Tips for driving in the mountains in Italy

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Driving anywhere in Italy is not straightforward for many travelers, and there are many general things travelers to Italy need to know about driving. But travelers to the mountain areas? That can be a separate conversation. If I were brainstorming descriptive phrases about mountain roads in Italy, I’d include:

  • winding
  • narrow
  • no shoulder
  • guardrails optional
  • steep drops
  • mountain face next to the road
  • hairpin bends
  • steep
  • dark (not lit at night)
  • icy in winter

Dolomites road nordique


You can avoid driving in the dark or not rent a car in the wintertime. But the rest of those descriptive terms? You’ll meet them, so just be prepared. Skip to the video below, or read these common-sense tips:

Rent a small car. Rent what you need, of course, but as small as possible, since some of the roads are narrower.

Allow more time to get from A to B since you’re not going to be driving very fast on those narrow and winding roads.

Use your eyes and ears while driving, meaning look out for mirrors that help with blind curves, and listen for the light “beep beep” of other drivers coming around a blind curve and warning you of their approach.

Trust Italian drivers as they know the roads and can overtake safely (even though it may not seem that way to you). The key is that you drive consistently, without any sudden swerves or changes in speed, and keeping the distance between you and the side of the road the same. When driving in the mountains in Italy, don’t go faster than you’re comfortable with, and if there’s a pullout area and a long line of cars behind you, pull over and let everyone go by. But don’t let aggressive Italian drivers stress you out, be safe.

Use taxis. If you’re not in a remote area, consider getting around with buses and taxis. If you know it will be dark when you’re returning from dinner, leave the car at the hotel and call a taxi. 

Get a good paper map and use it, along with directions you got from your hotel, to get to your destination. I usually sing the praises of having a GPS, but when driving in the mountains in Italy, that advice can go either way. Your GPS will not have information about road closures, and may try to route you to your destination via a narrow gravel road over a mountain pass (a road that in wintertime is not passable with a car).

Winter driving makes all of the above slightly more complicated. Some roads will require chains, which are not included in a standard car rental so you must ask about them. Some smaller roads close in the winter and become cross-country ski trails. Call your hotel and have a chat about the local roads if you’re planning on driving in Italy, in the mountains, in the winter.
This video is worth a million words:

Photo of winding road by Nordique

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Posted by on Sep 6, 2011 in Driving | 3 Comments


  1. Peter
    September 12, 2011

    This is just like driving in Colorado, where I’m from, so that makes me feel less concerned. The motorcycles bending and curving make this look worse than it is. Of course, your tips are spot on and should be heeded!

  2. Madeline
    September 13, 2011

    Thanks Peter! I’ve never driven in Colorado but have driven lots in Canada’s Rocky Mountains and the roads are a lot wider and the drivers are much more cautious. sounds like you’ll be fine in the Dolomites 🙂

  3. jessica
    October 10, 2011

    I have a small car, and given the chance to have a bigger vehicle I would definately have to say ‘no’. This is because smaller cars are far more economical and they are easier to park.


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