Driving a vintage Fiat 500 around Tuscany Italy

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!

Posing for some pictures at our first pitstop

Posing for some pictures at our first pitstop

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.

At the garage waiting to choose our Fiat 500s

At the garage waiting to choose our Fiat 500s

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.

A selfie stick view out of the sunroof

A selfie stick view out of the sunroof

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.

A dashboard eye view as we drove along

A dashboard eye view as we drove along

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.

What it looked like behind the wheel

What it looked like behind the wheel

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.

Passing by beautiful Italian cypress trees

Passing by beautiful Italian cypress trees

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.

Our little Fiat 500 sandwiched between two big BMWs

Our little Fiat 500 sandwiched between two big BMWs

 

Struggling to get into reverse and getting ever closer to the brick wall in front of us

Struggling to get into reverse and getting ever closer to the brick wall in front of us

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.

Having lunch at the Poggio Amorelli winery

Having lunch at the Poggio Amorelli winery

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!

Parked up at Castello di Volpaia

Parked up at Castello di Volpaia

 

The views from Castello di Volpaia

The views from Castello di Volpaia

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!

Find out more at My Tours

The Fiat 500s 70km later back safe and sound

The Fiat 500s 70km later back safe and sound

Posing in another one of the Fiat 500s at the Chianti winery

Posing in another one of the Fiat 500s at the Chianti winery

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The best photo locations in Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre is a beautiful stretch of coastline in north west Italy comprising the five small coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Each village has its own special character, from the extensive sandy beach resort of Monterosso al Mare, to the pretty harbour village of Vernazza, from the quiet rocky cliff-perched village of Corniglia, to Manarola with its iconic photo location looking back across the bay and finally Riomaggiore with its pretty harbour and pebble beach.

The view of Cinque Terre that everybody comes for. This shot taken from the cemetery wall

The view of Cinque Terre that everybody comes for. This shot taken from the cemetery wall (position 3)

All five villages lie within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ‘Cinque Terre National Park’. From top to bottom takes just 14 minutes by local train, cutting through tunnnels within the mountainside. Alternatively there are numerous boat trips between them, but sadly no longer a complete stretch of the world-renowned ‘Cinque Terre walking trail’ which is now closed between Riomaggiore and Corniglia due to recent rockfalls. It’s still worth doing one of the two remaining legs though, with Montorosso to Vernazza being the toughest, but with a spectaularly rewarding view of the harbour as you descend down into Vernazza.

The whole area has become a Mecca for photographers, bloggers and THAT “picture postcard” view in Manarola? With inspiration from Polkadot Passport and Route Perfect Blog we went to seek out those coverted best photograph spots for ourselves. So where are they then?

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is the most northern of the five villages but is only a short train ride away from the others. As it’s the only sandy beach resort in the area so it’s time to take some symmetrical beach parasol shots looking out to sea and leave the narrow alleyway and harbour shots to the other villages as you head south along the coast.

Some Monterosso al Mare parasols. Mine not so symmetrical though

Some Monterosso al Mare parasols. Mine not so symmetrical though!

The toughest leg of the “half -open” walking trail is from Montorosso to Vernazza. As you begin to climb out of town you’ll have a few chances to take photos looking back towards the beach through gaps in the hedges. Just wipe the sweat from your eyes before taking aim.

Looking back down to Monterosso al Mare from the Cinque Terre trail

Looking back down to Monterosso al Mare from the Cinque Terre trail

Vernazza

The walk is amazing in its own right. However a key shot is towards the end of the walking leg from Monterosso al Mare after about 1.5h as you descend down into Vernazza. There are a few designated viewing platforms (normally with a short queue) but we found this section below the telegraph wires with the top of the castle below the horizon to be the best spot.

THAT view down to Vernazza below the telegraph wires

The view down to Vernazza below the telegraph wires

You can’t miss the village’s Castello di Vernazza castle and you can climb up it too for a small fee. Perfect for some panoramic shots! This one was taken on my iPhone.

The view of Vernazza from the top of the Castello di Vernazza

The view of Vernazza from the top of the Castello di Vernazza

… and afterwards you can stroll down and along the harbour wall looking back towards town with its lovely array of boats in the foreground.

A photo from the harbour wall of Vernazza

A photo from the harbour wall of Vernazza

Corniglia

We didn’t walk the extra 1.5h from Vernazza to Corniglia so this photo comes from Route Perfect Blog instead. We took the short 5 minute train ride from Vernazza and in doing so so missed this lovely shot of the hillside as walkers approach it.

