How To Stay Warm (and Chic!) In Europe This Winter

The key to traveling light and looking chic while staying warm this winter in Europe comes down to 2 things: fabrics and layers.

Instinctively we reach for thick, bulky clothes to keep us warm when the mercury drops. That worked in the old days, but now winter warmth comes with surprisingly thin layers of remarkable fabrics.

This means you can travel to really cold places with minimal luggage, and not be weighed down by heavy sweaters and coats.

what to pack for winter in Europe

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The Fabrics

The best fabrics to keep you warm are merino (the very best), silk, cashmere and the new “warmth technology synthetics. Each of these trap warmth against the skin.

Merino

When it comes to the best fabrics for travel, merino is the champion. Although it is a wool, merino is the very softest wool, and doesn’t itch or scratch. New technologies spin it to a thin thread that is also incredibly lofty. What this means is that air gets trapped against the skin, warms up and then keeps you warm. Merino is temperature regulating too, so as the day warms up it cools you down. From sub zero temperatures to 70 degrees, merino keeps you totally comfortable.

It is super sheer, wicks moisture away from the skin (so if you perspire it lifts it away) is antibacterial and super important for travel – it takes away odors. This means it can be worn multiple times between laundering and won’t get smelly. Perfect for travel!

Silk

Terramar Women’s Thermasilk base layer

Silk has the best warmth to weight ratio. Not only does it feel wonderful against your skin, but it keeps you really warm too. Unlike merino silk can’t regulate temperature, so if the afternoon warms up, you will too. It does however, wear well under jeans, so if it is cold enough to need a base layer on your legs you will have an easier time sliding jeans up over silk. See Terramar Thermasilk base layers here and here

Warmth Technology Synthetics

Synthetics are now pretty high tech. The warmth technology polyesters are super sheer, wick away moisture from the skin ad trap air, making you nice and toasty when it’s cold. Some of them regulate temperature, so can cool you back down too. My only problem with the polyesters is that they trap smells, so can be pretty stinky by the end of the day.

Cashmere

Cashmere is a fabulous middle layer fabric. You can get base layers in cashmere but if you are prone to itching it isn’t always your best friend.

Base Layers

A base layer’s job is to regulate temperature, not only keeping you warm but also wicking moisture away from the skin. This is your next-to-skin layer, think of it as a foundation garment over which you can layer your mid and outer layers as needed.

Think of camisoles like this one and very lightweight, long sleeved T’s like this one from Icebreaker in the new wonder fabrics. You can also get base layer bottoms like these silk ones from Terramar that are a similar thickness to a pair of tights.

Terramar Thermasilk base layer bottoms

A good base layer will be really sheer. Forget about the bulky long johns and cotton thermals of old – the new base layers are really thin.

Instead of a heavy sweater you can wear a thin base layer and stay every bit as warm.

The perfect winter travel wardrobe is made up of layers of these fabrics.

What To Pack For Winter

Underneath

Starting with your base layer, pack one or two long sleeved and one or two cami’s, ideally merino. I pack one silk cami and one merino cami as well as two merino long sleeves.

If you will need an extra layer for your legs look for a silk base layer that you can wash out at night or a couple of merino bottoms.

Merino Socks. Not only are thin, they keep your feet extra warm and don’t bunch up. They also don’t get stinky. See women’s merino socks here

Tights are essential if you will be wearing dresses or skirts.

Middle Layer

Leggings: If you will be wearing leggings look for a good merino pair like these from Icebreaker. They will keep you warm, cool you down if the afternoon gets warm and sunny, wick away perspiration, and also hold their shape nicely.

Jeans and Pants: The easiest way to travel is with separates. For every two bottoms pack 4 or 5 tops. So a pair of jeans, a pair of black pants (or leggings) and 5 tops to mix and match.

Long Sleeved Tops: From long sleeved T-shirts to cashmere sweaters like this one from Nordstrom, plan 2 to 3 tops per pair of jeans/pants/leggings.

A Merino Dress: The best winter travel piece I have ever owned is a black merino dress from Ibex. Unfortunately Ibex went out of business but you can find other merino dresses here and here.

Freezing day in Monserrat, Spain, December 2017

My merino dress is only slightly thicker than t-shirt fabric yet is incredibly warm. I wore it here in Barcelona 2 Decembers ago. On this day it was mildly cold in Barcelona, warm when you were in the sun, then up here in Monserrat it was absolutely freezing cold I the wind. Freezing.

