Toscana is the heart of Italia. All of Italy is beautiful and its regioni (regions) are as diversified as the United States’, but Toscana surpasses all other Italian states in natural beauty boasting over one hundred nature preserves. With Firenze (Florence) as the center, Toscana extends west over mountains verdant with beech and fir woods, south to the unpolluted Tyrrhenian Sea, the area of the Mediterranean named by the Greeks for the Etruscans, and the Ligurian Sea to the north.
The Etruscans were among the earliest inhabitants of Europe, and Tuscany has been the beneficiary of both Etruscan and Italian architecture, art, history, and civilization. Tuscany was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and as such, is home to amazing villages, towns and cities that provided the linkage between medieval and modern man.
Connecting the myriad villages and towns are smaller narrow roads usually busy with traffic that will drive you nuts after a while. Luckily, Italians know how to drive and have always shared the road with two-wheelers. Bicycles, Vespas, and motorcycles are everywhere, so lane sharing on these small roads and in the city is a part of life.
The smaller winding roads are not for the novice rider or faint of heart. Many roads leading up to the hill towns are typically one lane with hairpin turns and switchbacks. A heavy cruiser is not exactly ideal for these roads, and absolutely not for the inexperienced.
Something else to consider for your safety is that larger cruiser type bikes are rare, so the slow and sometimes casual pace we enjoy while soaking in the scenery is not how most Italians and Europeans drive their sportier two-wheelers and small scooters. It often seems like a race and jockey for pole-position at any traffic light, but with the roundabouts (traffic circles) this fast pace works well most of the time. But not looking ahead for traffic or obstacles can get you in a mess real quick. Like anywhere, you will come across the occasional asinine or octogenarian driver, so heightened awareness is a must. It’s also advisable to familiarize yourself with traffic signs and laws. For instance, you cannot make a right turn on a red light.
The Autostrada is the modern main highway system, much like highways in the U.S., and is the fastest way around Italy between larger towns and cities. A private company operates the Autostrada system and you pay tolls to use it. On some parts of the Autostrada you get a ticket when you enter and pay when you exit (you pay for the distance you drive). In other parts you pay set amounts at toll booths. Be sure to have cash before entering the Autostrada.
When you’re in a town and are looking for the Autostrada, look for green signs. They will show the town names for the destination of the Autostrada. Remember that that direction signs have the town names in Italian, so Rome is Roma and Florence is Firenze.
The signs on the roads and the Autostrada are similar to what we are used to in the U.S., but again, the words are in Italian. Here are a few words you should know:
Uscita means Exit
Entrata means Entrance
Tangenziale means tangential (or peripheral), usually a ring road around a large town
When you come to an Autostrada toll entrance you will see a toll plaza with one or more drive-in gates. Always go to a gate marked Biglietto (ticket) or drive to an unmarked gate. Do NOT enter gates marked only Viacard or Telepass. Take a card from the automated machine at the entry gate.
After you pass through the toll plaza you will see signs directing you to the possible destinations for the Autostrada. Always know which larger city you are heading towards (e.g. Roma or Firenze).