Driving from Milan Airport to Montecatini: Are we insane, or is this not so bad?


New member
Let me preface this by saying my wife and I have never set foot in any countries beside the US (our current home) and the Philippines (my wife's place of birth). Well, I was in Canada once or twice and I've been through several SE Asia airports, but those don't count :)

We ordered a travel package from Gate 1 Travel that includes a hotel in Montecatini for five nights and a rental car this coming November. We fly into Milan at 2:15pm or so on the day of arrival. I think I'll be okay once we get to the hotel (at which point we can rely on trains and such to Florence, Pisa, and other nearby towns). However, we actually have to get ourselves to Montecatini via the rental car, and I'm hoping we can do this before it gets dark. I am seriously stressing about this, and the more I read about the autostrade, tolls, and petrol stations the more I wonder if I will end up running out of gas far from civilization, or incurring fines for unintentionally breaking traffic laws! On top of this, I estimated the gasoline and tolls (using viamichelin.com) for the 3.5-hour trip and it was around $80 USD (and, of course, another $80 for the return trip a week later). If we avoid the tolls and take 'country roads' it could take 6 hours! And then, on top of this, I am not sure if Hotel Minerva Palace is within a ZTL, and how easy is it to get to the train station from the hotel, etc., etc. I must be the only person who dreads a vacation because of these fine details, instead of thinking about the cultural enrichment and beautiful scenery :(

Do I need to take a few deep breaths and relax? :confused:


The Tuscan Expert ;-)
Staff member
Not sure where to start other than with this: don't worry, you can do it!!

First off, I checked the location of the hotel. There is a ZTL in Montecatini Terme but I wasn't able to find a map to show the area so cannot say for certain whether they are inside it or not. It is likely since they are very central.
I found a photo which shows what the signs look like there when you are about to enter the ZTL - check them out here: http://www.comune.montecatini-terme.pt.it/servizi/comunicatistampa/ricerca_fase02.aspx?ID=2974
In any case, if they are inside the ZTL, hotels can give access to their guests when they arrive and depart --- so what I suggest is you contact them directly and ask for more info on getting to them, what they recommend as far as the ZTL and whether they offer parking (free or paid) directly at their location or close by. Here's the hotel site: http://www.hotelminervapalace.it/en/services/ (they say they have parking).
Montecatini has funny hours as far as when the ZTL is active, it is possible that it won't be a problem when you arrive.

Second: petrol/gas and toll fees. Yes, gas is not cheap! Toll roads are not too bad as far as cost. Consider that as far as your budget, it might turn out less expensive than train tickets for two round trip once you're here in Tuscany because those add up as well.

When you pick up the rental, you should have a full tank of gas so no worries about getting dry before you get to Montecatini. But yes, doing a full tank when you'll need it again will not be fun - gas is expensive in Italy. We have a Prius and we spend around 50 euro every time we do a full tank. There are signs along the roads that indicate gas stations, but in general I suggest putting gas in towns and not along the roads, where the cost can be slightly higher.

As far as tolls, don't be scared by the estimates on the viamichelin site. We went from Florence to Lake Garda earlier this month and did toll roads the entire way, we spent less than 20 euros each way. It isn't bad!

As far as distance and time, Google Maps says around 3 hours 40 minutes. https://goo.gl/maps/ZYKCfahjkcJ2
Let's say 4 hours to round up, I am sure the estimate given by Google is respecting speed limit. Do respect those and you should not get speeding tickets! :D Speed limit on most toll roads is anywhere from 110 kph to 130kph, so not too slow.

Some general tips:
- Drive on the right lanes, use the left lane(s) only to pass slower cars or trucks on the right lane. If you stay on the left lane, any faster cars arriving behind you will tailgate and flash their headlights at you, it won't be fun or relaxing so just don't stay on there even if you're going speed limit. Drivers here do speed and I stay away from them, it is them putting their lives at risk when speeding.
- a GPS would also be helpful, whether yours or from the rental car company
- do you drive stick/manual? if not, make sure you book ahead an automatic from the rental company!

The toll roads are very similar to US roads, wider lanes than country roads and well taken care of. I would not take country roads on your first experience down from Milan, since most country roads are narrower and just 2 lane roads. You'll be driving after dark but it's November so yes, expect that. The toll roads are well-lit, another reason to take those ;-).

Once you get to Montecatini, I think you'll feel secure enough to venture out on the local roads in Tuscany -- the country roads here will be essential for exploring the area, small towns like Vinci and San Miniato. You won't be able to get everywhere by train. I do suggest train to Florence and other larger towns, but to explore the wine region of Chianti, you'll need the car. Then driving slowly along winding country roads will be a pleasure, when you have no hurry and can enjoy the experience.

Make sure to read our suggested day trips from Montecatini here: http://www.discovertuscany.com/montecatini/day-trips-from-montecatini.html
Yes, lots of packages from the US are using Montecatini as their base, so after multiple requests on the forum here we decided we needed to group all the info on day trips and moving about into one article ;-). You're not the first one to be concerned about the driving either!


The Tuscan Expert ;-)
Staff member
I'll have to add some of those tips to our tips too, I would add that as far as paying for the tolls, there are automatic booths where you pay on your own and then there are the manned ones and then there are those labeled as TELEPASS (generally yellow). Avoid those, since those require you to have a special box inside your car and let you pass through the booths without stopping, the bill arriving directly to your credit card or bank. As a rental car, you won't have that box.

I generally go for the manned toll booths, they are quicker than the automatic ones ;-).

I agree, a paper map as back up or with the directions is not a bad idea, particularly if you were to have some technical failure and the GPS dies or your phone doesn't load your maps (although it is always a good idea to download the map to use it offline ;-) )

Hope these extra tips are useful to everyone!
Post trip driving follow-up

I had no issues whatsoever driving in Italy; 4 hours from Milan to Siena; through several small villages in Tuscany over a three day period; 3 hours from Siena to Verona; and then 2 hours from Verona back to Milan. Generally speaking, Italian drivers are more road savvy than their American counterparts. For example, you will not see Italian drivers camping out in the left lane of the Autostrada, something that is especially irritating to me. I would definitely rent a car again and drive in Italy without a second thought.