The best way to see Italy and Europe for that matter is with your own set of wheels. I was once told by our friend Vicenzo in his deepest Italian accent speaking perfectly broken English, "Italians like the curve on their roads and their women" and from the voluptuous Sophia Loren to the hair pin turns of the Alpe di Siusi in the Dolomites there has never been a more true statement.
Renting a car in Italy is easier, cheaper and more fun than you may have thought.
To rent a car in Italy all you need is a valid passport and drivers license, it is recommend to have an international drivers license on hand as you may be asked for it. In all the years and dozens of times we have rented cars here we have never needed to show it. That being said the $ 10 for the document and 2 passport photos is worth the peace of mind for that off chance it's asked for. In Italy it is assumed you know how to drive a manual, if this is not the case request one up front from your rental car agency. (Be prepared to pay extra for this.)
A one week car rental with pick up and drop off at Fiumicino, Rome Airport will cost you about $ 156 whereas a train ticket for two to Fano on the Adriatic Coast will cost almost 120 Euro if purchased at the counter. (Note: train tickets are cheaper when purchase at the simple, multi-lingual kiosks.) Now let's just say you get to your desired train stop, now what – hoof it, taxi or bus? In many picturesque tiny towns there is little or no taxi service and slow sporadic buses (definitely without an English online timetable and route). You are confined to staying near the train stations or within a very close distance which means you're missing many hidden gems. With a rental car you just get the keys, a good map / GPS (recommended for street address or finding the expressway) and hit the road!
Driving in Italy is a blast once you learn how to work the curves and pass slow cars ahead of you. (Or on the other hand, when you remember you are on vacation and let those crazy drivers pass you, just let them go and stay to the right.) Italians have perfected the art of driving (and parking for that matter). Weaving, winding, passing, down shift … all in "training" for the next Formula 1 race. You begin to understand why such beautiful cars are made here, they are made here to be driven here.
From Fiat to Ferrari the choice is yours and the road is open! Just imagine winding along a field of sunflowers in the Tuscan hills, defying death along the Amalfi cliffs, climbing to the top of ancient castle fortress (to find out its pedestrian only!) Or getting lost and discovering a festival along the way … how perfectly Italian! Plus having a rental car gives you the freedom of movement – see how the wind blows. If you like a town, stay a bit longer or maybe the guidebook missed the mark, hit the road for the next must-see but never heard of suggested by the locals.
On top of it, I recommend renting a car in Italy because it gives you the independence to travel where and when you want and to find your way off the beaten path.