A merino dress with tights and boots and a leather jacket will keep you warm when it’s glacial out, but also keep you comfortable when it is warmer.

The Outer Layer

Boots

The very best footwear for winter travelers is a good pair of boots. Boots need to be waterproof and able to hold up in snow. (Even if you are not expecting snow.)

I prefer boots that aren’t too rigid. Your boots need to flex with your feet, especially on long sightseeing days. I have been wearing shoes and boots from Sofft on all my travels over the last few years. They typically don’t need breaking in and have been extremely comfortable even on days I have had to walk more than 10 miles on cobblestoned surfaces.

A short pair of booties can be great for fall and winter travel. They don’t take up space in your suitcase, are easy to slip on and off at the airport, and look good with everything. I have the Bellis II from Sofft

If you are likely to have rain or if you want a higher boot, my current favorite winter boots are the Sharnell II from Sofft. They are waterproof, the width is adjustable if your legs swell of if you need a little extra calf room through wearing layers. Sofft’s Aqua Sofft line of boots are all waterproof.

A Puffer Jacket or Coat

A warm coat that packs down to nothing is essential for a winter traveler. Puffer coats are ideal as they both keep you warm and can fold down into a small pouch. Check to see that your puffer jacket or coat is waterproof before purchase.

I particularly like the slightly longer puffer coats. Puffer coats that reach mid-thigh will keep you much warmer on cold days. Look for a puffer coat that also has a hood, both for rain protection but also for the extra warmth they give your neck. This women’s puffer coat from Columbia is both warm and has excellent reviews. Also check out this one from Bernardo at Nordstrom if you want amore slimming line.

This one from Benia Valuker is the top selling women’s puffer coat on Amazon, with 2400 reviews – it must be good! Check out how gorgeous it is in beige!

My favorite clothing item in my closet is my red leather jacket from Jimmy’s in Florence. I only wear it when I know it’s not going to rain – I know leather is fine in the rain but I don’t want to risk ruining it in a downpour.

Hats

I normally wear some form of beanie or woolen hat for winter travel. One of my friends always looks so chic in fedora style hats, so this year I am getting one of these Lisianthus fedoras from Amazon. With more than 2000 5 star reviews I’m thinking it has to be a winner!

A Big Scarf

A warm scarf is a must for winter travel. I like to use a slightly oversized scarf or pashmina that can double as a blanket if needed on a flight. Look for something soft and gentle against the skin that is large enough to give you extra coverage over your chest and upper back when wrapped.

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8 Exciting Places You Need To See While On The Amalfi Coast

If you are planning a trip to Campania chances are you are just thinking about Capri and the Amalfi Coast, and maybe a quick jaunt into Naples. Problem is, these are the places that everyone goes to, which means the crowds can be brain-bendingly overwhelming.

There is much, much more to see and do in Campania than just the big tourist spots. Whether you want to take a half day or day to do something different, or whether you may want to add an extra few days to your Amalfi Coast trip, here are 8 places to consider when planning your trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Be sure to read to the end as you probably haven’t heard of 6 through 8!

1. Caserta

The Palace at Caserta
The gardens and palace of Caserta

If you enjoy visiting European palaces this one is a must see. Built to rival Versailles, Caserta is the largest palace in all of Europe. Like Versailles it is a gaudy display of too much gold, over the top frescoes and somewhat crass excess, all of which make it completely fantastic!

throne room at Caserta
The Throne Room at the Palace of Caserta

Rent a bike and explore the beauty of the garden and fountains which extend 3.5 kilometers in front of the palace, have lunch in the café and explore the royal apartments.

Caserta Palace

One thing I learned while there was how fascinating Marie Carolina was. Her well known sister Marie Antoinette gets all the attention, but Marie Carolina was a tremendous character, much, much more interesting. This was her palace and her story unfolds throughout the royal apartments.

staircase caserta
The staircase leading up to the Royal apartments at the palace of Caserta

RELATED POST: THE ROYAL APARTMENTS AT CASERTA

The palace at Caserta is a quick and easy train ride from either Naples or Salerno.

2. POMPEII, HERULANEUM AND OPLONTIS

While in the area of Naples and the Amalfi Coast take a morning to visit the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and Oplontis

If you are not familiar with these incredible sites these are the ruins of three towns taken out by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The towns vanished from the face of the earth for 1700 years.

