10 Best Road Trips in Italy
Road trips through Italy offer beautiful hilltop towns… and a complete disregard for traffic rules. While living in Italy, Mattie Bamman discovered these 10 road trips, two of which you should never attempt.
This list of road trips range from day trips to extended drives of two weeks or longer.
Italy has a surprisingly diverse landscape, and, to really appreciate it, it’s best to rent a car and drive into the countryside. This eclectic list of 10 best road trips hits all of my favourite spots—and points out some drives you should be wary of.
1. The National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise
The quiet, relatively unknown regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise lie two hours east of Rome and have some of the most stunning countryside I’ve found in Italy. Entering the park (Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise in Italian), the road quickly climbs into the mountains, where white cows graze and hiking trails wind off into the forests. The small towns in the park are virtually untouched. Don’t stop until you reach the town of Vasto and see the famous Trabocchi coast.
Surprisingly, this is one of my least favourite drives in Italy. Travel magazines feature it time and time again, yet the road along the Amalfi Coast is barely two lanes and typically swamped with both municipal buses and tour buses. As a driver, you meet these buses around every corner, which entails coming to a screeching stop and reversing—often with other drivers on your tail—until the bus can get past. Never mind the 200-foot cliffs that plunge into the sea beside you. Relaxing? No. Picturesque? Only with a stolid sense of humour.
So much of Sicily’s exceptional beauty can only be seen by car. This makes for a terrific two-week road trip. Circumnavigate the island, visit the famous vineyards of Mt. Etna and Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG region, tour ancient Greek theaters and temples, and soak up the sun. I recommend making a loop, beginning in Palermo. Drive east to Messina, south to Syracuse, on to Agrigento and back to Palermo.
4. Italian Riviera
Stretching from the French border almost to Tuscany, the Italian Riviera has numerous seaside towns with beaches, bustling produce markets and excellent restaurants. Portions of the drive include a series of tunnels. The famous towns of Cinque Terre and Portofino reside to the south. Floods drastically damaged Cinque Terre in 2011, but reports suggest that the towns are recovering quickly.
This is one of the most popular regions of Italy for a reason: Wineries, manicured vineyards, iconic villas and excellent restaurants can be found in every picture-perfect town. Take SR222 from either Florence or Sienna to arrive in the centre of Tuscany’s Chianti Classico region.
6. The Salento Peninsula in Puglia
Puglia is a long way south, but the journey is worth it. Though the quality of the roads in Puglia is below average, this particular drive is well maintained. Stretching between the towns of Santa Maria di Leuca and Otranto, it is one of my favourite drives in all of Italy. Santa Maria di Leuca offers party-friendly beaches and Arabesque architecture, and Otranto offers plenty of dining options and a relaxing seaside promenade. The road between hugs limestone cliffs, crosses turquoise inlets and passes ancient Roman towers once used to warn the villages of approaching armies and pirates.
7. Northern Sardinia
This road trip loop combines several of Sardinia’s most iconic areas, including the west coast beaches, the northern Emerald Coast, and the snow-capped peaks in Gennargentu National Park, as well as the unsung interior. Beginning in Alghero, travel north to the Stintino peninsula and Santa Teresa di Gallura, then south to Cala Gonone. Next, cross the interior to Bosa, then back to Alghero. It can take one or two weeks. The coastal roads are slow going but yield the best views, especially the road between Alghero and Bosa.
This epic drive takes you through a series of passes in the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy. Jagged mountains climb above and verdant valleys glisten below. There are plenty of hiking trails and scenic turnouts along the way. The route runs between the towns of Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo on the SS241 and SS48 roads, and it can be driven non-stop in less than four hours. Note that the roads are closed due to snow during certain times of the year.
9. Umbria’s Tiber Valley
Featuring some of the most manicured countryside in Italy, the Tiber Valley is home to the pious town of Assisi and the wine towns of Montefalco and Bevagna. I recommend leaving from Perugia and making a loop, taking the SS75, then Via Perugia.
10. Florence to Rome to Naples
This is possibly the worst idea ever. Driving in these cities is a nightmare. Florence has roads that are one-way in opposite directions during different hours of the day, and red lights mean nothing in Rome. Driving in Naples reminds me of a game of bumper cars with pedestrians and mopeds thrown in. Unless you’re a seriously adventurous driver, don’t drive around these cities on purpose!