What You Need To Know Before Hiring A Driver In Italy

If you are planning a trip to Italy you need to read this post. It pertains to your safety, and after what I witnessed this past month (September 2019) I think it is extremely important.

Your Italian Driver Sorrento Italy
NCC licensed commercial passenger vehicle on the Amalfi Coast. (I have been using this company for years)

This year I spent a lot of time on the Amalfi Coast with my tours. I have a company who handle all of my Naples-Sorrento driving transfers as well as day trips on the Amalfi Coast, both for my tours and also for my personal trips.

While on the coast road on two separate occasions last month I witnessed drivers with a car load of tourists make some pretty stupid and very dangerous moves. One in particular was really hair raising.

My own driver, who is a professional, commercially licensed and authorized driver pointed out to me that these were non-licensed drivers who had no legal right to be driving tourists.

This got me thinking about the danger these tourists had been in without even knowing it. It also got me thinking about how you as a consumer can protect yourself when traveling and be sure to only hire fully licensed professional drivers, wherever it is you are traveling.

Are You Going To Hire A Driver While You’re In Italy?

There are several reasons you might end up hiring a professional driver during your trip to Italy.

Glam Italia Tour in Naples
Glam Italia Tour group arriving to Naples train station from Sorrento with our officially licensed NCC driver. We had been to Pompeii and a winery on the way.

*The first is to handle airport and train station transfers, for example Sorrento/Positano/Amalfi to Naples train station or airport. Or maybe you are just doing a transfer from your hotel in Rome to the airport.

*The second is for events such as day tours and winery tours.

*Sometimes it can be much easier and more expeditious to hire a driver to move you from one city to another, especially when one is remote or doesn’t have great train service. If you are on the Amalfi Coast and want to go to Matera for example, you might find it quicker and easier to have a driver take you and your luggage rather than deal with the regional trains.

Moving between cities with a private driver also opens up the opportunity to visit some little towns along the way, your luggage being safely stored with your driver.

*Another reason you may hire a driver is to spend a few days doing your own private tour.

Whatever the reason you hire someone it is imperative that you only book someone who is properly licensed.

RELATED POST: 16 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT DRIVING IN ITALY

What Is The Official License?

NCC licensed driver in Tuscany Luca Benfaremo
The professional driver who handles my Glam Italia Tours in Tuscany. NCC Licensed, authorized, fully insured for commercial passengers.

There is actually an enormous amount involved in becoming a professional driver in Italy. The official license is called the Licenza NCC and is the same all over the country. (In Italy it is called an Authorization. The U.S equivalent is extremely rigid licensing.)

*Beyond regular driving licenses, professional drivers have to have a commercial license/authorization and be on a regional professional driver register, which involves another series of complex and difficult exams. Drivers must have the authorization of the city hall where they are licensed.

*They have to pass difficult exams on local geography and history in the foreign language of their choice. This means they are fluent in at least one other language. Many of them speak multiple languages. They are also able to tell you about the area you are in, what you are seeing out the window and all manner of interesting things, in your language.

Should something go wrong, from finding you have left something at the hotel to finding yourself in a medical emergency, a professional driver will help you or get you help in your own language.

*The cost of this license/authorization is high and they have to adhere to very strict rules, with the loss of this very expensive license as just one of the penalties for violating the rules.

*Professional drivers have a zero alcohol limit. That can mean no drinking the night before a job as well as no alcohol the day of.

*Not only are they randomly alcohol tested, they are also randomly drug tested with toxicology tests that show drug use up to a year prior.

*They must carry full commercial passenger insurance.

*The vehicle must be cleaned in between services.

*Professional vehicles have to go through hard moT testing every year. This testing looks at everything from tires to lights to brackets to brakes and much more.

There are a huge number of rules for professional drivers, all either pertaining to your safety or to the quality of your experience.

Non Professional Drivers

You put yourself into a world of risk if you hire a non-professional driver, wherever you are in the country. At home you wouldn’t get into the car of some random stranger or someone’s crazy uncle – the same applies here.

Apart from the fact that these illegal drivers aren’t properly licensed they don’t have adequate insurance, which could be catastrophic for you should they get into an accident. Their cars aren’t properly tested or regulated, and can be unsafe.

Not being registered and regulated by a governing board, these fools drive as erratically as they want. The ones I watched last month were driving like maniacs. With their cars full of tourists.

There is nothing to stop them from having drugs and/or alcohol in their system.

If they are an illegal driver your safety is the last thing on their mind. Making money is all they care about.

RELATED POST: 8 CRUCIAL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

Don’t Assume – Be Specific And Ask.

Don’t assume that your hotel or Airbnb will automatically order you a licensed driver and vehicle. They may be getting you their cousin or a friend who needs extra cash and they may be making extra money themselves by referring work to sketchy companies. You can be certain that whatever discounts are happening are not making their way to you – you are still paying the same as you would with a properly licensed, fully regulated driver.