POMPEII

Pompeii

Over the centuries when people tried to find the fabled Pompeii they looked along the coast line, as it had been a port city but the eruption of the volcano moved the ocean 2 kilometers out to sea. Pompeii was discovered in the 18th century when a farmer inland had been digging for a new well.

Pompeii streets
Some of the first pedestrian streets were discovered in the ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii is Italy’s most unique archaeological site, its 109 excavated acres giving us a snapshot of 1st century Roman life.

RELATED POST: 18 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POMPEII

wealthy home in pompeii
Remains of the home of a wealthy family in ancient Pompeii

I recommend visiting in the morning at opening time (8:30am) as for much of the year Pompeii gets overwhelmingly hot. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and a hat and bring a water bottle to refil at the fountains staggered around the site.

RELATED POST: THE BEST SANDALS TO WEAR IN EUROPE

statue in bathhouse in Pompeii
Holding up the roof in the thermal bath house in Pompeii

I suggest doing Pompeii first as this will give you insight into the life of 1st century Romans, their social structure, the absolute genius of their technological innovations, and the devastation caused by the eruption.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum/Ercolano is only 3 stops away on the local train (the Circumvesuviana) and makes an incredible second excavation to visit.

ruins at Herculaneum
Herculaneum

After seeing the destruction of Pompeii, much of which was crushed down to one level, Herculaneum lets you experience the multi storied homes replete with their red Pompeii style frescoes. Resplendent in its own right, this site is jarring also because it gives you greater insight into the way Pompeii would have looked up until the day the volcano blew.

herculaneum frescoes

Herculaneum is about 1//3 of the size of Pompeii, and rather than being an important merchant port city was a luxury resort town for wealthy Romans, so features more elegant villas than commercial buildings.

boathouse caves at herculaneum
The boathouse/caves at Herculaneum

The caves at the beach level are filed with skeletons. When Vesuvius erupted the people of Herculaneum were certain rescuers would come by sea, so the women and children were waiting in the safety of the caves while the men waited on the beach.

skeletons at herculaneum

Unfortunately for all of them a pyroclastic current of trapped gases at a heat of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (and up to 900 degrees) blew their way, instantly vaporizing their bodies.

Their instant death meant they were in fact luckier than their neighbors in Pompeii who suffocated and in many cases took multiple hours to die.

OPLONTIS

From the 1st century B.C Oplontis was a super elegant suburb of Pompeii where the uber-wealthy had their country villas. As with Pompeii it disappeared for 17 centuries and was only rediscovered in the 18th century. There is just one villa is open to the public, but it is spectacular and well worth the visit.

Villa di Poppea

Villa di Poppea, Oplontis
The Villa di Poppea in Oplontis

Poppea Sabina was Emperor Nero’s second wife. This is thought to be her villa due to an amphora with the name of her freedman and a vase with her mark on it being found on the grounds.

This is actually the largest Roman suburban villa ever discovered and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely due to the sensational frescoes. This villa is enormous, with  large portico opening to gardens lined with statues, a swimming pool, loads of rooms, passageways and cubicle as well as a kitchen still recognizeable.

frescoes in Villa di Poppea, Oplontis
Frescoes inside Villa di Poppea

One of the most extraordinary features of the villa is the wealth of frescoes and mosaics all remaining in situ rather than having been carted off to a museum somewhere.

villa poppea frescoes
Frescoes inside Villa di Poppea

Interestingly there is no sign of life here at the time of the eruption. Some of the statues were found on a storeroom, suggesting that perhaps the villa had been closed up for renovations after the earthquake of 62 A.D

Villa Poppea, Oplontis
Villa di Poppea, Oplontis

3. Procida

An alternative to the frequently overcrowded and always expensive island of Capri is the delicious little island of Procida. Almost completely off the tourist radar this one is a weekend getaway for the people of Naples, but with the exception of August the streets are delightfully empty. So try to come here on a weekday if possible.

Procida
Procida

Procida is one of the most colorful places on earth. As you arrive into its little harbor your eyes don’t know where to land – all the fishermen’s homes lining the seafront are painted in bright pastel hues, the sunshine sparkles off the sea, which like the sky is a completely impossible shade of blue. Procida is visually stunning.

