More and more people are choosing to travel to Calabria, which is a good thing for those of us in the tourism industry. They read our sites, maybe book a room at our B&B … they might even buy the eguide full of Calabria travel tips … then, they ignore us.

Sadly, this summer, my husband and I have seen couple after couple come through Catanzaro, visit our B&B, then ruin their vacation.

How? They refused to rent a car.

Many of these couples emailed and asked about transportation options before they arrived-and every single time, we recommended they rent a car. Yet, they arrived, bright-eyed and ready for their Calabrian adventures without a rental.

It was heartbreaking.

Why? Because you won’t see the best of Calabria without a car.

Lest you think I’m lying, let me repeat.

You won’t see the best of Calabria without a car.

This is one of the main tips in my ebook, I stress this point to all of my travel consulting clients and mentioned it in my interview with the Eye on Italy Podcast team. This sentiment was even echoed by my fellow expat-in-Calabria blogger, Michelle in her interview with … and for the record, I mentioned it there, too.

The thing is, I understand why some people are wary of driving in southern Italy. They’ve heard of high-winding roads and fast-driving Italians, Carabinieri stops and traffic jams, illegible traffic signs and frustrating road construction.

But let me tell you. Nothing is as frustrating as finally arriving in bella Calabria, then being imprisoned inside your B&B or being limited to a five-block neighborhood for entertainment and meals.

In fact, we’ve seen this happen so many times that we are considering not taking reservations for people who don’t rent a car. Sound tough?


But we take a personal interest in guests who visit our B&B and when they aren’t having a good time, we know it-and we know that taints their judgment and their opinion of Calabria and our bed and breakfast.

When you are in Calabria, you’ll want to be free to explore the ruins near Roccelletta, visit the medieval towns of Gerace and Stilo, take a self-guided tour of Le Castella. All of these things would be hard, if not impossible, to do without the freedom of a rental car.

So, please. If you are traveling to Calabria and don’t want to risk ruining your trip, listen to this.

Rent a car.

Rent a car.

Rent a car …

Oh, please. Rent a car.

I’m curious what people in other parts of Italy think about car rental vs. public transport. Weigh in, won’t you?

Traveling south? Click here to see how I can help you plan your trip to Calabria or southern Italy.

Photo: Global Jet via Flickr

24 Responses
  1. Couldn’t agree with you more! I lived a year in Reggio and with the exception of a few visits by the slow and unreliable local train (to Scilla for example), everything required a car. And I loved it more than other parts of Italy.

    Oh, Calabria is my favorite part of Italy, too. I just hate it when people don’t rent a car-they don’t get to see the Calabria we fell in love with!

  2. Whether it is Calabria, Liguria, Piedmont , Le Marche, or Sicily…or any other part of Italy ..You NEED to rent a car… We even rented a car for our stay at Lake Como, one day we drove up to St Moritz Switzerland ,for the day. How else are you able to experience what is around you , and get to see life in Italy.

    It is just you have *so* many more options with your own car, including not only great day trips (like yours across the border) but also restaurants, gelaterias, etc. etc. etc.

  3. Imani

    Oh, and did Cherrye mention rent a car?

    We’ve traveled quite a bit throughout northern Italy during the past 9 years using public transportation without a hitch. For the occasional day trip, a car can be rented when needed. Visiting cities with a car can be problematic because parking is tough to find and lots of city centers are designated as pedestrian only or by car only with a residential permit.

    But Calabria? Unthinkable to go without a car. It can’t be done.

    I’d add, if possible, bring along a GPS. Learned that from our gracious and charming hosts at Il Cedro who kindly lent us theirs.

    (blush) Thanks, Imani! I hope future travelers take our advice. πŸ™‚

  4. So I should rent a car when I finally make it to Calabria?

    Just kidding.

    I completely agree. In Rome, you don’t need one but in the country? Most definitely.

    Ha! I know there is a really great restaurant just outside of Rome that P and I had heard of and wanted to visit, but we couldn’t last time we were there b/c we were “stranded!”

  5. I could not agree more, we always say to guests that they need a car to appreciate the region properly!

    Grazie! Calabria is beautiful and many people love it b/c it isn’t yet touristy, but the other side to that is that you have to take care of yourself (with a car!)

  6. Countryside requires car for sure. In Umbria I lived with difficulty without a car for many months, and still managed to get to Rome, Florence, other towns and cities, but I had to be picked up on arrival if there wasn’t a bus or whatever. I can drive to alison’s house in 1.75 hours, but by train it took 7 hours. It’s very green however.
    Does Michelle now drive?

    Wow-less than 2 hours vs 7 – that is just crazy! I know Michelle is planning to get her DL here-we talked about studying up for that together!

  7. Laura

    This is so true! For Italy and Spain and France…..etc. I love driving in Italy! Crazy? Maybe a little, but in the end I think the Italian drivers are better than American drivers. They are only concerned with themselves and if we Americans can stop being co-dependent and just drive, it all flows. Unless your entire vacation is in cities then a car is essential. We pick one up at the airport and “head for the hills” as quickly as possible then return the car before spending the last few days in the city. Calabria driving is unique because of the numerous, very-long tunnels and the nauseatingly high bridges, but other than that, I loved driving there!

