Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Primer to Driving in Sicily: Before You Leave Home

Approaching Catania

It occurred to me last summer, that a primer to driving in Sicily would be a very useful thing, especially since Sicily has a real lack of convenient public transit and renting a car truly is the best way to get the most out of visiting the island.  I thought I would begin with a video by Bruno Bozzetto called Yes and No: Driving in Italy. Short of seeing people's dogs flattened and people killed on the street, I have seen almost everything that he has put into his video.  In fact, I have actually done a couple of the "no"s and several of the "yes"s.

I want to thank Bruno Bozzetto and his daughters Anita and Irene for giving me permission to embed his video on my blog.  He makes great videos and if you want to see more, I suggest you check out his Youtube channel!

I don't pretend to be an expert on driving in Italy.  I have had, now, about 9 weeks of experience driving in Italy - most of which was in Sicily.  When we rent a car, I do all the driving.  It is much cheaper renting a standard shift than an automatic and my darling husband, Nick, is not comfortable with a stick shift, nor does he like driving unfamiliar roads much.  Also, it costs an extra €7 per day to have an extra driver so I play chauffeur.  At some point, once we figure out how to get insurance without being residents, we will buy a car - probably some beat up old Fiat - but for now we rent.

Before You Leave Home

There are a couple of things that you need to know before you leave home.
Our Fiat Panda rental car
International Driving Permit
(in case you couldn't read the picture!)
  1. You MUST be at least 18 to drive in Italy.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  
  2. If you don't have an EU licence, you need to get an International Driving Permit.  In Canada, you can go to your local Automobile Association (even if you don't have a membership) with your driver's licence and for a minimal fee (in my case it was $25) you can get your IDP.  The IDP provides a translation of your driver's licence into numerous different languages.  It is good for one year.
  3. Rent your car through a travel agent at home.  It is cheaper renting it outside of Italy and, more importantly, you get better comprehensive insurance.  Trust me.  I don't care how good or experienced a driver you are.  You might be the stunt driver for Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (which just happens to take place in Italy) or Jason Statham in Transporter, you still need the best comprehensive insurance possible.  
  4. When selecting the type of car, think about the smallest car you can get away with and then get one size smaller.  We had a Fiat Panda last summer.  Very nice little car - peppy, comfortable, easy to drive - but I still wished I had a smaller car.  If you can get away with a smartcar or a Fiat 500 you are better off.
  5. You will need sunglasses if you are there in the summer.  Find the coolest possible sunglasses - either designer or believable knock-offs.  In Italy you need to put on the best bella figura (literally: beautiful figure - it's all about making a good impression).
  6. Take meditation classes before you leave.  While driving in Sicily can be fun, you are guaranteed to have some heart-stopping moments.  Anything you can do to lower your blood pressure and stress level when those moments happen will do you some good.  "Om mani padme hum".  


  1. Ohhh this is fantastic! I will definitely make sure I have #5 first...priorities you know! Love the video, laughed my ass off!!!

  2. Glad you liked it! Bruno Bozzetto has loads of hysterical videos!

  3. I'm terrified of driving here and let my Canadian license expire! ;) Maybe one day.

  4. I was terrified before the first time I drove in Italy. But we flew into Trapani and fortunately the roads between there and Agrigento (where we were headed) were quiet. It gave me a chance to get used to it before I had to face crazy traffic.

  5. You've made my Monday! I can think of no greater compliment..

  6. Hi, Diane. Good advice here and I loved the videos. I don't drive anyway, but would be terrified to do so here!

  7. It has it's moments, I must admit! I much prefer driving the quiet mountain roads near Cianciana than driving in Agrigento or Catania!

  8. LOL I love your sense of humor. I think life should be filled with smiles. In Thailand (the land of many smiles) driving can be a challenge, since they drive on the wrong side of the road (in my opinion.) However the people are so kind here, yesterday a policeman stopped me and sad "excuse me sir you are on the wrong side of the road...have a nice day!"

    1. In Sicily, other than the wonderful autostradas, most roads don't have centre lines so god knows if you are actually on the right side or not. I think in the larger cities the side of the road you drive on is unofficially driver's choice. The only other place I have been that was crazier was in Seoul back in the 1980s. It was terrifying! I just shut my eyes and plugged my ears and hoped for the best!


What do you think? Polite comments always welcome!