Road trips » Our Foodie Road Trip in Italy

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A Long Overdue Dream Come True

For over a decade, we’ve been dreaming of a road trip in Italy. That Mediterranean country was at the very top of our bucket list. And for good reason. There’s so much to love about Italy. The history, the culture, the architecture, the language… and let’s not forget the wonderful food and wine!

Part of the attraction came from our friends, co-workers and relatives. We are literally surrounded with Italy aficionados: people who are either of Italian descent or who love Italy and travel there often. They were constantly sharing their travel stories with us, making us green with envy. So, we decided last fall to stop dreaming and start planning our first trip to Italy.

Table of contents


Let’s Go on a Road Trip in Italy!

A classic scene from an road trip ni Italy - the winding Cyprus-lined road in Val D'Orcia.
One of the most famous views of Tuscany – a cypress-lined winding road in Val D’Orcia, Italy

Italy isn’t like many popular tourist destinations we’ve been to where you choose an all-inclusive hotel and plop yourself down in a lounge chair to soak up the sun. Nor is it a structure vacation with a predetermined itinerary like our recent Alaska cruise vacation. Italy is a land of Adventure! There’s so much to see and do that it’s hard to stay in one place for a week of Dolce Vita. 

That’s why it’s the perfect destination for a Road Trip – a self-guided tour of Italy and its top attractions! Our personal definition of a road trip is a multi-city itinerary that covers several key destinations while having enough time to enjoy the leisurely pace of the good life in Italy. This may be different from your own vision. But that’s how we’ve approached this trip.

We’re vise enough not to go crazy with a different city or town each day. Nope! I mean who wants to spend three weeks living out of a suitcase, right? Certainly not us. We wanted enough time in each town or città to get to know the authentic side of Italy, not just the superficial touristy stuff.

The Inspiration for Our Road Trip in Italy

If you haven’t seen Under the Tuscan Sun, do it now and start dreaming of life Italy.

My wife Danielle and I both love going to the movies. It’s a regular activity for us – at lease 2-3 times a month on overage. Plus streaming. So, we’re greatly influenced what we see in the theatre. I think the inspiration for our desire to visit Italy came initially from the popular romcom Under the Tuscan Sun, staring Diane Lane. 

The movie, centered near the village Cortona, in the province of Siena, Tuscany takes viewers to various beautiful locations in Italy.  Scene locations include Rome, Positano, Salerno, Campania, Arezzo, Montepulciano, Florence and the Tuscan countryside. The movie offers a glimpse of life in Italy including the culture and traditions as the main character searches for love and happiness.

But you can’t see it all in a single trip! Italy is huge, covering an area of 301,340 square km or 116,350 square miles, with a population of about 60 million. That makes it one third of the size of Canada, the second largest country in the world after Russia.

We decided that we’d save Rome, Positano, Southern Italy, Sardinia and Sicily for another trip. Our focus was Northern Italy and Tuscany, still a lot of ground to cover. We’d need three weeks to complete it. 

Fun fact

Bramasole, the villa in which the movie was shot is available for rental. Located in Cortona, this property is huge accommodating up to 20 guests. We tried to book it on a lark, but someone beat us to it for dates of our stay. So, plan well ahead of time if you don’t want to miss out.

A Road Trip “fai da te” (DIY)

Fai da te in Italian means do-it-yourself or DIY. This road trip was built entirely from scratch based on the advice of friends, online research and a dog-eared stack of travel guides purchased from the local bookstore (yes, that’s still a thing). It was a braving thing to do given that we’ve never traveled to Italy.

We usually travel on cruises or with packaged tours. Not much to plan or think about. But this was a whole new level of complexity and uncertainty. Hundreds of details to work out and plan for from the time of year to accommodations, to activities and even parking. 

Building a vacation from scratch gives you the freedom to do exactly what you want, when you want. But comes with added responsibility for the success of your trip. There’s nobody to complain to if things don’t go as planned.

Planning our Road Trip in Italy

A map showing the planned Italy road trip itinerary

While planning a road trip in Italy, we needed to take into account several key dimension of the trip in order to avoid being disappointed. Yet, we wanted to leave room for some spontaneity. We’re not the kind of travelers that like a tight schedule, jam packed with things to do. But you know what they say: Be prepared! 