This tiny island is part of the Flegrean island chain, off the coast of Naples. The island is between Capo Miseno and Ischia, and occupies a mere 4.1 square miles. Its history dates back as far as the 16th century BC with Mycenaean objects having been discovered there, although the first known settlers were Greeks in the 8th century BC.

More than 30 movies have been filmed here including Il Postino and the Talented Mr. Ripley.

RELATED POST: JUST ONE DAY IN PROCIDA

If you take a day trip to Procida be sure to wander the waterfront and the streets of the Marina Grande, then head over to the back side of the island. Walk along sun-bleached little streets (but watch out for vespas zipping around) and head to Marina Corricella for lunch. This darling fishing village was one of the locations in Il Postino.

A variety of eateries line the waterfront, picturesque with fishing boats bobbing at their moorings, fishing nets lying out to dry and colorful buildings all around. Lunch here is authentic, inexpensive and wonderful. I recommend having a long, leisurely lunch with a view, then having a swim before heading back to the mainland.

Procida is easily accessible by hydrofoil from Naples.

4. Salerno

Another absolute treasure lies at the bottom end of the Amalfi Coast, the lovely medieval town of Salerno. Not only a wonderful place to take a day trip to, Salerno is also a tremendous place to base your Amalfi Coast trip.

historic center of salerno
historic center of Salerno

With train access (including the high speed AV trains) you can move around much more easily than if you are staying in any of the towns along the coast road, yet still have ferry access to the entire coast and Capri.

early morning in Salerno
Early morning in Salerno

The crowds, tour buses and cruise ship travelers don’t come here, (well, maybe a few small cruise ships do, but not the monsters that invade the rest of the coast)so you can wander around freely, enjoying the beauty, the history, the ambience.

If you stay in Salerno the local nightlife is infectious. Everyone comes out at night to enjoy a glass of wine and see friends in the cafes and bars dotted around the piazzas and the picturesque little streets. The restaurants are fabulous – I love evenings in Salerno.

RELATED POST: GLAM ITALIA TOUR IN SALERNO

Along with the castle, the Duomo, the medical school (the first in Italy, it dates back centuries) and the medieval town center, another benefit to staying or visiting Salerno is that it is the gateway to the beautiful Cilento region.

5. PAESTUM

Only 30 km or so south of Salerno you will find one of the coolest and most un-touristed places you have never heard of, the Greek temples at Paestum.

The 8 best preserved Greek temples in the world are in Southern Italy. Five of them are in Sicily, the other 3 are here in the former town of Poseidonia, now known as Paestum.

2500 years ago this was part of Magna Grecia. Greece sent its young men out to discover and conquer new land. Southern Italy and Sicily were hot favorites, benefitting from amongst other things, incredible Greek architecture. Be warned that these three temples are breathtaking.

Temple Hera 2 Paestum
Temple Hera II also known as the Temple of Nettuno

I love arriving by car (you can also get here by train) because as you drive through the countryside surrounded by open fields and buffalo mozzarella farms, these 3 giant temples erupt up out of nowhere. And they are truly magnificent.

Paestum Hera 1
Temple Hera I also known as the Basilica

Built in 550 B.C, 500 B.C and 480 B.C the temples of Hera, Athena and Hera II are in unbelievably good condition.

Paestum at Sunset
Sunset in Paestum

RELATED POST: THE GREEK TEMPLES AT PAESTUM

Also still in place are a heroon, a pool and various other structure dating back to the Greeks.

The temples are surrounded by the remnants of a Roman town. Romans loved Greek architecture so instead of pulling it down opted to build around it. Roman roads, houses and apartment buildings can still be seen here. If you have been to Pompeii and understand the layout of a Roman home, you will appreciate being able to walk inside the ruins and identify the front and back doors, the views from the homes as well as their layouts.

mosaic floors in ruins on ancient roman homes in Paestum
Mosaic floors still remain in the ruins of the Roman homes at Paestum

As if that weren’t enough, the cats eyes and mosaic floors are still intact. Not a cigarette butt, coke can or McDonald’s wrapper inn sight – it is all just here for you to enjoy.

If at all possible try to be here at sunset – it is just unbelievably beautiful. Also noteworthy are the famous roses that bloom here in the spring, famous since antiquity, bathing the temples in their gorgeous perfume and draping the area in even more beauty.

6. VELIA

If you enjoy seeing really ancient sites and are in the area, not too far south of Paestum there is another treasure, the town of Velia.

