in this timeframe.
 
Finally, this sign indicates some extra instructions for camper vans – in this case, the tariff is 50 percent higher.

In the following parking sign, it’s indicated that only 30 minutes of a stop are allowed and the man pushing goods means that parking for this reason is only allowed for loading and unloading.
Photo: Karli Drinkwater

In the following sign, the red circle with a line through a blue circle indicates that parking is prohibited.

In the absence of any other symbols, the parking ban is valid 24 hours a day on roads outside of urban areas.

On urban roads, without any other instructions, the ban is in force from 8am to 8pm. Supplementary signs with figures, symbols or short inscriptions may limit the scope of this.

In this case, we can see a parking symbol next to an icon denoting the police. This indicates an exception to the rule for police vehicles.

The image below that showing a car being towed indicates that parking constitutes a serious obstruction or danger and that any vehicle parked there may be removed and transported to the municipal depot.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

This parking ban sign is 24 hours a day, indicated by the numbers below the ‘no parking’ symbol.

Again, we can see that any vehicle found parked there may be removed.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

In this example of a parking sign, you are allowed to park your car for 15 minutes, indicated by the 15′.

The symbol to the left of the number represents a parking disc, which you must display in the window of your car at your time of arrival.

If the time on the disc shows that you have been parked longer than 15 minutes, you could incur a fine.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

You may come across so-called ‘pink parking’ (parcheggio rosa)while driving in Italy.

Be aware that these are reserved for pregnant women and parents with children under two-years-old, so don’t park there unless that applies to you.

Since Italy’s Highway Code was updated, you’ll also need a permit to prove you’re eligible for these priority parking spaces.

Find out more about Italy’s pink parking here.

Italys pink parking permit allows pregnant women and parents with children under two years old to park in priority spots. Photo: Karli Drinkwater

ZTLs

Beware of the ZTL – this is one sign you’ll need to learn before driving anywhere in Italy, as there are a lot of them and infringing the rules can sting.

They catch out the best of us; they can be easy to miss as you may not even know what they are.

If you see a round road sign, a red circle containing the letters ‘ZTL’, don’t drive down that street unless you have a special permit.

If you’re just visiting Italy, it’s unlikely you will.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I buy a car in Italy if I’m not a resident?

ZTL stands for Zona Traffico Limitato (Restricted Traffic Zone) and you’re most likely to find them around congested areas and inner cities. The government introduced them to reduce pollution and so the only vehicles allowed to enter a ZTL are residents or businesses in the area.

If you unwittingly sail past one, the camera will take a shot of your registration number and you’ll get a fine of between €83 and €332, plus administrative costs, according to article 7 of the Highway Code.

In this road sign, we see that the ZTL applies 24 hours a day (0-24), but the extra information below shows there are some exceptions – under ‘eccetto‘.

You can drive down that ZTL without a permit if you’re on a scooter or motorbike, are disabled, a taxi or in this example, travelling to the two streets specified for services only.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

You would need electronic access to reach these streets in any case, which is something you’d receive with a permit.

Generally, if you’re just visiting Italy, don’t drive down a ZTL.

The red cross over the blue circle below that means no parking or stopping. In the absence of additional information, the ban is permanent and 24 hours a day. Your vehicle will be removed if it’s found stopped in any area where this sign is displayed.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

The following sign indicates that the ZTL has ended and you can drive beyond that point without needing a permit.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

Residential areas

Take care when driving through residential areas, as the rules may differ compared to driving in a town centre.

The top traffic sign of a house and tree with children playing indicates the start of a street or residential area where special rules apply, which are shown on another sign. We can see them right below.

Driving through this area is restricted to a max speed of 30km/h, followed by a sign prohibiting the transit of goods transport vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of more than 3.5 tonnes – unless it’s for loading and unloading goods.

That is unlikely to apply to you but the sign below might. It informs you that, if parking, you must park in the provided spaces.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater

Pedestrian areas

You can’t drive down areas that are meant for pedestrians only, which is displayed with a round, blue sign containing a figure of a person walking.

It might also be accompanied by the description ‘area pedonale‘, meaning pedestrian area. Here, there are no times specified, so assume that it applies 24 hours a day.

There are exceptions in this sign, though. Cyclists may use that route, shown by the cycle symbol and the description ‘velocipiedi‘ (any form of pedalled vehicle with two or more wheels), as may authorised vehicles (veicoli autorizzati).

That could mean street sweepers or residents, for example. If you’re in doubt, it’s unlikely you can drive down that area.

Photo: Karli Drinkwater
 
See full details of Italy’s highway code here and visit our travel section for the latest updates.
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