Italy

italy essential Information

 

Visas

As a member of the European Union and a member of the Schengen treaty, the same visa rights apply as in other EU countries. EU nationals are not required to get a visa and can stay as long as they like.

Stays of 90 days or less, also do not require a visa for nationals from the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Other nationalities should check with the appropriate embassy in their own countries.

Advantages

There are numerous reasons in favour of visiting Italy using your thumb. First of all, hitch-hiking is possible and easy. Many people had warned us against it reasoning that it’s not in Italian people’s mentality to pick up hitch-hikers, but we had no problems at all. We always managed to get wherever we wanted and didn’t have to wait a long time for a lift. What’s more, many times Italian tourists saved us while travelling abroad when nobody else stopped!

Secondly, Italy is truly beautiful! It’s the country with the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world! Besides, its nature is stunning and varied; you can find everything you want in Italy: from high mountains where you can hike, climb, ski and paraglide to warm beaches and thick forests. Hitch-hiking is perfect to get to all these remote areas of the country.

Thirdly, you can almost always count on good weather. In fact, Italian climate is perfect: not too hot, not too cold – ideal for a day on the road.

Another plus is that although Italy is quite expensive, CouchSurfing is very popular and you will have no problems finding a host outside the most touristy cities. If that fails you, there is also a fair amount of campsites all around the place.

And finally, don’t listen to what other people say, Italians are a lovely bunch! They are friendly, smiley and curious, even if a bit shouty at times.

Canals in Venice, Italy

Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantage of hitch-hiking in Italy is that Italians rarely speak other foreign languages, so if you haven’t mastered Italian or another Romance language, you might find it difficult to communicate with the drivers.

Another disadvantage is the fact that there are far too many motorways in Italy, from a hitch-hiker’s point of view. You will certainly travel fast on them, but it might be difficult to find the right entry spot. Besides, on toll roads (pedaggio) and in the close proximity of motorways you will often see no autostopsigns and if you decide to ignore them and thumb anyway, you are most likely to have a talk with the local police (and sometimes even a fine).

Italy is also quite expensive, so be prepared to spend much more that you have initially thought.

And the biggest disappointment of all is the overrated Italian food. When it comes to buying cheap snacks it’s hard to find anything that is not bread or pasta based. Supermarkets have a very limited choice apart from tomato sauce, which you can find everywhere and in at least 50 different varieties. Compared with Spain where we live, we also found the fruit and vegetables very expensive which is surprising given the fact that they grow so many things.

Hitch-hiking in Italy

Food & Drink

1) Keeping your budget low & eating well is difficult in Italy

To be honest with you, we were hugely disappointed with Italian food. Of course, if you can afford a meal in a fancy restaurant, you can taste the best cuisine anywhere in the world, but if you are on a tight budget, your options in Italy are very limited.

First of all, food (apart from tomatoes and tomato-based products) is really expensive, if compared with other European countries. I can’t see a reason for that, given the fact that Italy is famous for its supposedly food-orientated culture. The supermarket prices were much higher than e.g. in Spain, and the choice was much poorer. Of course you can find supermarkets where the whole shelf is dedicated to tomato sauce, but you won’t be able to find any other type of sauce, (well, maybe also pesto, but that’s it).

UPDATE from one of our readers whose family is Italian
“Grocery stores and supermarkets are incredibly expensive and often difficult to find – most Italians tend to shop in the daily markets which are so much cheaper and of higher quality. Prices tend to become cheaper as you make your way further and further into the markets.”Massive thanks to Travis H for this update!

2) Your best options are…

The best cheap street-food option in Italy is obviously pizza. In many restaurants and bars you might find pizza sold by slice (pizza al taglio or pizza al trancio), baked on big rectangular trays. All you need to do is show them the size of a piece you want and they will weigh it for you.

Also, don’t forget to try the famed Italian ice-cream (gelati). They are delicious, will cool you down on a hot day and the portions are big, so you can kill your hunger and survive for the next couple of hours, until you find a cheap pizzeria or a Panini shop.

3) Mind the ‘coperto’!

One thing that really annoyed us and put us off Italian restaurant culture is the so called ‘coperto’. It’s nothing more than a cheeky little service charge that’s added to anything you order, even if it’s a glass of water. Many a time did we argue with waiters who sneakily added even up to 3 Euros to our bill without having given us the slightest indication what the coperto was and how much they thought it appropriate. After we learnt our lesson, we carefully looked for places that advertised ‘no coperto’, but they are in the minority!

4) Beware of bread

Another extra cost that can come unexpected is the price of bread that might appear on your restaurant bill even if you didn’t order it. It’s enough that the bread is on your table and you nibble on it to be charged up to 2 Euros!

