Tips and Advice for Driving in Piedmont for the Best Time

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on June 28, 2023.

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Thinking of picking up a rental car to drive around Piedmont on your next trip?

The good news is that driving in Piedmont is relatively easy and is something we highly recommend for all visitors. The bad news is that you are still in Italy, and common concerns with driving in Italy are present- albeit to perhaps a lesser degree here compared to other regions.

So in this one, we thought we'd share a bit more about what our experience was like traveling around Piedmont with a car, and give you some tips to have the best time out with a car!

Note: An international drivers permit is required for driving in Italy if you are not local.

Easy Driving in Piedmont All-Around

Rental Car in Piedmont

I have to admit, driving in Piedmont was quite the breeze. The roads are generally well-maintained, roundabout heavy over stop lights, and have clear signage (although speed limit signs always are lacking in Italy).

Most rural roads we drove on near the wine regions or even up in the hills around Lake Orta were paved, although we did encounter a couple of gravel roads periodically. The only real risk of note is that some hills have tight turns and, in a few select towns, also narrow considerably at inopportune moments.

In a small town outside of Barolo, for example, our GPS tried to get us to drive up a hill to reach a restaurant. The road quickly narrowed to the point where I was not comfortable driving on it. I backed up, turned around, parked at a public walk, and we finished the rest of the journey on foot (for a grand total of about five extra minutes). As such, in instances where town roads may be narrow or small, always consider the walking distance alternative as it could be a better option. When in doubt, park and walk.

In fact, the most hectic driving I had was heading into Turin to drop our bags off at a hotel on our last day simply because we did not want to deal with them in an Uber from the airport. The increased volume of cars, multi-lane roads, frequent stop lights, and slightly more aggressive drivers made this one a bit of a headache. As always, if you can avoid driving near city centers in Italy, the better off you'll be!

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Despite the fact that driving is relatively straightforward in Piedmont, there are a few specific cases worth discussing further that you should pay extra attention to.

Have Euro on Hand for Gas and Tolls

Dogliani in Piedmont

There is a recurring issue when driving in Europe in that many gas stations do not take international credit cards and only accept debit cards or cash. In Piedmont, this issue is also present with the additional problem that some stations are entirely unattended.

So, while you may be able to get an employee to help you process a card when filling up in a service plaza on the Autostrade, when you are filling up in the small towns and villages of Piedmont, you may find that it'll be you, a pump, and nothing else around you.

On my first fill-up at one of these stations, my debit card worked fine (albeit with a hefty, multi-hundred Euro temporary hold!). I put it in the kiosk at the station's center, picked my pump number, filled my gas to the desired limit, and completed my transaction without any issue. At a second station, an attended one near the airport in Turin, ironically, nothing worked. Not my credit card, not my debit card, and not even asking for help in broken Italian. 

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Thankfully, I had 50 Euros on hand, which was also the exact amount I needed to return my car to the nearby drop point with a full tank to avoid any fees. Phew. As such, do not be surprised if credit cards do not work at gas pumps, international debit cards only work intermittently, and having enough Euro bills on hand to cover your gas will keep you safe if all other attempts fail.

It is also worth noting that a few Autostrade highways in the Piedmont region are also toll roads. The tolls vary by distance and, in some cases, may be a flat fee for passing a certain checkpoint. As of our last visit in 2023, tolls based on distance were ticketed on entry and accepted cash or card upon exit. 

A short drive was just a couple of Euro, 90 minutes or so on the Autostrade from Lake Orta to Barolo was just under 10 Euro, and one-time checkpoints were a couple of Euro as well (as always, prices will always continue to rise over time). As I am always leery of my card being declined, I only ever pay cash with these as the machines accept both bills and coins in the designated lanes.

ZTL Zones and Cameras are Easy to Spot or Avoid

Walking Street in Alba

Two of the most recurring topics you'll read about when driving in Italy are the notorious ZTL zones and abundant speed cameras on the roads. These are present in Piedmont just like anywhere else; however, they were some of the easiest I've had to deal with in my travels.

Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) zones, for those who are unaware, are restricted driving zones. These are often found in historic town and city centers to limit traffic congestion. If you are not a resident, you are prohibited from driving there- often under any circumstance. Cross one of these (of which a camera will catch your license plate), and a hefty fine a few months down the road will be your reward.

In Piedmont, it is safe to say that most of the major cities (Turin) and towns (Alba, Barolo, etc.) have ZTL zones in some capacity- although the smallest towns may not. These are often identified prominently with signage, and most have parking areas just outside the ZTL zones that make access a breeze (Barolo town has a modest parking lot at the edge of town and Piazza Medford in Alba is easily accessible just about 7-10 minutes away).

We generally never book a hotel or apartment within a ZTL zone when we have a car unless there are clear instructions for parking outside of the zone within a reasonable walking distance. If it feels like it will be a hassle, that means it probably will be. 

Speed cameras in the region are also quite common, and in our experience, were most prominent going into and out of towns and city centers. Speed cameras outside of Barolo on both sides? Yep. Alba? Yep. Any small town that has three houses on the main road and is called a “town” for some reason we cannot comprehend? Assume there will be a set of speed cameras there, too. These are the trickiest in particular if only because you'll be cruising along a country road, the speed limit will drop to town limits (possibly without any signage indicating the change), and a camera is there to catch you off guard.

Although Google Maps was good at alerting us to these, they did not have them all. Try not to speed, be on the lookout for when speed limits drop around towns, and you should be good to go. 

The Biggest Problem? Bikers

Bikers in Piedmont Wine Country

Out of all of the potential issues you may face when driving in Piedmont, the most considerable risk will most likely be road bikers in the wine regions.

The Piedmont wine region is, of course, stunningly beautiful. The gradual, rolling hills and gorgeous views make this a prime location for leisurely biking in wine regions like Barolo, Dogliani, Barbaresco, and beyond. 

The reason this one is a bit of an issue is simply that biking courtesy can vary. Some bikers go fast, almost as fast as our car (say, near towns where the speed limit is low), but others go incredibly slow. Some bikers hug the edge of the road to provide enough passing distance, while others more dangerously ride closer to the center of a lane. Throw on a sharp curve and a blind spot, and you may come up on a biker relatively quickly. The opposite is true in that it is sometimes hard to pass a biker due to the limited distance in front of you before the next bend.

All things considered, dealing with bikers is yet another easy concern- you simply just have to be alert to their presence. So take another cue from the speed camera tip above, don't speed, pay attention, and you should also be able to deal with this one relatively easily.

Overall, Piedmont was one of the most accessible driving regions we've been to in Italy. Some concerns apply to virtually everywhere in the country, but overall the risks are fairly minimal in the major destinations within Piedmont. So rent that car, schedule your wine tastings, and go explore!

About Jeremy

Jeremy from Living the Dream

About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.

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