To help with planning our Italian Road Trip, we mounted a Michelin map of Italy on a board and added a clear plastic overlay. Using erasable marker, we jotted down destinations, points of interest alternative routes and key dates for our road trip. Google maps are useful, but there’s nothing like the ability to put everything in one place.

Road Trip Planning Tips

Here are some of the things to pay attention to in the months prior to the road trip:

  • Booking your air transportation
  • Picking and booking the right vehicle
  • Choosing your itinerary
  • Getting an international driving permit
  • Learning about driving conditions in Italy
  • Booking accommodations
  • Selecting tours, activities and experiences
  • Reservations for certain restaurants
  • Planning what you pack
  • Photo equipment
  • Learning some basic Italian

Download our road trip planning checklist (coming soon)

We chose to travel in the Fall for two reasons: 

  • First because the summer rush of tourist season is over. We hoped to avoid the massive crowds of August which traditionally is the busiest time of the year. August 15th is Farragosto, a national holiday. 
  • Second, it’s harvest season in the fields and vineyards. We wanted to experience the vendemmia or harvesting of the grapes and visit a farmers’ market – un mercato degli agricoltori.

We’re told that Spring is also a great time to visit. Maybe next time.

Booking Air Travel for our Italian Road Trip 

The first leg of our road trip in Italy was on the wings of an Air Canada Airbus A330-300

I’d been saving up my Aeroplan points for over a decade, so I had quite a few. And as the loyalty program evolved, the point value has kept going down and the price of two business class tickets has more than doubled since the pandemic. Of course, so has the cash price for a ticket.

A direct flight from Montreal to Milan for two was roughly 580,000 points. Yikes! But the good news is that it’s a direct flight, which is important to us. Amongst other benefits, it means that the 7-hour and 50-minute flight allow for a descent night’s sleep onboard.

Air Travel Tips: Arm Yourself with Patience

Finding the right ticket took a lot of patience. And a lot of advanced planning – 8 months in advance to be precise. For a while, we couldn’t find the right choice. It must have taken a month and half of almost daily searching to snag the exact ticked we wanted. There were pricier tickets, and flights with multiple connections, or arrivals in cities that weren’t in our plans. But the patience paid off. The aircraft on which we book our flight is an Airbus A330-300 with plenty of leg room in business class. 

A Few Tips for Finding the Best Airfare

To find the best airline ticket for Europe at the most affordable price, consider the following tips:

  1. Start with a Broad Search: Use flight search websites like Google Flights, Kayak, or Expedia to compare fares from multiple airlines and travel agencies.
  2. Be Flexible with Airports and Dates: Choose “all airports” in a city or “include nearby airports” to see more flight options. Use “flexible dates” to find cheaper flights by flying a few days before or after your ideal dates.
  3. Book Directly with the Airline: Once you’ve found the ideal flight, book directly on the airline’s website to avoid complications with seat selection, special requests, or rebooking.
  4. Set Up Low-Fare Alerts: Sign up for alerts on airfare search sites or airline websites to be notified about low fares for specific routes.
  5. Consider Budget Airlines: Look into low-cost carriers that may not show up on US-based airfare comparison sites but offer flights between the US and Europe.
  6. Use Scheduling Flexibility: Adjust your flight dates around peak and shoulder seasons to potentially save money.
  7. Check for Promotional Deals: Some airlines and aggregators offer “air plus hotel” deals that might save you money on accommodations.
  8. Buy Two Separate Tickets: Sometimes booking a flight to an intermediate city and then another to your final destination can be cheaper than a direct flight.
  9. Use Tools Like Skyscanner: Skyscanner can help you find the cheapest month or day to fly and allows you to set up price alerts.
  10. Explore Budget Airlines: Know which low-cost carriers operate in your area and consider them for cheaper flights.
  11. Avoid Loyalty: Don’t stick to one airline or service; compare prices across multiple platforms to find the best deal.
  12. Embrace Flexibility: If possible, be flexible with your travel dates and destinations to access a wider range of cheaper options.
  13. DIY Your Own Stopover: Book the cheapest flight to a major European hub and then use budget airlines or other transportation to reach your final destination.
  14. Book in Advance: According to Expedia, booking 28 days before your flight can save up to 24 percent compared to last-minute bookings.