I’ve even seen some Airbnbs that offer for the husband to pick you up at the airport for a fee. Remember, you don’t know this guy, you don’t know if he’s been drinking, if he’s a safe driver or if his vehicle is safe. What you do know is that he is not a professional driver and doesn’t carry the right insurance.

Tell them upfront you want an official NCC driver. No exceptions.

How Can You Tell If Your Driver Is A Professional?

Official NCC authorization on a passengeer vehicle
The shield to the right of the license plate indicates the driver is professionally licensed and authorized to transport you.

Professional drivers in Italy are required to have what is called a Licenza NCC. This is easy to identify – there will be a metal plaque beside the license plate at the back of the vehicle, normally in the shape of a shield.

NCC Shield next to rear license plat on prefessional vehicle in Italy
The shape and color of the NCC plaque can change from city to city. What doesn’t change are the letters NCC and the proximity to the back license plate.

Both the front and rear windshield will have either an NCC or Noleggio sticker prominently displayed.

NCC official driver in Italy
Either the NCC or Noleggio sticker must be clearly visible on both front and rear windshields

There are no exceptions. No other stickers. No other licensing.

If your driver tells you he doesn’t have that type of identification on his vehicle because it’s not required where he is from, or because he is licensed elsewhere, it is straight up B.S.

Don’t get in that car.

If the police pull over a driver who does not carry a professional license you can be left on the side of the road, literally. The car/van can be impounded and the driver arrested.

Illegal drivers will normally try to tell police that you are their cousins from America/family friends or some other nonsense. Be very, very careful. Should you go along with the lie you could find yourself in a world of trouble in a foreign country.

Driver Networks

Most professional drivers in any given area know each other. They help one another out with everything from alerting each other to trouble on the road ahead to covering for each other if bookings run late or overlap. With a professional driver you have multiple layers of benefit.

They also all know at a glance if another driver is illegal.

ftdriver.com
NCC licensed driver and car in Piemonte

It Happened To Me

It seems as though everything I have learned, I have learned the hard way!

One time in Rome several years ago I asked my landlord to organize a transfer to the airport for me. At the time I wasn’t dialed into the system and really didn’t know how to find a driver on my own. The various landlords I rented from always set it up for me and I had never had a problem.

RELATED POST: HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT INTO ROME

This time I had a 7 am flight back to the USA and had a super early pick up. I knew as soon as he pulled up that the driver wasn’t legit. He was a surly Russian who spoke no English. In hindsight he had probably been drinking. The car was decent but as we were en route I realized he was just moonlighting as a professional driver. Real drivers don’t show up looking disheveled and moody – real drivers carry themselves like professionals.

I was somewhat stuck as it was dark out and I had to get to the airport. The apartment I had been renting wasn’t close to a busy street where I could have found a taxi, and the 6 digit local taxi number didn’t work from my international phone.

Once I got to the airport I talked to the drivers parked nearby (who told me I’d been driven by a non-licensed driver), got some business cards and developed my own network of commercially licensed professional drivers who do airport transfers in Rome.

What You Can Do

There are a few things you can do to secure your safety when booking a driver in Italy. If you are a member of my newsletter you can bounce me back an email, and if I have drivers in an area you are traveling to I will happily share them with you.

If you are not a member yet you can join the newsletter here

Love it or hate it, Trip Advisor is the gold standard for finding quality travel referrals. Research drivers in the areas you need them and then look at their reviews. Most of the legitimate professional drivers are going to have loads of reviews. When you reach out to them be sure to ask if they are a Licenza NCC driver. When you go to their website look for Licenza NCC shield or wording to indicate they are professionally licensed.

If you are having your hotel or Airbnb secure a driver for you be sure to tell them up front you want an NCC licensed driver. Remember, if they get you an illegal driver they are pocketing the extra money. I would back that up by saying you have read about it on trip advisor. No hotel concierge wants a trip advisor review saying he referred an unlicensed driver.

If there is no NCC plaque next to the rear license plate and if either NCC or Noleggio stickers are not prominently displayed on both windshields do not get in that car.

How To Get The Best Gelato In Italy

If you are traveling to Italy anytime soon (or ever!) there are 3 things you can pretty much guarantee you will eat at least one time while you are away.

Pasta. Pizza. Gelato.

Some people are lucky enough to have a digestive system and a metabolism that lets them run wild with all three, others of us have to be selective as to how many times we can indulge while away. Whether you fall into the once only category or the multi times per day group, you have to make every time count.

Today we are talking gelato, Italy’s answer to but 1000 x better than, ice cream.

lemon gelato in Capri Italy
Lemon gelato in Capri. Not to be missed!

