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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Do I need a car in Italy?

Updated: Feb 20

PART 78: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps and what we are learning along the way.


We love every minute of it, and what was once a dream is our life!


We live in Tuscany in the Fall, then back again in the Spring, and in California for the rest of the time (in a previous blog, I explained why we live in Italy only part of the year).


Let's explore transportation in Italy.


Step 1: Do I need a car while living in Italy?


I have lived in Italy twice: first in Rome for eight years as a student, and more recently in Puglia.


Now, we are moving to Tuscany.


While living in Rome, if someone had asked me whether having a car while living in Italy was necessary, my answer would have been a resounding "no"! Rome is well-connected, and all the places I wanted to go were accessible by train. Besides, Rome is difficult to navigate and impossible to park in.


Moreover, as a student, owning, leasing, or renting a car was an expense I could not afford.


However, fast forward to our lives in Puglia and now Tuscany, and the answer to the question "Do you need a car while living in Italy?" would be a resounding "yes!" Why so?


Let's explore both.


Step 2: Geography and purpose.


Having or not having a car is influenced by geography and what type of experience one wants in Italy.


When I lived in Rome, I resided in a city with a central train hub and could easily access all the stores, museums, and cultural sites I was interested in on foot. I was more interested in exploring major European cities than rural areas or small towns at that time.


However, when we moved to Puglia, we realized that having a car would be essential. Although we could still walk to stores, we wanted to experience the wider area, which was only possible with a vehicle. We could visit smaller towns, participate in local festivals, enjoy the beaches, or easily explore new hiking areas. Moreover, we lived in a smaller town that was not well connected by train.


As we now plan to move to Tuscany, we have discovered that the most scenic areas outside of Florence and Siena are not well connected by trains. Whether it is Val d'Orcia or Monte Amiato, experiencing it without a car can be quite challenging.


But let's go deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of having a car.


Step 3: The advantages of not having a car in Italy.


The first advantage of having no car in Italy is the expense. Whether buying, leasing, or renting, having a car for months is expensive. Plus, there is the added complication that a non-resident US citizen cannot register a car in Italy.


So one can save lots of money by not having a car.


Other advantages of being free of a car in Italy include no parking stress, no need to adapt to driving habits in Italy, an efficient train system, and no fear of breakdowns or being stranded somewhere. Last but not least, one avoids the difficult written driving test in Italy, which is a requirement for obtaining an Italian drivers license.


Step 4: The disadvantages of not having a car.


It is important to note that the disadvantages of not having a car in Italy can vary depending on one's individual travel needs and priorities.


For instance, an expat who is considering where to live in Italy will find that not having a car means being restricted to living only in larger towns or cities that are well connected to train lines. However, living in a more populous town or city can have its own advantages and disadvantages.


Some readers have pointed out that there are some smaller cities or towns that are along main train routes, which makes traveling by train convenient. Orte, less than an hour from Rome on a main train route, is one of these towns that we looked into. Though we decided that this town wasn't for us, there may be others along major train routes that might be a good fit for someone who decided to not have a car.


When we were exploring different places to live in Italy, we considered both larger cities like Bologna and smaller cities like Orte. While both places are on strategic train lines, we found that the larger cities exceeded our housing budget, and some of the smaller cities didn't meet our requirements.


Therefore, not having a car can limit one's options when it comes to choosing where to live in Italy.


An important disadvantage of not having a car is the limited accessibility to areas with underdeveloped public transportation. In our experience, one requires a car to explore the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany, the magnificent beaches in Puglia, the trulli in the countryside around Alberobello, and the breathtaking views in the Dolomites. Without a car, one misses out on these areas and many other wonderful places.


Participating in town feasts and festivals is a vital part of our life in Italy, as it provides us with a glimpse of history, culture, and sometimes religious beliefs. Sometimes we plan to attend a festival in a nearby town, while other times it is a spontaneous decision, as when friends invite us. These festivals are some of the most fantastic experiences we have had in Italy so far, and attending them without a car would be a challenge.


Without a car, one also misses out on exploring the smaller, yet incredible towns, such as in the Val d'Orcia or other places that do not have a developed train service.


Step 5: The advantages of having a car in Italy.


The advantages of owning a car have already been discussed, and they include having more options for where to live, the ability to explore the countryside, beaches, and mountainous regions, and easier access to town feasts and festivals as well as smaller, charming towns.



Moreover, there is the idea of spontaneity. In California, it is part of our nature to plan everything ahead of time. We schedule dinners with friends weeks in advance and book activities well beforehand. In Italy, it is not uncommon for a local friend to invite us to a dinner that same night, or to take us to an open-air concert in the nearby town or to watch a procession in another village. Without a car or a ride, we would have to decline such spontaneous invites, unless we had the chance to check the bus or train schedule.


Furthermore, there are practical issues like grocery and other shopping; without a car, it can be hard to reach a big mall or larger shopping center and then carry the goods back home.


Step 6: The disadvantages of having a car.


As mentioned above, owning a car in Italy has some drawbacks, such as the high cost of renting, leasing or buying them. Additionally, one needs to learn the driving styles, speed limits, parking and other regulations in the country. Touristy areas often present parking problems, and it can be time-consuming to find a suitable spot to leave the car.


Step 7: Hybrid approach.


We considered a hybrid approach of not renting a car for the full three months that we are in Italy, but instead only renting it for a few days each month for exploring and shopping purposes. However, we ultimately decided against this idea because part of the adventure of being in Italy is being spontaneous, and we didn't want to limit ourselves without having transportation readily available.


Step 8: Our solution.


We discovered that Renault offers a car leasing program wherein one can reserve a car in advance and collect it either in Rome or Milan. In the long run, this option may prove to be more cost-effective compared to the standard car rental agencies.

For those interested, this is the site that we use now. https://www.auto-tt.com. Their rates have risen, however. We are exploring other car rental options and I will write about what we discover.


Insights:


I cannot provide a one size fits all answer to the question of whether one needs a car in Italy as it's a personal decision. However, based on our own experience, we believe that having a car is essential. Our decision was influenced by the place we chose to live in and our reasons for living in Italy. We hope that our experience can assist others in making a decision.


More next time.


Now on sale for $2.99: My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CRKMKPWF?ref_=cm_sw_r_cp_ud_dp_X2WRQ3PTG2ZDD7AVF6GH


Amazon Italy- my book "Lei mi ha sedotto. Una storia d'amore con Roma": https://amzn.eu/d/13nuZCL.


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Apr 12

Have you considered an ebike? With the new modes many have over 100Km of range and you could bike right to the house. Also many places in Italy have Cantinas though you may not.

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