Velia, Cilento
Velia

Velia (originally named Elea) was founded around 540 B.C by Phoenicians from Corsica who fled the island after a brutal battle with the Etruscans ad Carthaginians. The town had a long period of economic prosperity as well as being an important cultural center. Home to philosophers such as Parmenides who founded the Philosophical School of Elea in the 6th century B.C, and Zeno, who was around in the 5th century B.C

The Romans took over in 88 B.C. The citizens of Elea were recognized as Romans but were allowed to maintain their Greek language and customs.

Porta Rossa, Velia
The Porta Rossa in Velia

Things to see here include the monumental Porta Rosa gate. Dating back to the 4th century B.C it is thought to be one of the only intact monuments of the ancient world. It is perfectly preserved too, cut blocks of volcanic tufa perfectly placed together without the use of lime to hold them in place, reaching a height of 6 meters. Interestingly it is the only example of a rounded arch in Greek architecture to be found in Italy.

The gate leads to an ancient road and paved steps that take you down to one of the town’s 2 ports.

In the other direction from Porta Rosa there are 2nd century Roman baths, and a lovely town square.

Greek Theater Velia
Greek Theater in Velia

The acropolis has a medieval church sitting atop a Greek temple, and just below it a small theater dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

Also to be seen here are remains of ancient homes and frescoed buildings.

7. BADIA SANTA MARIA DI PATTANO

Not far from Velia you can find the best preserved Italo-Albanian monastery in Southern Italy, the Badia Santa Maria di Pattano. Although the first known mention of this site was in a document dated to 933 A.D it is thought to be much older.

Badia Santa Maria Di Pattano
Badia Santa Maria di Pattano

The complex is noteworthy for its church of Santa Maria, an example of Angevin architecture with polygonal apses and ribbed groin vaults. The bell tower is one of the most ancient Early Middle Ages bell towers in Southern Italy. Standing 15 meters tall it may have been built in stages, because it has 5 different decorations, making it fascinating from an artistic point of view.

CHurch of San Fidelfo Badia Santa Maria di Pattano
Church of San Fidelfo Roman ruins

The Church of San Fidelfo was built on top of Roman ruins. (A thermal structure can be seen under a glass floor.)

Byzantine frescoes at Badia Santa Maria di Pattano
Byzantine fescoes in the church of San Fidelfo

The interior walls are decorated with some amazing Byzantine frescoes, in my opinion, alone they make the trip worth while.

8. THE CILENTO COAST

Cilento Coast Italy
The Cilento Coast

If you are not one for stone beaches, the crowds, high prices and overly manicured visage of the Amalfi Coast, this could be the area for you.

Cilento coast
Cilento Coast

Stretching 65 miles from Salerno to the Tyrrhenian coast of Basilicata, the Cilento coast is a beautiful alternative. With sandy beaches; pristine, clean ocean, affordable accommodation and dining options, this stretch of coast is authentic, a little erratic and the antithesis of the Amalfi Coast. Don’t expect glitzy hotels or the lamorous posturing of the uber rich, instead think of ancient port towns with the local fisherman still taking their boats out at dawn and fishing with handmade nets.

Cilento
Cilento

Break your days up with mornings spent discovering ancient Greek and Roman ruins, lunches in quaint little piazzas and afternoons on the beach.

Some of the towns to look for:

Agropoli, the largest town in the area can be a great place to base yourself.

Agropoli cilento
Agropoli

Only 15 minutes away is Castellabate. The castle ruins and the views of the ocean are fabulous, as is the main piazza. Although pretty tiny it is buzzing with cafes, a wine bar and restaurants.

castallabate cilento
Castellabate

Acciaroli is a lovely little seaside village you won’t want to leave.

Acciaroli, Cilento
Acciaroli photographed by Antonio Vaccarini

Interestingly it is known for the longevity of its inhabitants, with around 300 centenarians wandering the streets, 20 percent of whom have reached the ripe old age of 110!

Pioppi is another lovely seaside village. Ancel Keys lived here for 28 years studying and living the Mediterranean diet.

Pioppi Cilento
Pioppi

Palinuro is yet another beautiful coastal village with a rugged but spectacular coastline broken up with sandy beaches, the ruins of a medieval castle, a blue grotto – it has a lot to offer.

Palinuro, Cilento
Palinuro

Chances are you will want to run away here…

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8 cool places to see while you are in Amalfi

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.

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