By utilizing these strategies and being flexible with your travel plans, you can increase your chances of finding the best airline ticket to Europe at a more affordable price.

Evaluate Your Carbon Footprint

The flight to Milan Malpensa (MXP) from Montreal Trudeau (YUL) is a whopping 6,109 km (3,796 miles). The carbon footprint of the flight for two passenger is 5.55 tonnes of CO2e. You can offset these emissions through carbon offset programs offered by organizations such as Carbone Boreal. This trip would require the planting of 40 trees to offset the emissions at a cost of $195. I understand why some environmentally conscious travelers would prefer a local destination. But carbon offset is good a way to lessen the impact.

You should also do the same for your car or vehicle. Emission should be a selection criteria for your vehicle. Though an EV may not be the best choice for a road trip because of charging time and station location challenges. Consider a rechargeable hybrid. You can plug it in at your hotel and charge overnight. When charging is not easily available, you can run on gas.

Choosing the Right Car or SUV for a Road Trip in Italy

There are two basic formulas for renting a car for a road trip in Italy. There’s traditional Car Rental that we all know and understand. The major players that are found in North America also play in Europe including Aviz, Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, plus Europcar and Sixt, the dominant brands in Europe.  

And then there’s Car Leasing. Car Leasing is a short-term rental agreement for a minimum of 21 days. It exists because of a loophole in the French taxation system whereby there is no sales tax on used vehicles. Used vehicles are in high demand for this reason.

15 Tips for Choosing the Right Vehicle for a Road Trip in Italy

When choosing the right vehicle for a 21-day road trip in Italy, considering factors such as luggage space, the number of passengers, fuel efficiency, comfort and safety features, and the road trip itinerary and terrain is crucial. Here are some tips to help you select the appropriate vehicle:

  1. Assess Your Space Needs: Ensure the vehicle has enough space for all passengers and luggage. For larger groups or families, a larger vehicle like an SUV or a minivan may be necessary.
  2. Fuel Efficiency: Given the high fuel prices in Italy, opt for a fuel-efficient vehicle to save on costs.
  3. Comfort and Safety: Choose a vehicle with comfortable seating and modern safety features, especially if you’re planning long drives.
  4. Vehicle Size for City Driving: In cities with narrow streets, like Florence and Rome, a smaller car is more practical for maneuvering and parking.
  5. Vehicle Type for Countryside: If your itinerary includes rural areas or mountainous terrain, consider a vehicle with four-wheel drive for a smoother ride.
  6. Highway Travel: For extensive highway travel, a comfortable car with good cruising speed, such as a sedan or SUV, is recommended.
  7. Transmission Type: Automatic vehicles are less common and more expensive in Italy. If you can drive a manual, it could be more cost-effective.
  8. Insurance and Rental Policies: Understand the rental company’s insurance coverage, including Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Liability Insurance, which is mandatory in Italy.
  9. Choose a Reputed Rental Company: Look for a company with convenient pick-up/drop-off locations, 24/7 road assistance, and transparent fees.
  10. Consider Long-Term Rental or Leasing: For a trip of 21 days, a long-term rental or a short-term lease might be more cost-effective than traditional car rental.
  11. Avoid Large Vehicles in Cities: Most towns have narrow streets and small parking spaces, so a smaller vehicle or a small SUV is usually the largest you should consider.
  12. Beware of ZTL Zones: Many Italian cities have Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) areas where only residents can drive. Ensure you’re aware of these zones to avoid fines.
  13. Understand Trunk Sizes: European cars typically have smaller trunks, so be mindful of how much luggage you can fit, especially if you’re considering a rental car.
  14. Road Types and Conditions: Familiarize yourself with the different types of roads in Italy, such as Autostrada (highways) and smaller country roads, to choose a vehicle that can handle them.
  15. Consider Other Transportation Options: Some destinations may be easier to reach by train or ferry, so plan accordingly and consider leaving the car in a safe parking area when visiting these places.

By taking these factors into account, you can choose a vehicle that will meet your needs and ensure a comfortable and enjoyable road trip experience in Italy.

Car Leasing vs Car Rental: Which is Best?

