Years ago, when I was a much younger man, I would often drive to Italy from England. It was for a business I once had buying Italian artefacts and selling them to customers in the UK – this was of course long before the days of online shopping! Although it was for work, I loved the journey especially once past the French or Swiss borders and into my beloved Italy. The stark contrast between regions and the diversity of the country really came to life right in front of me.
As you know, I’m from the Amalfi Coast and my journey would usually end there, so my journey from London was quite a lengthy one, but I didn’t mind. The beauty of my homeland never ceased to amaze me from the snow-capped mountains of the Alpine regions before heading to Genova and the Ligurian Coast of Cinque Terre and then into central Italy and the Tuscan countryside, to Rome with its hilly suburbs, to the madness of Naples and eventually the beauty of the Amalfi Coast.
Although I no longer drive all the way to Italy, I often hire a car once I’m there in order to explore further and venture off the beaten track. What’s great about having a car is you can stop off anywhere that takes your fancy for a wander, to explore or get a bite to eat. Even on the motorway I make a point of stopping at one of the service stations, not only to refuel, but for a snack break at the many popular autogrill and I am always amazed at the quality of food available. The Italian motorway panini are good enough to actually make a point of stopping for lunch! Some also have shops and resemble top-quality delis stocking cured meats, cheeses and other specialities of the area. On a visit to Italy in December, one such service station was full of Christmas goodies. Whenever I’m travelling from Naples to Cilento, where I have spent lovely family holidays, I stop to stock up on freshly made local bufala mozzarella.
Hiring cars is so easy in Italy and even if you don’t get one at the airport, Citalia’s concierge service can arrange this for you so that you can enjoy the freedom of touring at your leisure even if only for a day. At peak summer times, I advise you to book in advance.
If you’re staying in one of the resorts on the Amalfi Coast or in nearby Sorrento, then a drive along the beautiful coastline is a must and with your own wheels you can also venture inland into the mountains. I like to go to Montepertuso and Nocella above Positano to enjoy the fresh air, tranquillity and lunch at the lovely Donna Rosa restaurant.
I was recently taken on a drive from Naples to a small hilltop town above Benevento across the Neapolitan Appenines – rugged and peaceful and such a contrast to the coast. And I was treated to a wonderful home-cooked meal by one of the many small family-run restaurants you get in rural areas all over Italy – top quality food at exceptional value!
There is no better way of experiencing the diversity of Italy and combining regions. I like to combine the Amalfi Coast with Puglia and have done so with Liz and the girls. In this way you can experience two very southern regions but with totally different landscapes, coastlines, culture and food. From the chic beaches of Positano to the more rugged Gargano and the pretty coastal resort of Vieste. From here a drive to Alberobello with its quaint conical-shaped houses and perhaps further south to Ostuni and Lecce for a taste of the more undiscovered south. Heading back towards Amalfi we drove back via Matera in Basilicata to marvel at the age-old sassi – a settlement of ancient cave dwellings which are quite unique. The inland drive across the Lucania Appenines is a quiet yet dramatic experience to savour, but also enjoy the peace and isolation this land offers before hitting busy Salerno and Amalfi once more.
Another self-drive favourite, which I did years ago with Liz, is to combine Rome and Umbria. We flew to Rome and stayed for a few days visiting the Eternal City on foot and public transport of course – I would only recommend hiring a car in Rome if you want to visit the small towns and villages outside the city known as Castelli Romani. After the hustle and bustle of the city, we collected our hire car and headed north towards Perugia and the lovely Umbrian countryside where vineyards, olives groves, cypress trees and sunflowers dominate the landscape. We stayed near Assisi in the Sibillini Mountains and each day got into our hire car to visit a different part of this rural and welcoming region where in some hilltop villages, time seems to have stopped. Roads are quiet and driving is pleasurable in this scenic, green land. Although Umbria is land-locked, if you fancy a swim, Lake Trasimeno is a pretty spot to spend a hot afternoon. If you want to indulge in a little retail therapy as well as explore the local history, Perugia is the place with interesting churches and museums as well as chic Italian boutiques. You conveniently park just outside the main square and take a set of escalators which pass through the underground remains of the medieval old town before arriving in Perugia’s bustling hub.
I love Sicily; so close to the mainland yet so totally different in feel and culture. Liz and I had a lovely time driving around on this magical island combining it with the pretty Aeolian islands. We drove from Palermo inland discovering unspoilt villages where the locals were welcoming and friendly and the food out of this world. We were very well fed at the agriturismo we happened to come across during our travels. Public transport can be unreliable in Sicily so hiring a car is the best option if you want to venture off from the main coastal resorts. The roads are generally quiet and it’s very easy to get around. Explore Palermo, Catania, Agrigento, Siracusa, Trapani and the lovely village of Erice. If you head for the islands you can arrange to bring your car, otherwise it can be left in the car parks at the major ports. When we went, we left the car at the port and then hired a car on Lipari for a day to explore.
Your self-drive holiday can be as complex or as simple as you like. Citalia’s team of experts is on hand to help and share their knowledge so just ask them for itinerary suggestions. Whether you choose sea and mountains or city and countryside, or even combine multi regions, the options of this diverse and enchanting country are endless making you want to return time and time again.