The view of Corniglia on the walking trail from Vernazza

The view of Corniglia on the walking trail from Vernazza

Once in Corniglia there are some nice pictures of the shop frontages, displaying among things lots of yellow lemon bath soaps! Wiggle through the streets and you come to a school playground and then up some steps you sit atop the cliff edge looking straight down to the sea or across to Manarola in the distance.

The view from Corniglia towards Manarola in the distance

The view from Corniglia towards Manarola in the distance

Manarola

Manarola contains THE shot that has made the region famous and was ultimately the reason that we headed to Cinque Terre in the first place. Our minds were made up when my friend Rob blogged at hornblowertravels that it was his favourite place in the whole wide world! A bold statement so we had to find out for ourselves.

Some of the best viewpoints in Manarola

Some of the best viewpoints in Manarola

Walk up through the pink cemetery arch for the best shots

Walk up through the pink cemetery arch (2) for the best shots. This one taken at (5)

Opposite the main bank of pastel-coloured buildings is a walkway (1) that takes you around the headland which sits just below the Nessun Dorma bar. A great place to try a strawberry smoothie as you cool down thanks to the fence-mounted mist sprays. There’s no bad spot here but we found a quieter uninterrupted view through a pink arch (2) that leads up to the cemetery. Here you can take photos from the top of the flight of steps (5) looking down on a friend on the brick wall (above), take photos from the brick wall itself (3), or get “arty” by leaning right back against the wall to take some shots through the curved brickwork (4) with a slightly wider angle lens. Of course be respectful when there.

The view of Manarola through some arches by the cemetery

The Manarola view through the cemetery arches (4)

Taking a cemetery wall shot with someone in the foreground

The Manarola view from the cemetery wall (3)

In fact the view of the buildings in Manarola changed throughout the course of the day. These photos below were all taken below the Nessun Dorma bar on the main walkway (1) that goes around the headland. Some people took their photos on the tip of the headland but we moved a but further down the slope so we could get closer to the sea wall.

The view of Manarola from the main walkway at sunset

The Manarola view from the main walkway at sunset (1)

The view of Manarola from the main walkway at dusk

The Manarola view from the main walkway at dusk (1)

and finally the view of Manarola from the main walkway at night

The Manarola view from the main walkway at night (1)


Polkadotpassport
took some great looking photos by venturing down onto the rocks. Be careful though!

The view of the bay gets the most attention of course but just around the headland is a barrier where you can look out to see and also watch the sunset if you’re not too preoccupied with all those pastel-coloured buildings!

Looking out to sea just around the Manarola headland

Looking out to sea just around the Manarola headland

Riomaggiore

Another harbour town but with slightly more going on compared to Manarola. Also it has the benefit of a small pebbley beach when photo time is over.

The shot I loved was from the seawall looking back towards town with a few boats bobbing around on the foreground. Take some shots later in the evening to catch some softer colours and increase the chance of there being more boats in the foreground.

Riomaggiore harbour from the rocky breakwater

Riomaggiore harbour from the rocky breakwater

Head up to the Castello di Riomaggiore to take a nice shot down onto the town, plus at the Castello’s base there’s a chilled out viewing spot with some steps, by a cross under the welcome shade of some trees.

A panoramic view of Riomaggiore from the Castello di Riomaggiore

A panoramic view of Riomaggiore from the Castello di Riomaggiore

In summary …

Cinque Terre is gorgeous and I can see why my pal Hornblowertravels has it as his favourite place in the world. We went to Cinque Terre at the very beginning of June just before peak season and certainly encountered busy train stations during the day.

However by staying in one of the villages overnight you can enjoy the early evening and sunset relatively undisturbed as all the hordes of daytrippers from Pisa and Florence have gone home by then … which is perfect for photography really as that’s when you’ll most likely be taking all of your best shots!

… and of course there are may other photo opportunities taken out on the boats as well as off of the main routes between the villages where you can take great pictures that nobody else will have! 🙂

The walkway below Nessun Dorma and the lovely view back to Manarola

The walkway (1) below Nessun Dorma and the lovely view back to Manarola

Happy adventures and let me know if you find some even better locations?!

Check out my tips on taking better starburst and sunset photos too.