    Oh yes, we love our tunnels! πŸ™‚

  8. You so need a car in Calabria. It is SO less touristy then the rest of the country, therefore people need to know that the public transport will be…well…not easy to find/use. Car is a must here, and the traffic not so bad – I mean I have driven in Naples and that was a heart attack waiting to happen…Calabria is a breeze in comparison!

    Thanks for the comparison, Leanne. I haven’t driven in Rome, Naples or Palermo, for example, so I couldn’t really say if it was easier/the same/harder. Grazie mille.

  9. I disagree strongly. In an age where we should go easy on emissions and oil consumption we should be encouraging people to cycle walk and use public transport. Admittedly on my own visit to Calabria I had a car, but I discourage it more and more. As for other parts of Italy I’ve seen a hell of lot and sometimes even more on bike than by car where the landscape just flies by. I’ve walked most of our side of Liguria (the Levante and my next holiday is going to be a walk across the Appenines to Emilia Romagna following the old partisan routes. We’ll see places you couldn’t see by car. So please don’t contribute even more to people polluting.

    It’s kinda funny you saw Calabria with a car, but don’t think others should. I am all for car-pooling and driving more fuel-efficient cars, but like Imani said (see below) you wouldn’t want someone to spend thousands of dollars to come to Calabria and not enjoy it. Also, FWIW, Calabria is three times bigger than Liguria-walking or cycling to all of the main sites is not an option.

  10. I agree completely that you need to rent a car, especially when travelling in the south of Italy. Public transport is often inconvenient and unreliable. Why spend your holiday waiting and wondering if it will ever show up. A car gives you so much freedom to create your own itinerary and time-table.

    I use public transport regularly to commute to work, but would never use it on vacation in Italy.

    I think the timetable thing is the biggest factor (well that, and wondering if they’ll show up.) πŸ™‚

  11. Imani

    @heiko: I’m all with you on using public transport, bicycles, and good old feet! We do it with great freedom from cars and see much more that way.

    That said, Calabria is NOT a place where it is easy, or even possible, to do. If one is going to spend the time and money to get to Calabria in the first place, not renting a car is penny wise, pound foolish. Sometimes, it is just so. PS How else would you see the fabulous wind farms scattered all along the coast not to mention so many other sights just too far to get to without a car.

    Thanks, Imani. It is nice to hear from one of our guests with “real-life” travel experience.

  12. We are currently in Calabria, traveling by motorhome. Our car is therefore much bigger than most rental cars. However we haven’t had any problems and as you say you cannot see what this beautiful area has to offer without your own wheels. Loving the beautiful coastline even in some turbulent weather : )

    Glad you are having fun in Calabria. Looks like the weather is turning around today!

  13. Sashia

    Does a GPS made in the US (I’m assuming anyway) work in the cigarette lighter fixture of European cars?

    Ours does!

  14. Hi, I’m late to this but I wanted to add my agreement. Yes, rent a car! I’m based up the coast in the Cilento and you just do not see the best of the area without one. The driving can be a bit crazy, and the roads aren’t great, but with common sense and awareness any good driver ought to be fine. It really is worth doing.
    p.s. I’ve just started blogging here: in case anyone wants to stop by πŸ™‚

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your site (and comment!) Welcome to the Italy-based blogger’s club!

  15. My family and are Americans living in Rome, and we couldn’t make it without a car…. I think that’s mostly because of the kids though. We know single Americans here who don’t have cars, and they’ve seen more of Italy than we have.

    They’ve never driven the Amalfi Coast though. That’s one of my favorite drives!

    A note about American GPS units; I assume that they will work in European (rental) cars but I haven’t verified that. One thing I *do* know though, if you’re going to bring it, make sure it has European maps loaded. Not all US GPS units have European maps.

  16. Michele

    Our family recently visited Calabria, staying in Pizzo, seeing relations in Nicastro then onto Matera. Beautiful countryside, unbelievable scenery . . . makes you feel a little more local. I can’t imagine not having a car. We even had a fender bender on a sidewalk (I mean road). But not to worry, our credit card insurance covered 100%!

    Ha, funny. I am glad you enjoyed Calabria!

  17. Frank

    If you are only visiting the Holy Trinity (Rome, Florence and Venice) no car is fine. If you want to see “Italy” and meet “Italians”, get a car and a GPS. Our favorite times are being semi-lost and wandering into small villages (with no train service) and assuming we will find a meal and a place to lay our heads. Like the Polish caretaker at the villa in Campagnatico that telephoned the Contessa in Venice to see if he could turn on the heat, a few days before she planned to open for visitors. Fortunately, she said yes and she even drove over from Venice to meet us and make sure we had a pleasant night. Prolly wouldn’t have happened if we had just gotten off the train in a large city.

  18. Joe Mc Bride

    Hi-we have an apartment in Pizzo and the only
    thing we found expensive were taxis.Twice as pricey as in Ireland.Why? Public buses-very unreliable.Train to Napoli or Rome fine.
    Car-hire is relatively inexpensive and worth it.Having been all over Italy,Calabria is the best-great scenery,people,wine,weather-and driving!
    Try the southern Appenines,Reggio-even ferry to Sicily.
    Ti amo Calabria!!

  19. rochelle fay

    Hi. have come upon this by chance. There was a famous situation of a child being killed as the family was driving in the south. Is this still a problem. Also, how are single women treated? Do you all know about the Sephardic (Jews who left Spain after the 1492 expulsion)past of many Calabrians, most nominally converted to the Catholic religion? Some descendenta returning.

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