With Car Leasing, you actually “purchase” a brand-new vehicle from one of the big French automakers including Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and DS Automobiles. I use quotes because although you become the owner of the car, there’s no need to resell it. You simply drop off the keys at one of the many return centers located throughout Europe at the end of the trip. In Italy, there are pick up and return centres in Milan and in Rome. 

What’s really cool about leasing versus traditional rental is that you get a brand-new car, driven for the first time. So, you get that wonderful new car smell. The price includes auto insurance and roadside assistance as well. And you don’t have to worry about germs and viruses left by the previous renter. It’s pristine and brand spanking new!

We know the owners of the EuropAuto rental agency. Xavier and his team fixed us up with a wonderful choice for our Italian road trip – the luxurious and sporty DS-7 Crossback plug-in hybrid.

Make Getting There Half the Fun – the DS-7 Crossback

The DS-7 Crossback is ideal for a luxurious road trip in Italy. Its road handling makes it ideal for navigating the winding roads of the Tuscan countryside and the Ligurian coast.

There is a wide range of vehicles available for lease – at least in theory. From the smallest of models to full size, minivans and more. We decided to go for the DS-7 cross back hybrid. We chose it because I love cars! So does my wife Danielle. 

DS is the top-of-the-line premium brand offering futuristic design, luxurious interior, impressive power and gadgets galore. The DS-7 Crossback packs a powerful 360 hp engine with 4-wheel drive and an EV autonomy of up to 70 km (43 miles).

It’s roomy enough for the two of use and our abundant luggage. Hey, a three-week stay means a lot of clothing to lug around. What can I say. We’re notorious over packers.  

Keep in mind though that the roads and streets in Italy are narrower than in North American. So don’t go too big or you may have trouble parking or navigating through small villages and country roads.

Pro tip: 

Early booking can save you a bundle: each year in mid-November to early December, the manufacturers offer deep discounts if you commit before the end of the year. In our case, we saved close to $1000 on our lease. 

In addition, we all know that there is a global shortage of microchips and LCD screens. This affects European automakers too. So, to make sure you get the car of your dreams (or at least the model that best suits your needs) book early.

For additional tips for an Italian road trip, read this post “Ten Things I wish I’d Know Before Leaving for Italy”

Choosing an Italian Road Trip Itinerary

The right Italian road trip itinerary will be different for each traveler. It will change based on the length of stay and how much you want to pack into your trip. Make sure you choose some key cities along the way. But also include some hidden gems off the beaten path if you can. Also, the ideal Italian road trip itinerary plans for what you want to do, rather than where you want to go. It’s the experience that counts, rather than the destinations. For us it was exploring vineyards and wineries, tasting great local authentic cuisine, local markets, the Tuscan and Ligurian countryside.

Here’s how we laid out our Italy road trip itinerary. We cover each destination in detail later in this and other posts.

our first stop on our road trip was Brescia. Here the clocktower in the town square.

Italian Road Trip Day 1 – Arrival in Milan, heading to Brescia (Lombardy)

Our voyage began in Milan on the first day of Fashion Week. As a result, the airport terminal at Malpensa (MXP) was teaming with activity. We noted that the crowd contained particularly elegant and stylish travelers. Some may have been fashion designers and models, others simply well-dressed Milanese going about their day with typical flair. 

Severly jet-lagged from the 6-hour time zone difference, despite a passable night’s sleep in flight, our only thought was to get the car, head out of town and get to our first destination: Brescia. We chose Brecia a waypoint on route to Venice. We thought it prudent not to drive more than 90 minutes on the first day to avoid fatigue and reduce the risk of an accident. 

Travel Pro-tip

Remember that you will be heavily jet lagged on arrival in Milan. There is a seven-hour time zone difference! Try to sleep as much as possible during your flight. Consider using Melatonin or some form of sleep aid to ensure you get enough shut eye. Don’t plan too much for your first day. And don’t plan on driving over a long distance on the first day to avoid fatigue that increases your risk of an accident.

The speed limit on the Autostrade is generally 130 kph. Italian drivers often exceed the limit, which is why legally you must remain in the righthand lanes except when passing. And be quick about it if you do. Otherwise, you might have a Porsche riding your tail, flashing its lights at you.  Get out of the way!

