The first stop on our Italy trip was Rome where we spent a short time taking in the usual tourist spots. Our next stop was Sorrento, down south along the coast. As I mentioned in the previous post, we rented a car from Europcar and planned to drive it down south, and then eventually back north to Sienna, where we planned to drop it off and switch to trains.
Driving in Italy
After the experience of logging 2,000+km in Italy during the trip, I would suggest you think long and hard about whether you want to drive in Italy before committing to a rental car. There are two considerations that should be thought through:
Will you be going into areas that are restricted?
The Italians call these ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) which essentially means Limited Traffic Zone. The only indication that you’re entering a restricted zone is a small sign, usually with times and other details on it, written far too small to be legible at any reasonable distance.
The sign itself is often hard to see and when you do see them, it’s often too late to find an alternative route. The ZTL can be found in every major city and even in the smaller towns like Siena. The Italians may be relaxed about many things, but they are very serious and efficient when it comes to ZTL.
Cameras register your plate and immediately ticket the owner; with rental cars, they pass on the ticket to the credit card holder. We heard of several stories of tourists who returned home to find letters arriving every few weeks with €120 fines from various cities they visited. One family told me they received five ZTL tickets which cost them over €500 in fines.
The rental car company did not mention this, except for a small paragraph in the “How to Drive in Italy” pamphlet. Please be aware of the ZTL and search for current maps. I believe we incurred €240 in fines, even though we knew about the zones. One in Rome right after we picked up the rental car when Google Maps lost signal and sent us into the central area by mistake, and one in Naples when we also got lost and were forced to enter a ZTL on a one-way street.
Are you a confident driver?
The Italians take their driving very, very seriously. They don’t appear to talk, eat, or do anything except focus on the task (and sometimes enjoyment) of driving. On the Autostrada, we were often passed like we were standing still while cruising along at 130km/h in the right lane. Driving discipline is excellent and the Italians really know how to drive.
Driving on the Autostrada was a breeze with easy and intuitive toll-gates. The challenge comes when you get into the smaller towns where the roads are shockingly narrow for one car, and then you find out they are actually two-way streets! These narrow two-way streets don’t seem to slow down the Italian drivers either; they somehow go full blast and just barely squeeze through.
Having said that, when we were in Siena, we noticed that every car had scratches on them so I think the narrow streets do eventually take their toll, and hopefully, not their toll on your wallet from the rental car company when you return a dinged or scratched car.
Overall, I’d say that we had a positive experience driving in Italy, but that’s because we spent most of the time driving through the beautiful hilly and twisty Tuscan roads, and because I’m a hobby racing driver that really enjoyed driving in a country so obviously passionate about cars and driving.
Sorrento is a coastal town in southwestern Italy, facing the Bay of Naples. It’s known for its historic town and marinas with stunning water views and the Piazza Tasso, the central court from which all roads lead to.
It took is a little over four hours to reach Sorrento with a stopover in Naples. Naples looks amazing and I’d like to go back there. We stopped for their famous pizza, which lived up to the legend!
We stayed at an Airbnb in the historic town of Sorrento and loved waking up early and wandering around the narrow alleyways while searching for our first hit of espresso and trying out the awesome bakeries all around the town.
The Sorrento Lemon is an Italian Protected fruit IGP (IGT). The Amalfi lemon, along with the Sorrento lemon, is also used to prepare Limoncello, a popular liqueur made from lemons born in the areas of Capri, Amalfi and Sorrento.
The food in Sorrento, like all of Italy was fantastic. We had dinners at three restaurants: Blu Water Sorrento, L’Antica Trattoria, and Terrazza Vittoria atop the Grand Hotel Continental.
Blu Water had good food, but the manager had a strange approach to attracting customers; he would yell at people looking at the menu outside “only dumb Americans go next door and pay double for the same food we have”. Had we heard this before we were seated, we would have passed, but something odd, while we were there, the majority of his clients were Americans! I don’t quite understand the logic of how that all works, but clearly it works for him. It’s too bad he takes this approach because the food was otherwise excellent and his staff were excellent too.
L’Antica Trattoria was the restaurant next door that the manager at Blu Water was speaking of. Since we liked the food at Blu Water, we decided to pay double for the same food and went next door the next day. In reality, the price was not double and the ambience was exceptional with an elegant interior design and a great outdoor patio area. We loved the food and didn’t find the price high. While seated outside, it was interesting to watch the manager from Blu Water next door attempting to manipulate and play on people’s insecurities; the strong ones ignored him and came into L’Antica Trattoria anyhow, and were better off for it.
On the third and final night in Sorrento, we came across a beautiful hotel and noticed they had a rooftop restaurant. A quick chat with the Concierge and we were booked for dinner right around sunset time. The food, service, and view were exceptional at Terrazza Vittoria. I’d highly recommend at least one dinner there and hopefully during the sunset time.
Over the course of two days, we took two boat trips, one of which was to the Amalfi Coast with a specific focus on Positano. The town itself was beautiful and we were able to get the picture we wanted (you need to hike up the main road for some time in the scorching sun to get to the ideal location), however it was jammed with tourists, so plan to go early if you can. I think sunset or sunrise would make for a much more interesting picture too.
For the second boat trip, we took a short ride out to Capri and Anacapri (the higher section of the island). Capri lived up to its reputation as a place for the rich and famous. The island is full of luxury brand shops, expensive food and wine, and the fabulous people who can afford it all. Along the marina, there were endless yachts with two that really stood out for their presence, the Karianna and Thumper yachts.
We took one of the supercool taxis from Capri to Anacapri and then took the chair lift up to the top to capture some of the epic views of Capri and the Faraglioni, the famous rock formation.
Next stop is Florence
Heading out of Sorrento, we got back into our car and headed back north to Florence. Up until this point, we were enjoying the trip, albeit a bit overwhelmed with the number of tourists around. In every trip, there comes a moment where you just know if the trip is a good one, or a really, really great one. Florence would become our moment where the trip took on momentum and became a great trip.