So what’s so hard about ordering ice cream you say? Well, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.

It Starts With Where You Buy Gelato

This is in my opinion the most important factor when getting a gelato.

With tourism being so huge in Italy (it is one of the most visited countries in the world) gelato chains started popping up everywhere. Mass made, factory made ice cream with added color, added sugars, added God-only-knows-what. Chain store gelato doesn’t taste as good and can be so over sugared that it bites the back of your throat. As authentic as a Big Mac and with a provenance and nutritional value equally as questionable, these are not the places to buy gelato in Italy.

Their gelato either ships in frozen or is made from a packet. This is not the gelato you traveled across the world to eat!

Gelato franchises/chains are always scattered through the high tourist areas and are generally very close to major tourist attractions. If you have read my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) then you already know to avoid tourist trap eateries of any kind!

RELATED POST: HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY

Always Buy Artiginale

Everywhere you go in Italy you can find fantastic, artisanal or artiginale gelato shops. These are owner operated stores where gelato is made freshly each day from fresh ingredients. The taste, texture and quality are superb. Think of it as chain store gelato being like eating Kentucky Fried Chicken versus artisanal gelato being like fine dining. Technically both will fill your belly but the experience is drastically different!

Buon Gusto artiginale gelato in Pienza Italy
Inside Buon Gusto gelateria in Pienza, Italy

Artisanal gelato flavors tend to be only what is in season. You won’t find strawberry year round.

Some artisanal shops only make a handful of flavors each day. In Pienza my friend Nicola’ from Buon Gusto makes only 6 flavors per day. When I take my Glam Italia Tour groups to Pienza I have learned to take them to his store when we first arrive, because we only spend a few hours in town and everyone always wants to go back for another gelato before we leave!

Explore the Flavor Profiles

Artiginale gelato shops offer some really fascinating flavor combinations. Don’t order the flavors you do at home – try something different! Look for things like raspberry and rosemary, peach and sage, figs and honey.

RELATED POST: HOW TO MAKE ITALIAN COFFEE IN A MOKA

They always offer samples so you can try before you buy. I find the more unusual the flavor combination (unusual to us, quite normal to them) the more amazing the gelato is. I always try anything with lavender, sage, basil or rosemary as they give such a fantastic flavor to gelato.

strawberry gelato italy
Gelato made with strawberries and basil.

On one of my tours one of the travelers tried orange,carrot and spinach gelato, the thought of which wasn’t overly enticing, but it was so incredibly good we all ended up going back and ordering one!

Gelato from Buon Gusto in Pienza
The one in back is the spinach and carrot gelato. As awful as it sounds it was actually sensational!

Mix It Up

Can’t decide which flavors to order? Try a scoop each of two or three!

Don’t be surprised if they refuse to pair the flavors you want or if they look at you funny. They get so invested in their creations and your taste experience is so important to them that sometimes they won’t want to put two flavors side by side.

gelateria Teatro, rome
white peach with sage and raspberry with rosemary gelato at Gelateria Teatro in Rome

One time in Sorrento a gelato guy refused to give me 2 flavors together. It was pretty funny! I couldn’t decide between the two so in the end he gave me 2 separate cups each with one flavor, then told me which one I was to eat first. He wasn’t being a jerk, it was because he didn’t want me thinking his gelato flavors were bad.

I go back every time I’m in Sorrento, which is multiple times per year, and now he just chooses two flavors that play nicely together for me. And I feel no guilt at having two scoops either, because the walk up the hill to the apartment I rent there is savage, so I’m convinced I burn it all off on the way home…

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

How Can You Tell If It’s Artiginale?

Most artisanal or artiginale gelato shops will proudly post signs saying they are artiginale/artisanal. You can also just google artiginale gelato near me and get walking directions, invariably just around the corner from where you’re standing!

An easy way to tell if gelato is artisanal or not is to just look at it. Chain store/mass made/made from a packet gelatos tend to have punchy, bright colors, whereas artisanal gelato colors tend to be more dull.

artisanal pistachio gelato in Volterra, Italy
Real pistachio gelato will be a slightly dull shade of green

Gelato made with fresh strawberries will be a slightly dull pinkish hue, whereas mass market strawberry gelato will be bright pink. Another one to look for is pistachio, a flavor you will find year round. Artisanal pistachio gelato will be a dull, mossy or grey/green whereas mass market pistachio will be a vibrant green.

Have you read my books yet? Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) and Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome: Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps are both available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle and the Kindle App. Both books are bestsellers and will change the way you experience travel in Italy!

Look For Locals

The best gelato shops are like the best little local eateries – heavily populated by Italians. Watch where they go, and buy your gelato there! Sometimes you will see long lines of people stretched out across the piazza waiting to buy gelato. At Dondoli Gelato in San Gimignano the lines get crazy long and sometimes stretch beyond the well in the middle of Piazza Cisterna, but the gelato is award winning and is definitely worth the wait. Funnily enough the café across from it also sells gelato and never has a line. Those in the know prefer to wait and have the good stuff.