Brescia – A Hidden Gem

Our first stop on our Foodie road trip in Italy was Brescia. This quiet town is not a popular vacation hotspot. Travelers to the region typically head north to the Lakes district to admire the beauty of Lakes Como, Garda, Maggiore and Iseo. Or continue east to Verona, the city of Romeo and Julietta fame. Known as a thriving industrial hub, Brescia greets visitors with an austere series of run-down industrial buildings, grey residential structures, ruins and vacant overgrown lots. 

But in fact, Brescia has a lot to offer visitors, including a well-preserved historic center. Some excellent dining choices, luxurious shops and the best Aperitivo we experienced while visiting Italy. We stayed on the outskirts of town at a Marriott affiliated AC Hotel. Clean, modern and welcoming. Nothing luxurious mind you. The rooms, like in most hotels in Italy were small but efficiently organized. The staff was very helpful and spoke fluent English, which was great.

Read More about Brescia, Hidden Gem in the Heart of Lombardy

Discovering Italian Aperitivo

The Piazza, as well as the surrounding streets are lined with bars, restaurants and cafés featuring local cuisine and Aperitivo. Aperitivo, the equivalent of “happy hour” presents tremendous value since in most cases, the price of a drink includes a tasty snack of appetizers called Stuzzichini.

In Brescia, we found the Best Aperitivo in all of Italy (based on our experience) at Bullaccia Brescia in Piazza Duomo. They take their Aperitivo seriously with a generous and stylish platter of stuzzichini served on a wonderful outdoor terrace located across from the two cathedrals, old and new.

Far from the typical bar snacks like chips and peanuts, stuzzichini can include olives, cold cuts (salumi), formaggi (cheeses), bruschetta (please learn how to pronounce it correctly), crostini, pane, focaccia and of course… patatine (chips).

In addition to the piazza and clock tower, Brescia is home to two cathedrals, a 12th century town hall, a Roman forum, a 17th century palace, a monastery, skads of churches, a slew of museums and a monumental cemetery featuring a 60-meter tall “lighthouse” structure.

Travel Pro Tip 

Buying Gas on a Road trip in Italy

As with everything else, getting gas in Italy is an experience. Don’t expect the north American pay-at-the-pump convenience. Many gas stations, like the Esso station in Brescia, have a central payment terminal for all pump islands. Similar to an ATM, this is where you swipe your card to prepay, specify the pump number, then go back to the pump to fill. Fortunately, it featured a multi-lingual interface. At the end of the filling, a display next to the pump will tell you how much you’ve purchased and paid. 

If your car uses unleaded gas, look for the green nozzle that serves “Benzina”, also referred to as la verde. Often certain pumps or islands only feature diesel while others are reserved for gas. 

If you fill up in a rest area or Autogrill, you’ll need to pay inside. It’s worth stopping to fully grasp the Autogrill experience. Food, shopping, coffee, wine and gas, all in one place. Restroom cleanliness may vary.

Italian Road Trip Days 2-3 – Venice (Veneto)

Ah, Venice, the City of Love (or at least one of several that claim this designation). Second day on our Road trip in Italy, we arrived by mid-day because traffic on the Autostrade (A4, E70) was at a standstill for the better part of an hour leaving Brescia. Caused by a cocktail of roadwork, a collision, and the sheer volume of traffic, most of it trucks, heading to and from Milan. 

It was the first time we’ve ever seen a solid wall of trucks. Each vehicle was separated from the next by only a few feet. For some reason, European trucks seem much taller than north American rigs, so the impression of a solid wall was amplified. 

Piazza San Marco in Venice

Arriving in Venice by the Via della Libertà bridge was easy enough, though great care must be exercised to avoid the infamous autovelox traffic cams. They are often situated immediately after a change in speed limit and motorists are often forced to slam on the breaks to adjust their speed. Stay well below the limit to avoid fines.

Read More About Venice City of Love

Italian Road Trip Day Day 4 – Bologna, a Foodie Paradise (Emilia-Romagna)

Leaving Venice behind, we ventured south on the Autostrade towards Bologna, our third waypoint on our foodie road trip in Italy. A few drops of rain punctuated our journey south through Emelia-Romagna. Our route took us through the rich farmland and green spaces of the Po Valley. 

