I’ve always wanted to drive an original Fiat 500 ever since my pal Hornblowertravels mentioned them many years ago with his ultimate goal of driving one back to the UK across the Alps. That never happened but while planning a week’s break to Florence (inspired by the Dan Brown book Inferno) everything suddenly fell into place and we booked an all-day Fiat 500 group tour to see what they were like!
We chose My Tours’ 8.5 hour trip as we wanted to experience driving one for the day and not just be behind the wheel for a token half hour or so. It also meant we could see the stunning Tuscany countryside from behind the wheel before being city-bound in Florence for the rest of our 4 night stay there.
So how does the day work?
You meet outside the chemists in Florence train station at 9:00 before a short walk to the company’s mini bus. Our trip consisted of 3 couples plus a family of 3 driving the Fiat 500s and 8-9 people riding brand new yellow Vespas. It was a tough call which option we wanted to take beforehand when booking but in our case the thrill of driving a 1960s Fiat 500 won us over and that’s what we went for.
After an hour’s drive out to their garage in Badesse you sign the mandatory consent forms, presumably to confirm 3rd party cover and not any 1st party damage (maybe I should have read mine a bit more carefully), have a photocopy taken of your driving license and a credit card, and then one-by-one you take your chosen Fiat for a practice drive in their large car park. The other 3 parties in our group had already edged over to the colour car they wanted leaving us with a dark blue one, albeit we later found out that ours was the oldest in the group being a 1968 model. The practice “spin” is so they can see you’re fit and able to drive before going out on the open road, My “training” consisted of 1-2 laps with one of their three employees, 3-4 on my own and then 3-4 laps with my girlfriend in the passenger seat.
I’d driven a left hand drive manual car before so it all came quite naturally, although ours had a quirky start lever just in front of the handbrake and reverse gear was found by pushing the gear lever down, right and then back which took a few attempts to properly engage. With such a light car, albeit with such a small engine, a few rear-wheel wheel spins were inevitable what with the car park consisting of gravel. It has quite a snappy little clutch too but it felt oh so lovingly mechanical compared to modern day cars.
Once the training was all done and dusted you head off into the countryside. Our 4 Fiat convoy followed behind the 8-9 line of Vespas. In our group a Spanish mother/daughter paring didn’t feel confident enough in their light blue Fiat so a member of staff drove for them instead.
We subsequently found out you can hire Fiat 500s for solo hire but it gives you a lot of confidence being in a group, a) as you can simply follow the car in front and b), there’s a bit of a “safety in numbers” factor, although any other cars on the road seemed just as pleased to see us as we were to be in the cars ourselves. There wasn’t one single toot of anyone else’s horn all day which was great particularly as along many stretches of road we were rarely getting above 40mph.
Our first stop was after about 20 minutes in a lay-by with a view of the surrounding hills. In my own car I wouldn’t have been worried but as we’d parked up on a slight incline just beyond a bend all I could think was “hill-start, hill-start, hill-start 🙂
The first proper stop was at the town of Castellina in Chianti for 30 minutes or so, just long enough to savour the pretty little town, pop into the town’s street-side market and to check out the small shops selling bottles of the chainti. Leaving the town car park I was sandwiched amusingly in-between two “normal” cars, and it’s here where I struggled to get it into reverse, inching ever closer to the wall in front of me! On my third attempt I found it, got it into reverse and caught up with the rest of the group.
From Chianti we headed along the winding rows with many hundreds of Tuscan cypress trees lining the road. Soon we arrived at the Poggio Amorelli winery. Yes wine tasting and driving! Mmmm! Nothing was said before, during or after about this, and I was mindful that the Italian blood alcohol percentage is actually lower than the UK’s. My girlfriend had any wine that I didn’t drink … and there was a bowl to pour wine into if you didn’t want to drink it all! 🙂 So just one small glass for me but washed down with some tasty cheese and meats as everyone in the group sat around one huge table, flagged either side by wine barrels.
With slightly more bravado post-wine we left the winery and headed onwards! The rest became a bit of a blur. Not due to the wine, but just due the enjoyment of being in great company in a great little car amongst some amazing scenery. When we arrived at the village of Castello di Volpaia for another quick pit-stop an American in the group could only politely moan about the lack of bathrooms! This isn’t Disneyland lady! It’s a 1000 year old castle!
From there it was onto an ice cream/gelato store and then back to the garage. 70km under our belts, no incidents, no breakdowns and a thoroughly enjoyable day out! I would recommend this trip no end.
It was here that we reflected on our little Fiat 500 for a short while. I’ve never driven an original Mini but I imagine they’re pretty comparable. They really aren’t very wide and are oh so dinky! We never did get into 4th gear but it was ever so nice to drive. Ours had a sunroof that slid right back allowing us to stand up and look out through it too … when stationary that is!