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Food and Driving Question

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My wife and I will be in Italy early May and we'll be driving from the Piedmont area to Florence for one of those days. I see 2 possible routes:

1. Middle of the country on the A1 toward Bologna and then over to Florence, about 3 hours, OR
2. Drive down the coast from Genova to Pisa and then over to Florence, about 5 hours.

This is our first time in Italy and while seeing the leaning tower would be nice it is not essential. I'm mainly considering the longer coast route because I'm assuming that (if it is truly along the coast) it would be spectacular, and it would give us a chance to try coastal cuisine... but it is 2 more hours of driving.

Any hounders' have suggestions on which way to go it would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. If you enjoy seafood, I would encourage you to take option #2!

    The ride to Bologna is very flat, straight and boring. The ride from the Piemonte into Liguria would be far, far more scenic. It would give you a chance to visit Genoa, the Cinqueterre or the other towns along the Ligurian & Tuscan coastline. You do not have to drive all the way down to Pisa to pick up a road into Florence. I would suggest taking the road south of Viareggio that takes you past Lucca and on into Florence.

    Lucca is a town well worth visiting.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DavidT

      The autostrada running down to Bologna (even if you can get off it at Parma and go over the mountains toward Lucca) is a terribly congested road, not a pleasant drive. I dont quite believe the 3 hour estimate - it could easily take a good bit longer if you hit traffic jams/construction. Unless you want to take a break for lunch in the Bussetto/Parma/ Langhirano area, the coastal route seems like it might be more attractive. Ive never driven it tho, and while weve had good driving experiences on the autostradas in years past, they have seemed pretty congested in our last two trips. Id try to do a bit more research on whether the roads are actually attractive or whether its practical to get off for some stretches to see the country - if its not, you might want to just go the fastest way. And you will likely not want to have a car in Florence!

    2. The coastal route would be much nicer, but forget about Pisa. It is an ugly city and the tower is not particularly interesting. If you are passing through the area, stop in Lucca instead. It is a beautiful small city, and has some very good restaurants, my favorite being Buca di San Antonio.

      9 Replies
      1. re: rrems

        DavidT, jen kalb, rrems - many thanks for your replies - Lucca sounds great and the coast does indeed sound like the better choice. I can see myself stuck in traffic on a flat, boring interstate thinking, "this is what I get for trying to save an hour... when I could be exploring a beautiful country!" And thx for the dining tip, Buca di San Antonio!

        1. re: Maxfood

          I would also encourage you to look into the eating possibilities in the Val di Magra south of LaSpezia near the border between Liguria and Tuscany.

          Ameglia, for example, has a reputation as a local gourmet capital.

          1. re: Maxfood

            Genoa is a city overlooked by many tourists. It shouldn't be. The "old quarter" in Genoa is bigger than that of Barcelona and is well worth visiting.

            1. re: DavidT

              Yes, Genova is a great choice--the old center (which, when we were there many years ago, was dark and exotic and poor) has been cleaned up, but it's still nontouristy. On the way south to Tuscan, a nice diversion would be the hinterlands along the Liguria-Emilia Romagna-Toscana border, starting with the Lunigiana region (try Pontremoli in the province of Massa Carrara) and down to the mountainous Garfagnana region northwest of Lucca.

          2. re: rrems

            nonfood but we found a lot to be interested in in pisa besides the tower - the baptistery and the cathedral have some top tier carvings and the whole center had the melancholy feeling of the tide of history washing through and away again.. Lucca is more prosperous and intact in its center and is indeed a nice stop for a few hours with good eating.

            1. re: jen kalb

              One concern I have in driving through some of these smaller towns is parking - I've been warned away from Florence because of fines. Are there local customs I need to watch out for? Are there general rules of thumb? Parking lots like we know them?

              1. re: Maxfood

                Most towns & villages will have designated parking areas (marked P). In the case of a walled city like Lucca, the parking areas are outside the city walls. You may have to walk 100 or 200 yards or more to get to the center of town.

                1. re: Maxfood

                  in most historic towns you either will not be able to drive into parts of the center at all or you will not be able to park unless you have a residence permit. This is where a good map, like those in the green and red michelins or TCI help, because they will show you the direction of the streets, what areas are pedestrian only, where the parking areas are etc. .Sometimes its free, sometimes pay and display or othermore formal payment method. Be sure to look at the signs carefully - sometimes they are time restricted or the parking is only for residents. YOu will see the "P" signs to follow as you come toward the towns, usually but again the maps are helpful in guiding you to the right areas which are pretty much always outside the walls/boundaries of the historic part of the town and near main thoroughfares and plazas. Good luck! Cars are really nice if you want to get out to see country towns and smaller places - but if you are concentrating on the large cities they can be more trouble than they are worth.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    Thank you Jen K and David T - we have a car from Turin to Tuscany only, the big cities we will be walking - we are happy walkers "should we go left or right today?" from there, and with a couple dining options, things just seem to happen :)

            2. ive driven both routes and would highly recommend the coastal route- you'll get construction and traffic on both routes but the coastal route is scenic and you wont regret it. We loved lucca as well as pizza in La Spezia and cappuc's and local cookies in little village cafes for rest stops. You will fall in love with italy- enjoy!

              1. ps dont let parking woes put you off- you'll work it out-

                1 Reply
                1. re: snoluver

                  Thx for the words of encouragement - Yes. totaly agree!

                2. Hi Maxfood,

                  I don't have an answer to your question but my SO and I will also be in Italy in early May. We are trying to set up a Parmagolosa tour in Parma on May 8th or 9th.

                  If you are taking the A1 you will drive right through Parma but this would obviously require a two-day road trip if your main goal is to see Florence. The tour is $250 euros for up to 4 people, lunch and tastings extra. The tour is from 8am-3pm and visits are to a parma ham, cheese and balsamic factory. Not sure if this is something you and your wife are interested in but if so, let me know!