For the first time this week, I rented a car to drive to the Amalfi Coast and navigate my way around its many villages. Even those who haven’t visited the area surely know of the famed Amalfi Drive (S.S. 163), filled with tour buses, cars and scooters all fighting for space on hairpin turns along cliffs high above the sea. Yet every corner seems to reveal an even more stunning view of the ocean, the villages, the rows of lemon trees and even the clouds above. Should YOU rent a car to explore this region? Here are some things to consider:
Driving Experience/Desire for Adventure: I don’t mind driving in Italy; I’ve done it numerous times, but I also know that drivers in Italy are crazy. They see the lines in the road and speed limits as mere suggestions and are incredibly impatient. If this is your first time driving here, think about whether you are confident enough to do so on one of Italy’s most trying roads. On the Amalfi Drive, the road is so narrow that special traffic cops must stop traffic to allow huge tour buses to pass, the twists and turns require quick reflexes and, when it is raining, traffic can really back up (see photo — but if you’re in one of the local buses, you’re stuck in traffic too.)
Cost: When driving along the Amalfi Coast, it is easier to do so in an automatic car (lots of shifting in a manual). But an automatic is also much more expensive. The cost for our one-week rental of an automatic Mercedes hatchback was more than $600. (Filling the tank cost 75 euros — gas is much more expensive here.) Taking the train to Naples and then switching to a smaller one for the Naples to Sorrento journey and then taking the bus to all of the cities along the cost is far cheaper (but lugging all your bags, ugh, and it takes longer) but a rental is far more cost effective than hiring a car and driver (prices are definitely at a high for this type of service). I always get the best rental rates from AutoEurope.
Car Size/Luggage: You will want to rent the smallest car you can (all the easier for those tight squeezes), but make sure it will hold you, your fellow travelers AND all of your luggage. Having a car proved to be a great advantage for us in handling our luggage. We could leave some of our bags in the trunk of the car and not bring everything into each hotel — all the better since we tried a different hotel each night (a hazard of the job). I don’t recommend hotel hopping so much but if you are going to do it, having a car helps.
Parking: Plan to pay for it at a premium. Parking the car for one night at our hotel in Amalfi cost 30 euros. If we had parked it at the waterfront lot (where you can catch the ferries to Capri, etc.), it would have cost a few euros per hour. It makes sense to leave the car at the hotel for short journeys and only take it out when you really need it. Oh and always fold in your mirror if you can (that’s what the locals do) as space can be that tight. — Kathy McCabe