pisa italy europe

Italy: What I Know Now

I recently had the pleasure of exploring Italy.  During this journey, however, I learned many things that would have been advantageous to know before traveling to the country of carbs, gelato, and wine.  Therefore, I decided to compile a list for those with future adventures to Italy.

      1.   Driving through Italy can be quite the challenge.  While the Autostrade may be the logical choice for making your way through Italy via car, it might not be the best option if you do not familiarize yourself with a few things beforehand.  First off, there are speed cameras on the Autostrade, many of which are hidden.  So it is helpful to know that the maximum speed on the Autostrade is 130km/h.  Additionally, if you enter into a work zone, be on the lookout for reduced speeds.  Second, the Autostrade can potentially be the most expensive method, as the major highway is lined with tolls charging various fares.  One beneficial takeaway is that credit cards are accepted at the tolls as long as you enter into the correct lane designated “carte” as you see pictured on the right-hand side below.
        autostrade italy tolls
        The lane designated “carte” appearing on the right, where you can pay your toll with a credit card. 

        Even though the Autostrade is one of the more efficient ways to travel by car through Italy, it is not the only way.  If you opt to take a non-major highway, the speed limit is 110km/h, while local roads are 90km/h.Three other nuisances of driving through Italy include narrow streets, limited parking, and ZTL’s, all of which are attributed to the larger cities.  If you are making your way through the countryside and rural towns, you need not worry about these annoyances.  However, if you are staying in the more urban neighborhoods, my suggestion would be to not rent a huge SUV/van and try to keep the rental car on the smaller side, which will help you navigate the smaller sectors in the cities.   Limited parking speaks for itself, and unfortunately an element that is out of all control, so fingers crossed!  The real kicker here is that parking is generally not free, so be mindful of this when parking your vehicle.   And lastly, the beloved ZTL’s better known as Zona Traffico Limitato, which translates to Limited Traffic Zones.  These are zones where cars are not allowed to enter into during certain times of the day.  My recommendation would be to avoid these sections at all costs as not all Italian cities abide by a uniform set of rules with respect to ticketing and fines.  The zones are monitored by cameras so tickets are automatically issued and sent to you via mail.  Not to mention if you are using Google Maps, the mobile application does not recognize these areas, so there is no forewarning.  So be sure to be on the lookout.

        verona italy street
        An example of how small the roads can be in the Italian cities.
      2. Cover charge.  The cover charge, better known as the “cuperto” in the Italian language, is a fee you will commonly see on your bill if you opt to sit down at a restaurant to eat.  Unfortunately, this is something that is almost always included so be aware of this to avoid any surprises.  The cuperto can range anywhere from 1 to 5 euros per person depending on the venue, so plan accordingly when sitting down to dine. Of note, the cuperto is generally higher in touristy areas, so if you are looking to save, try to eat at venues off the beaten path.
      3. Cinque Terre is dead during off-season.  Yes, it is a beautiful region, one for the books in fact, but not during the non-peak period.  From the end of October until around May/June time frame, this picturesque coastal location becomes a ghost town.  Restaurants and stores close and the number of people dwindle dramatically.  So do yourself a favor and skip this if you are exploring Italy during this time as it is not worth the hassle.

        cinque terre italy
        Cinque Terre in November.
      4. Cheese is amazing with honey and jam.  No, but seriously, apparently this is a popular custom in Italy and boy is it delectable.  I was a little confused at first why cheese was being accompanied with honey and jam when ordering cheese plates from various restaurants.  The idea here is the sweetness of the jam and honey balance out the saltiness of the cheese.  So while it might sound weird, don’t knock it til you try it!

        alba italy honey cheese jam
        Cheese plate pictured with honey and jam.
      5. Cash is not obsolete.  It is easy to think that you might not need cash in the day of credit cards, but that does not hold true in Italy, especially if you are a coffee drinker.  Many of the small little cafes only accept cash, so it would be wise to bring some euros along to be on the safe side.
      6. Autogrills are not-so-hidden gems.  Autogrills are the well-known rest stops of Italy, and while that probably does not speak to most of us given our perception of U.S. highway rest stops, the Autogrills are phenomenal.  These centers offer delicious coffee and even decent food options–not to mention the prices are reasonable compared to other establishments throughout the country.  Aside from this, Autogrills are a great place to pick up souvenirs as they carry locally-sourced items such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and decadent chocolates.

        autogrill autostade italy
        The Infamous Autogrill.

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