This tends to be a really good sign, unless it is a bus tour and that’s where the tour guide told them to go. Bus tour groups are generally easy to spot though – if everyone in line looks like a tourist, this is not the place for you to be!

If you can’t spot a good gelato shop don’t worry – ask a local. There is always a good gelato shop close by.

Rail Europe (Americas)

Porticus of Octavia ~ Why You Need To See This Site In Rome

One of the things I love so much about Rome is that you can turn almost any corner and find yourself in the midst of some incredible set of ruins dating back to before Christ. Sometimes long, long before Christ.

Each of them seem to have a fascinating story behind them, and frequently you can trace that story across millennia to where we are now.

One of these sets of ruins dating back 2200+ years sits smack bang in the middle of Rome, mere minutes’ walk from the Forum, and although there will be literally thousands of people just up the street, you’d be lucky to find more than a dozen people wandering around and taking photos right here.

The Porticus of Octavia in Rome
The Porticus of Octavia in Rome dates back 2200 years

This is the Porticus of Octavia. It is immediately next door to the Teatro Marcello and leads you straight into the Jewish Ghetto, where you can stop for a glass of wine and some artichokes or maybe just a quick coffee on your way to somewhere else.

If you have my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome: Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps you can find more information as well as a guide to what’s in walking distance from here in the Ancient Rome section.

A Very Ancient History

Back in 179 B.C a temple to the Goddess Juno was built on this site. Then in 146 B.C a temple to Jupiter Stator was built right next to it, and the two were enclosed in the Porticus Metelli.

Fast forward 120 years and Emperor Augustus decided it was time for some renovating and gave the complex a rebuild, naming it for his sister Octavia. This is the structure we see now.

The Teatro marcello in Rome dates back to before Christ
The Teatro Marcello in Rome may well have been the prototype for the Colosseum. It was built just down the road, 84 years prior.

Octavia was the mother of Marcellus, namesake of the theater next door.

RELATED POST: HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY

Murder In The Family

Just to make things even more interesting, Augustus’ wife Livia is thought to have killed Octavia’s son Marcellus to knock him out of the running to be Emperor. Basically everyone who potentially came between her own son Tiberius and the  job of emperor mysteriously died, including in the end Augustus himself.

I go into this in the book – the story is fascinating and Livia is one of the two villainesses in my history of Rome. Of course there were more than two, but I give you one from ancient Rome and one from Renaissance Rome.

The Temples And The Art

In its time this must have been an incredible sight to see. The Teatro Marcello and the Porticus of Octavia with the two temples would have all been gleaming in the sunshine, bright white travertine.

Porticus of Octavia Rome
In its day the Porticus of Octavia would have been all gleaming white travertine. Columns form the two temples dating back 2200 years still remain.

We know from Pliny the Elder’s book A Natural History, that both the porticoes of Octavia and Metelli as well as the two temples were full of art. Statues and frescoes were abundant, and the entire area would have been beautiful.

Octavia also built a library, curia and lecture halls in this complex.

RELATED POST: 10 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO IN ROME

A History of Fires

There were two notable fires here, the first in 80 A.D and was repaired by Domitian. Then in 203 A.D there was another fire which had repairs done by Septimus Severus and his maniac son Caracalla. There is an inscription along the top that names both and also says Incendio Corruptum Rest, which means restored after a fire.

Inscription on the Porticus of Octavia tells of a rebuild by Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla after a fire
The inscription across the front of the Porticus tells of the rebuild after the fire.

In 442 A.D an earthquake felled the original columns along the front, which were then replaced by the arch you see now.

The Middle Ages

After the fall of Rome the beautiful Porticus of Octavia fell to ruin and became a fish market, remaining so until the late 19th century. In 770 A.D the church of Sant’ Angelo in Pescheria was built in the back of the ruins, Translated in means Church of The Holy Angel In The Fish Market

RELATED POST: 15 BOOKS SET IN ITALY TO READ BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

In my book Glam Italia! 101 fab I give you a breakdown of everything you are seeing and show you some incredibly cool details to look for, such as which stones are B.C and which correspond to the various centuries A.D.

You are also mere steps away from one of my favorite eateries in Rome, where I have spent endless evenings dining al fresco and tourist free. It’s all in the book – order your copy from Amazon today!

Want something else that’s really cool to do in Rome? I have a Free PDF of the Best Rooftop Bars In Rome. These are places with gorgeous views and wonderful drinks. Any of them are the perfect place to end a long day of sightseeing, taking in the sunset, the view and an icy cold Prosecco! Download your Best Rooftop Bars In Rome PDF HERE

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