5) Water is free

One good thing about Italy is that the water quality is very good, so don’t bother buying bottled water. Drink straight from the tap and fill up your bottle from city fountains, which are widely available everywhere.

6) Mediterranean meal times

Be warned that Italy is a typical Mediterranean country, also when it comes to meal times. If you are hitch-hiking or backpacking in Italy we recommend:

1) having a solid early breakfast (before 10.00 am)

2) eating a snack/lunch around 1.00 – 4.00 pm – most shops and institutions close between these times and everyone is on lunch break.

3) having dinner around 7.30-11.00 pm – You should be aware of that, as most restaurants will be shut before dinner time.

Crepes restaurant in Trastevere, Rome, Italy, backpacking in Italy

Accommodation

7) Rely on backpacking friendly CouchSurfing or camp

If CouchSurfing fails you (in most touristy places in Italy people are fed up with it and not that keen on hosting), the cheapest accommodation alternative are campsites which are usually well-organised.  For two people and a tent you are likely to pay between 18-20€/night.

Outside the big tourist cities, there are not many cheap accommodation options, so it’s a good idea to have you own tent or be prepared to sleep in the bushes.

8) Tourist tax

Italians have really mastered the art of ripping tourists off in every possible way, no matter if it’s the sneaky coperto added to your restaurant bill or the tourist tax which you must pay on top of every accommodation option you use. The amount varies depending on the region and owners of the place but expect to find something between 1 € or 2 € per person per night.

Jon pitching the tent in Florence, Italy - small, backpacking in Italy

Weather

9) The weather depends a lot on the region

You should be aware that Italy is not as homogenous in terms of weather as one may think.

Rome, the south of the country and all the coastal areas (excluding the north-east) share the typical Mediterranean climate with the average winter temperature of 6 °C and hot, dry summers with the average temp. of 23 °C. It occasionally rains here in winter but snowfall is a rare sight.

The north of the country lies in the humid sub-tropical climate, marked by hot (22 °C  on average) and wet summers and moderately cold (1-3 °C) winters.

The middle of the country, as well as medium and high elevations in the south share the Mediterranean mild climate, similar to the standard Mediterranean climate but with slightly lower (by approx. 3-4 °C) temperatures in both seasons.

Oceanic climate can be found in the Apennines and in the alpine foothills. It’s summer temperatures are between 17 and 21 °C and in winter: -3-0 °C.

In the Alps at an altitude of 1000-1200 m you can expect the winter temperature to be between -7 and -3 °C and mild summers: 13-18 °C. On higher elevations (1,600–1,800 m) be prepared for really cold winters (-12 and -5 °C) and cool summers (around 12 °C). On an altitude higher than 1800 m you will find a tundra climate with the average temperature below 10 °C in all seasons.

Have a look at this handy climate graph for more details for the weather in Rome:

Rome, Italy climate graph. Weather, temperature, rainfall, backpacking in Italy

Types of roads

Autostrade symbol in Italy1) Autostrade (Motorways, A-roads) – motorways with the speed limit of 130 km/h.The majority of them are toll roads. Hitch-hiking on them is illegal.

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Strade extraurbane principale symbol, Italy 2) Strade extraurbane principale (Main extra-urban road, SS-roads or Type-B) – lower rank motorways (often dual carriageways) with a speed limit of 110 km/h. They are never toll roads. They usually lead to cities or town centres. Hitch-hiking on them is illegal.

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3) Strade extraurbane secondarie (Secondary extra-urban road, Type-C) national roads with speed limit of 90 km/h. They are single carriageway roads. Hitch-hiking on them is legal, unless stated otherwise.

4) Strade urbane di scorrimento (Urban highway, D-type) – They are dual carriageways with a pavement. The speed limit on them is 70 km/h. Hitch-hiking on them is legal.

5) Strade urbane (Urban road, E-type) – They are single carriageways with a pavement. The speed limit on them is 50 km/h. Hitch-hiking on them is legal.

Map of motorways (autostrade)

Italy hitch-hiker essentials

Map of motorways and dual carriageways
(Type B & C which are illegal to hitch-hike on)

Italy hitch-hiker essentials

green – motorways (A-type roads)
blue – B-type / C-type roads longer than 30km, inc. SS 11 and SS Torino-Chivasso 114 Augusta-Siracusa road.