Bologna is known by three nicknames: La Grassa, la Dotta, and la Rossa. Each refers to a unique characteristic of the city based on its gastronomy, its economy and its architectural heritage.

A well stocked salumeria in Bologna la grassa
This well-stocked Salumeria features the very best of what Emilia-Romagna has to offer

Read more About Bologna La Grassa

Italian Road Trip Days 5- 11 – Siena, our Tuscan Base Camp

A major highpoint of our foodie adventures in Italy was our stay in Siena, in the heart of Tuscany. There is something unique about the vibe in Siena that we did not experience elsewhere during or trip. It was a combination of the location, the people, the laid back lifestyle, the architecture and of course the exquisite Tuscan cuisine that blend together to form moments of pure bliss. Plus there’s something surreal about living in a pedestrian city with a very limited presence of motor vehicles.

The Piazza del Campo in the Centro Storico of Siena, a key destination on our foodie road trip in Italy.
The Piazza del Campo in the Centro Storico of Siena with the Duomo in the background.

As you would expect, the food is to die for with dozens of wonderful restaurants to choose from. Tuscan cuisine is among the most exciting and refined in the world. From the simple Papa al pomodoro and hearty Ribollita to the inches-thick Bistecca alla Fiorentina and flavorful Pappardelle al ragu di Cinghiale. There’s so many dishes to try, we set aside a full week in Siena to try as many as possible. Turned out that we would have needed a month!

Read More About Our Seven Days in Siena

Italian Road Trip Days 12-14 – Florence (Tuscany)

With a heavy heart we left Siena behind and traveled to our next stop on our Foodie road trip: Florence. Technically, we were still in Tuscany, but the two cities could not be more different. From the quiet ambiance of Siena’s historic quarter, we were thrust into the chaos of Florences densely crowded streets and bustling neighborhoods.

The famous Ponte Vecchio in the heart of the Florence old quarter.

We were a taken aback by the sheer density of visitors in the Centro. Apparently, the Fall is no longer a shoulder season in this part of the country. Although not as bad as the middle of summer, expect long linups and wait times.

Travel Pro Tip

In main cities such as Florence, skip-the-line tickets to main attractions like the Uffizzi, the Duomo and l’Academia are an absolute must. You’ll save hours during your day and get to see more attractions during your stay as a result.

Italian Road Trip Days 14-16 – Cinque Terre (Liguria)

Riomaggiore, the first in a series of five fishing villages that form Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore, the first in a series of five fishing villages that form Cinque Terre.

Eager to leave the bustle of Florence behind, we packed our bag and took the Autostrada in the direction of Cinque Terre. Five quaint fishing villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso and Vernazza) make up this region. Ligurian fishermen carved these village into the coastline and painted buildings in bright colors: reds, yellow and oranges. These colorfully painted buildings are reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast. But with a personality of their own.

Access to the villages by car is restricted so it’s best to park in La Spezzia and take the Treno Regionale. We purchased a three day pass that allowed us to move easily between the villages from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Marre. Service is generally every 15 minutes or so. You can even travel as far as Genova. The close proximity to the ocean means that the local cuisine est comprised mainly of fish and seafood – as fresh as can be – expertly prepared and accompanied with wonderful local wines. Three days is not enough to enjoy all that this Ligurian enclave has to offer. We’ll definitely be back!

Read More About Our Stay in Cinque Terre

Italian Road Trip Days 17-18 – Genova (Liguria)

Remaining in Liguria, we traveled from Cinque Terre along the coast to the next stop on our foodie road trip: Genova. Birthplace of blue jeans (bleu de Gènes), Genoa is famous for its delectable Pesto al Genovese. This delicacy is made fresh from local basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiana Reggiano. Less known but equally delectable specialties include the ubiquitous Foccaccia, and Coniglio alla Ligure — a rich rabbit stew with black olives.

The magnificent fountain at the center of Piazza de Ferrari in Genova old quarter.

There’s a lot to see and do in Genoa, including the historic old quarter, the old port and the Genoa aquarium. Having only two days to visit, we hit the highlights, but could have easily spent more time exploring the Ligurian capital and it’s surroundings. Nearby Portofino was on our list but with so much on our plate, with a heavy heart, we decided to skip.

