They say driving in Italy is an adventure.

They say the Amalfi Coast road, with all its curves, impossibly narrow stretches and crazy drivers, is even more of an adventure.

But what those people didn’t say is that learning to drive a manual transmission car for the first time in Italy and on the Amalfi Coast is something more than an adventure. Start by thinking action adventure, set it in a small town, add a few donkeys, tourist buses, and a couple of perplexed old men sitting on a wall, and you will have a mental image of my first driving lesson in Italy.

Sigh. This is going to take awhile. What I found most frustrating is that I could go so quickly from being the person who was a very good driver for eleven years to the person who suddenly felt so helpless behind the wheel. As I struggled to find the right balance between la frizione (the clutch) and the pedale dell’acceleratore (you guessed it!), I couldn’t help but wonder why driving has to be so difficult. But difficult or not, manual transmission cars are the standard here in Italy, and I do intend to be that good driver again. Like I said, it is just going to take awhile. While the parking lot I dream of is nonexistent here, we have found a couple of stretches of road on the way home that are relatively straight (only three or four curves!) and not too steep, so those are my practicing grounds now. I know at the end of this driving adventure I will feel confident driving just about anywhere in the world. For the time being, perhaps I will just stick to the virtual driving on Google Maps!

What are your best driving adventures in Italy?

Travel Tip
Are you planning on driving on your next trip to Italy? It is very easy, quick and affordable to get an International Driving Permit from your local AAA or through the mail. I also hear it is possible to rent automatic transmission cars here for those of you that share the same driving disadvantage as me!

  • Scintilla @ Bell'Avventura

    Good luck! I’ve never dared drive in Italy. There is no parking in any case in Positano. Having a car is more of a hinderance sometimes.

    March 26, 2009
  • Leanne in Italy

    Well I have no problem driving a manuel car…but my problem is that I (being Australian) drive on the other side of the road. I have driven in Portugal…and a little in bel ragazzo’s village…but in a week I am going to have to be driving from Sorrento, to Positano, to Amalfi, then back over to Cilento all the time…and I am SOOOOOOO scared!
    Get off the road if you see me coming Laura!

    Bel ragazzo says i have to drive like an Italian…hmm…yes, easier said then done. I am just going to drive slow. Let others overtake me if they want. I for one will try to ignore people behind me who are honking their horns!

    March 26, 2009
  • Lola

    I got my driver’s licence at 16 in California. I have been driving since then, living in Italy. My fista car was an automatic Lancia, I now drive an automatic Smartcar and will never EVER learn how to drive a stick shift, ever.

    I always get nauseous as a passenger along La Costiera, but if I’m driving (on my automatic vehicle) I’m too terrified to be car-sick.
    Fun post, brava.

    March 26, 2009
  • traveldreamsandmoonbeams

    Laura, my heart goes out to you. I only rent an automatic when I visit there, especially on the Amalfi drive. It is actually a really pleasant drive once you can master it. As to the international driving permit, that is no longer needed as long as you have an American driving license.

    Your adventure sounds as harrowing as teaching my Italian friend to drive an automatic on the Amalfi drive. Once he got the hang of it, it was OK and he loved it. He said it made driving that circuitous road a whole lot easter.

    In bocca al lupo!

    March 26, 2009
  • Laura

    Ciao Scintilla! Yes, having a car certainly can be more of a hindrance here. Trying to go to Amalfi with a car in the summer can be very difficult. The parking fills up so quickly! My boyfriend is an expert at knowing where to park the car when there is no place to park. Even after I get the driving down, I have so much to learn! 🙂

    Ciao Leanne! Mamma mia! I can’t imagine having to get over driving on the opposite side of the road on the Amalfi Coast! You have me beat. 🙂 You will do fine. Vai piano piano… and let people overtake you when it is safe. The people here may seem like they are driving like maniacs, but most of them know the road so well that they can drive that way. The local drivers here overtake all the time, even other good local drivers, so don’t feel bad about that at all. If you have to drive often, you will get the hang of it quickly! At first, could you take the SITA bus until you are more comfortable?

    Ciao Lola! Ah, I never EVER wanted to learn how to drive a stick shift, but it is the only car we have! I am seriously considering a scooter someday, although I don’t know how to ride one of those either. Strange, I get carsick sometimes between Cetara and Salerno, and almost always on the way to Agerola. Weird. The rest of the Coast I am fine. I have wondered if it would be the same if I were driving. Only one way to find out!

    Ciao Lisa! Grazie! I think a lot of people would find an automatic easier to drive here on the Amalfi Coast. But it is all what you are used to I guess. My boyfriend was intrigued by your story, but I think he wouldn’t consider getting an automatic. But I am just back from a rather successful driving lesson. I found I could go backwards better (I just am strange I think), and once I got that down it was easier to go forward without stalling the car. Baby steps! 🙂 I hadn’t read that the international driving permit wasn’t necessary in Italy anymore. Mine is about to expire though. I would love more info if you have where you read that. Grazie for the information!

    March 26, 2009
  • Peter

    Too Funny…

    "But what those people didn't say is that learning to drive a manual transmission car for the first time in Italy and on the Amalfi Coast is something more than an adventure."

    …that's a triple-whammy!

    September 9, 2009
  • Laura

    Ciao Peter! It certainly is. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder that it's time to start driving lessons again now that the coast is less packed. Everyone out of my way!!!

    September 9, 2009

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