Speed limit on Italian roads

Italy hitch-hiker essentials

Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook

HelloCiao (CHA-oow)
Thank youGrazie. (GRAHT-tsyeh)
YesSì (SEE)
No – No (NOH)
PleasePer favore. (PEHR fah-VOH-reh)
Excuse meMi scusi. (mee SKOO-zee) (more formal) / Scusa (SKOO-sah) (less formal)
How are you? – Come stai? (koh-meh STAI?)
GoodbyeCiao (CHA-oow) / Arrivederci. (ahr-ree-veh-DEHR-chee)
Hitch-hikingautostop (AW-to-stop)
I don’t have money –  Non ho soldi (Non oh SOL-dee)
we don’t have moneyNon abbiamo soldi (Non a-BYAH-moh SOL-dee)
moneysoldi (SOL-dee)
I’m going to … – Io vado a … (EE-yo VA-doh ah…)
We are going to … – Abbiamo a… (a-BYA-moh ah…)
Where are you going? – Dove vai? (DOH-veh VAH-ee?
Can we go with you? – Possiamo venire con voi? (pos-YA-moh veh-NEE-reh con VO-ee?)
I am… – (io) sono (EE-yo SOH-noh)
I am from… – (io) sono de… (EE-yo SOH-noh deh…)
Nice to meet you! – Piacere (pya-CHE-reh)
I don’t understand – Non capisco (Non ka-PIECE-koh)
now – ora (OH-rah)
today – oggi (OHD-jee)
yesterday – ieri (YEH-ree)
tomorrow – domani (doh-MAH-nee)
friend –  amico (ah-MEE-coh)
→ Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.
Can you stop? – Potete fermare? (poh-TEH-teh freh-MAH-reh)
I want to get out – Voglio scendere (voh-LYOH SHEN-deh-reh)
Turn left – Girare a sinistra! (gee-RAH-reh ah see-NEE-strah)
Turn right – Girare a destra! (gee-RAH-reh ah DEH-strah)
Straight ahead – Dritto (DREE-toh)
Here – qui (kwe)
Do you have… (in a shop, literally “is there?) – C’è…? (CHE..?) or Ci sono… (plural) (CHEE SO-noh…?)
beer –  la birra (lah beer-RAH)
→ 
You should know this word, you will be often invited for some.
bus stationstazione dell’autobus (stah-DSYOH-neh dehl-LOW-toh-boos)
→ You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station.
train stationstazione ferroviaria (stah-DSYOH-neh fehr-roh-VYAH-ryah)
Help! – Aiuto! (ah-YOO-toh!)
Look out! – Attento! (ah-TEN-toh)
street – strada (STRAH-dah)
road – via (VEE-yah)
roundabout – rotonda (ro-TON-dah)
crossroads – crocevia (croh-che-VEE-yah)

Border crossings

Italy hitch-hiker essentials

Italy – EU countries

Since Italy belongs to the EU, border crossings with fellow EU states and Schengen countries (Vatican City, San Marino, Switzerland)  have become obsolete. They are no longer manned and thus should not present any problems for travellers.

Most Beautiful Nature Spot

We haven’t been to the Italian Dolomites which would otherwise probably be number 1 on our list, since we love mountains, but of all the places we’ve been to in Italy, probably Sardinia should be named the ‘most beautiful natural spot’. This second largest island in the Mediterranean is predominantly hilly with gorgeous wild beaches and green valleys. It’s stunning, very lush and you will be able to do all kinds of activities there. The best time to visit Sardinia is spring (see our photos).

 S'Archittu, Sardinia, Italy. Italy's Absolute Musts

Best City /  Town

It’s very hard to choose only one ‘best’ city, as all the Italian famous cities are great and we recommend visiting them all! But if you ask us to name just one, it would have to be Florence.  The city reached its cultural peak in the Renaissance and most of its sights are perfectly preserved to this day. Stunning Palazzo Vecchio, serving as the town hall, with its massive clock tower looming over a square full of beautiful sculptures and tourists crowded around awe-struck, is just one example of how skilled the architects of the Age of Enlightenment were. But in Florence you don’t have to look far to find buildings that would make your jaw drop. A few squares away, there is the Cattedrale de S. Maria del Fiore, which is the fourth biggest cathedral in Europe and seen from the outside gives you goosebumps, even on a hot day. Put simply, Florence (or Firenze, as the locals call it) is extraordinary and has already managed to reach one of the top positions in my personal ranking of the most beautiful places on this planet.
Read about our experience in Florence.

Florence, Italy by night - view over Cattedrale de Santa Maria de Fiore, Basilica di Santa Croce and Palazzo Vecchio from Piazzale Michelangelo - small. Italy's Absolute Musts

Best area for hitch-hiking

The easiest and most spectacular at the same time area for hitchhiking is Tuscany. Rolling hills, friendly people and stone medieval villages  are all you will encounter on the way in this part of Italy. Be aware, however, that between Florence and Bologna was probably the most difficult to get a lift, as the mountainous country roads are less frequented and it’s quite tricky to get on the motorway after Florence without being stopped by the police.

Our Experience

Before our Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013 trip, we had visited Italy several times but during the last trip we did it most thoroughly, covering 720 km and spending two seeks in the country.

This was our route:
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written by: Ania

 

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