Experiencing Italy: Driving in the Bel Paese, by Lisa Fantino

Since I began the Experiencing Italy series, we’ve visited Rome and The Amalfi Coast through the eyes of expats and Rome, Venice, Abruzzo and Positano through various travelers. This week we are on the road with journalist and Lady Litigator, Lisa Fantino.

Assignment – write about your favorite Italian experience.

1st thought – am I really limited to just one?

2nd thought – should I write about that time in college when I was locked in the stall of a Roman café and my roomies nearly forgot me; or about nearly being kidnapped by Domenico the crazed vet; or about L’Amore di Amalfi; my favorite food, my favorite city, OMG, so much Italy and so little time!

3rd thought – focus Lisa. It’s Sunday and Cherrye needs this in 48 hours……….oh, the pressure; oh, the drama; mah, it’s so Italia!

I am a driving aficionado. Put me behind the wheel of a sports car and I own the road. Put me behind the wheel of a sports car in Italy and I regain my soul. It happens every time. Many people think I’m crazy and wonder how I could possibly enjoy driving on streets meant for horse carts with drivers meant for the loony bin! OK, do they know me? I’m a NYC street reporter. We drive commando and make Romans look tame.

If I head north of Fiumicino, within three hours I’m amid the golden hills of Tuscany. The energy is calm and the light unlike any other, anywhere. Fields of sunflowers lay before you like carpets of smiley faces on a stick. Horses graze along the ancient Via Cassia. Allora, even the carabinieri are laid back in Tuscany. It is the most beautiful road for daydreaming. This is one of the three ancient roads which gave rise to the saying “all roads lead to Rome.” Back in 187 B.C. there was no Autostrada. If you start just south of Siena, you will pass through the ancient villages of Buonconvento and San Quirico D’Orcia before coming upon Montepulciano and Radicofoni off in the distance. You can’t get lost here because all road signs do lead to Rome, and even if you do, “chi se ne frega?” (who cares?) You’re in Tuscany.

On the flip side of that lire, travel three hours south of Rome and you are smack dab in the middle of Campania, che pazzo land, where the people are passionate, the love is wild and the scenery leaves you breathless. I always say the knot starts to leave the back of my neck as I come upon the Apennine Mountains along the A3 toward Napoli but my soul doesn’t find peace until I hit La Costiera Amalfitana. I now know this road like the back of my hand and I never tire of its twists and turns; its death-defying cliffs; its complete blackness in the dead of night. It’s as mysterious as the people who inhabit its villages, like Praiano, Minori, Maiori and Furore, not to mention the tourist-trodden Amalfi and Positano. They either welcome you immediately or forever gaze at you from a distance, even if they have known you for years. Like the Amalfi Drive, the soul of its people echoes in the cliffs, which rise toward Ravello, or sinks toward the Bay of Naples. You are at once master of its complexities or forever fearful of its surprises……and for those who fail to see it for sitting on the floor of a tour bus, I wish you could see it through my eyes.

* Photos: The Auto Channel and Lisa Fantino.

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