Read More About Our Stay in Genoa

Italian Road Trip Days 19-20 – Fashion Capital Milano (Lombardy)

The impressive spires atop the Duomo di Milano.

The final destination of our road trip was Milan. Fashion capital of Italy, Milan is the New York of Europe. A busy, fast-paced city with a booming economy where tourism plays an important role. However, Tourism is dwarfed by the fashion industry that revolves around Fashion Week. Needless to say, shopping in the myriad of shops and boutiques takes on gargantuan proportions as bargain hunters and aficionados scours the streets of the fashion district in search of the latest trends.

Milan sprawling public transit network revolves around an efficient metro system with multiple line spanning out in all directions. You’re always a metro stop or a bus ride away from everything. However, the subway is as congested as the streets, making it a great place to pick up a respiratory virus like we did. Covid 19 is still a thing and wearing a mask, though less fashionable, is your best protection. Fortunately we were home for the worst of the symptoms.

Read More About Our Stay in Milano

Italian Road Trip Day 21 – Return Flight to Montreal (YUL).

On our final morning, we dropped off the rental car and rode the shuttle to Malpensa airport (MXP). The vehicle return was uneventful and very efficient. A quick inspection of the vehicle, a form to sign and we were on our way. Only tricky part was finding the drop-off center. Google had us going in the opposite direction and we found that signs were rather discreet. But no worries, we had plenty of time before the flight boarded.

Inside the airport terminal, we made our way to the Lufthansa lounge that was available to Air Canada (Star Alliance) business class passengers. Unfortunately, a last minute gate change put us at the opposite end of the terminal about 20 minutes from the lounge.

With Danielle’s ankle in bad shape after so much walking, it was a painful trek to the gate and passport control. Some very kind airport employees gave us access to the priority lane and we sped through the formalities in minutes. We noticed a general spirit of compassion and empathy towards seniors and people with disabilities in Italy. Something that we North-Americans should take example of.

A Few Important Tips for a Successful Road Trip in Italy

Getting an International Drivers Permit 

We were surprized to learn that you need an International Drivers Permit or IDP. An IDP is basically a complement to your domestic driver license. It allows you to operate a vehicle of the same class in roughly 150 countries.

Getting one is easy in Canada and the USA. Both CAA and AAA offer the service for a small fee. You’ll need a passport-quality photo, which you can purchase from the two auto associations. 

Although we were able to get ours the same day, there may be delays in certain areas. Best to get it well in advance of your departure. 

Driving in Italy

There is a lot of information online about what it’s like to drive in Italy. Some of it is scary. There are even sites that question whether you should drive at all. There is a robust public transit system relying on reliable rail, tram, bus and air transportation. But if you want to get out into the countryside as we do, a car is a must. That being said, I found that driving in Italy was quite pleasant and often exhilarating. This is particularly true on the Autostrada where the speed limit is generally 130 kph! If you like to drive fast, you’ll love Italy!

beautifully painted Porsche on the streets of Florence
A beautifully hand-painted Porsche turning heads in the Centro Storico in Florence.

Keep in mind the key following driving tips:

  • As mentioned previously, roads in Italy are narrow at times making it hard to get around and park at times.
  • Italian drivers drive fast! Just let them pass and all will be fine. This is reflected in the speed limits on the highways which can reach 130kph. 
  • As a result of the previous point, there are speed cams everywhere (up to 11000 according to some sources). There are also “speed tutors” that measure how fast you went from point A to B and will fine you if your travel time is too short. 
  • Always stay in the righthand lane unless passing.
  • Stops signs, traffic lights and other signals are often treated as suggestions, so be careful of other drivers.
  • Yield to the car on the right at an intersection
  • Keep a reflective safety vest and triangle inside the car, (not in the trunk) in case of breakdowns. Put on the vest before leaving the car. There are hefty fines for non compliance.
  • Beware of ZTLs – restricted areas in major cities which only allow residents to enter. Heavy fines for entering will eat up your vacation budget.

There’s an amazing guide to driving in Italy on the Mom in Italy website. Click to learn more about roadsigns, highways, navigation, traffic, and more.

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