The Italian word for exit is uscita. Since it sounds a bit like an English curse word and we didn’t know how to swear in Italian, we muttered it at times when we encountered frustrating driving situations in Tuscany. If you want to see the beautiful hill towns, you’ll need a car, but that doesn’t mean it will be facile!
The good news: The lovely, peaceful landscapes and delicious food and wine of the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany are well worth the effort. Compared to car rentals in other European countries, the Hertz rental car for the week seemed relatively inexpensive at about 300 euros including insurance. You will also need an International Driving Permit from AAA, and the cost is $25.
Observations about driving: As in most European countries, streets can be narrow so there are no SUVs, but there are cute mini-pickup trucks. There’s generally no signaling for passing especially on the autostrada. There are signs for deer, and one night they passed in front of our car. They are teeny tiny deer, and the fawns were about one foot tall and the adult deer about two feet.
Overall advice: The easiest way to navigate the hill towns of Tuscany is with Google Maps on a smartphone. On a map, the hill towns look like they are conveniently close to each other, but your drive will be complicated by switchbacks, roundabouts, and quick entrances and exits.
Driving the autostrada: Unfortunately, Google Maps doesn’t tell you about toll roads. Before we left, we probably should have researched toll roads and driving in Italy, and this website has a good summary https://www.rhinocarhire.com/Car-Hire-Blog/August-2015/Italian-Toll-Roads-A-Guide-to-Toll-Roads-in-Italy.aspx
There were two rental cars in our group driving from the Florence Airport, and Google Maps gave two different southerly routes to Pienza. My husband and I took the A1 toll road most of the way and paid 7,20 euros at the exit. The rental car people recommended taking the exit at Impruneta which would have been less expensive and probably more scenic. On the way back to Florence from Pienza, Google Maps took us off the autostrada, and we paid 1,60 euro in tolls.
Don’t forget to pick up a Telepass ticket (biglietto) at the toll station to get on the A1. The other rental car in our group went through the Telepass lane which was for people who have an automatic toll payer. When they exited, they had to pay a fee of 50 euros because they didn’t have a ticket. In the photo of the toll both, there is a sign showing a hand, bills, and coins. That means there will be an actual person in the toll booth and you can pay in cash. It’s also not stated on the ticket how much you will pay, so we didn’t know until we got to the final toll booth how much the toll would be.
Watch out! Italian roadways have different signage, and there are two that are particularly important. One sign is the dreaded red circle (Uscita! Uscita! Uscita!) This shows a restricted area for traffic. If you drive into this area, the fine can be 200 euros! Somehow it’s added on the credit card that you used for the rental car, and you have a nice welcome home surprise when you receive your bill.
Another sign indicates that your speed is monitored by video. We heard from a fellow traveller that you could be charged 50 euros for each speeding violation, and these charges can also appear on your credit card bill. A curious thing was that as we were trying to maintain the correct speed, the locals were all flying past us! Non lo capisco!
Returning the rental car in Florence (Double uscita! uscita! uscita!) Why is it that you could have the most relaxing vacation ever, but you hit maximum stress levels returning a rental car? First, in order to fill up the gas tank, we needed to find a gas station. Two nearby gas stations were closed or out of gas. We found a third one, and a friendly Fiorentino helped us estimate how many euros we needed to insert in the pay machine to fill up the tank. He guessed ten, but we paid 15 euros to fill up. If you don’t fill up the tank, you get charged 75 euros by the rental car company. Our Fiat used diesel gas at 1,53 euros a liter or about $7 a gallon.
Our next problem was getting back to the rental car return from the gas station. There were lots of one-way streets, and the Google Maps directions came fast and furious. The GPS would sometimes give quick multiple directions such as to make a sharp left, slight right, and continue straight although there were two streets to choose from. Each time we missed the correct turns, we were taken on a circular route farther from our destination.
The poet Dante Alighieri was from Florence. If he were alive today, he might add this car rental return as a 10th circle of hell. In truth, outside of the car rental return, my husband enjoyed the adventurous driving in Italy. As the navigator, I might suggest a train to the smaller town of Cortona and a car rental from there on our next trip to Tuscany.