Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Florence Airport (FLR) - Car Rentals
Stew Vreeland, Kerry S. Ouellet
Picking up and dropping off your rental car at Florence airport. Stew wrote these notes in 2004, but a few things have changed since, so Kerry updated them.
They call the airport in Florence Aeroporto A. Vespucci, "A" for Amerigo. Amerigo Vespucci was the first one to draw a map with a continent between Europe and Asia and in doing so made a name for himself. And for us Americans. But, now that I think if it ... shouldn't we really be Amerigoans? Ancient typo? Or just too hard to pronounce? I wonder.
But, for my small town Iowa tastes, Amerigo's airport is way better than Rome's. When I land in Italy's capital, the airport system there doesn't seem to be happy until it has misdirected my bags to some other capital, say Paris or Tel Aviv. And that slows down my re-entry to "la dolce vita-land". So, unless there is a rip-snorting discount on a flight to Rome, we aim for Florence.
Flying from North America to Florence Airport (Vespucci)
There are no direct flights from the US to Florence, so you have to fly to a European hub and change to a flight to Florence.
Stew: So far my favorite way to reach Florence is through Frankfurt on Lufthansa because they have awesome security, usually are on time, the food and service are fine and their flight is the earliest to arrive in Florence. All that can change, but that has been my experience to date. Pink sunrises over the snow capped Alps coming in early to Florence are enough to keep me awake - even after the overnight Atlantic crossing.
Kerry: We flew Alitalia from Boston to Rome, and then connected to Florence. Security and customs lines at Rome airport (FCO) were long, but they moved relatively quickly. We were bussed from the terminal in Rome airport to the plane and there was a very long wait on the hot bus before it started moving. But once we were on the plane, away we went to Florence, about 45 minutes.
Note: Delta offers direct flights from New York to Pisa airport, which is not far from Florence.
Arriving at Florence Airport
The Florence airport isn't very big, but it can be confusing. When you arrive at the terminal (you will likely be bussed from the plane to the terminal), the baggage claim is in one big room. Once you're in that room, if you have any questions about anything (like, where the heck is your luggage?), there is no one to ask and all doors to the room are closed. When you get your luggage, you exit on an upward sloping wide hallway that leads to the rest of the terminal. The hallway is bleak, but once you go through the doors at the top, you are back in civilization. There is a sign over this hallway that says something about customs, but since our flight was domestic, we didn't need to go through customs again.
The Florence Arrivals area is a very nice place to arrive because, in a relatively small space, there are bathrooms, a small caffe and an ATM.
To the Car Rental Offices
To get to the car rental offices, leave the arrivals building (follow the signs for ground transportation) and head to a separate building over to the left. The car rental booths are along the outside of the building.
Bus or Taxi into Florence
There are always taxis outside to sprint you into Florence proper. Not cheaply, but they will certainly take you there. They take maybe 20 minutes to bring you to the train station which is right in the heart of Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.
You can avoid that expense by taking the big blue bus that is almost as close as the taxis. You come out of the Arrivals Building and there it is. It leaves from that kiosk outside the Arrivals Building every half hour from 6:00am in the morning to 8:30pm at night. Then it drops back to once an hour on the half hour, arriving at 9:30pm, 10:30pm and 12:30am. The bus, just like the taxi, is non-stop to the same very central train station and so it also takes about 20 minutes, and only costs 4 Euro (2004 price and hours).
Driving from Florence Airport
The car rental people give you a key with a license plate number on it and a parking space number. The rental car lot is filled with cars from ALL the rental companies, so look for the signs for your rental car company. However, don't necessarily expect that your car is in the space they told you it would be in (or even in nearby spaces). Ours wasn't even close, although it was in the right row.
We spoke to no one when we picked up the car, nor did it seem that anyone was interested in speaking with us. We simply opened the door, got in, and drove away. There was a ticket machine at the exit of the lot, as though you were supposed to pay for parking. We just drove through that as well (there was no gate). I still have no idea what it was all about.
You can get on the Autostrada outside the Florence airport. Look for signs as soon as you pull out. They will be the green A1 (yes, fellow Amerigo-ans, it is just like the Steak Sauce) signs. You want to go south if you're headed to Umbria or southern Tuscany, so follow the signs indicating the direction of "Roma" (Rome). The A1 (autostrada) is a toll road, so make sure you have some Euro cash or a credit card.
For most Umbria locations, exit the Autostrada at "Bettolle/Perugia". For southern Tuscany, exit at "Chiusi/Chianciano". For the Chianti region, exit the Autostrada soon after you get on, at "Firenze/Certosa" and follow the Florence-Siena (Firenze-Siena) Raccordo towards Siena.
That First Stop for Coffee
We love the ritual of stopping at the first AutoGrill we come to on the A1 Autostrada del Sole and loading up on cappuccinos, spremuta (the juice of three or four blood oranges squeezed, fresh-from-the-fruit, into your tall, thin glass), either pastries or sandwiches, depending on time of day. Surprisingly, good food in these gas station rest stops. Beats the heck out of the Sbarro's on the Maine Turnpike.
Returning to Florence Airport
Get on the A1 autostrada, direction "Firenze" (Florence). When coming from the south, there are several "Firenze" exits but just let them go by and keep watching the road marker signs (square brown ones with big white numerals - these don't seem to show up until you're on the last stretch of A1) looking for the numbers to keep getting smaller. When the numbers get down around 210, watch for "Firenze Nord" (Florence North) signs. There is an airport exit sign marked with a plane symbol. Take this exit and you’ll see the toll booths ahead. If you miss this exit, about 3 to 5 minutes from when you saw the 210 road marker, watch for the bilious green "Our Lady of Perpetual Ugliness" church on the right. It is a good landmark and the Firenze Nord exit you want is just past it.
Once you take the exit, keep following signs for "aeroporto" (airport). Not much of a trick from here on, but don't totally let your guard down, as the final bit is a little counterintuitive. Imagine you are on the right leg of a long bobby pin shaped road leading to the airport. The airport is almost beside you as you exit (it's over on the other side of the freeway – to your left) but you just follow the signs straight for a couple blocks. You know you have it licked when you see the huge blue and yellow IKEA sign looming up on the right. Curve all the way around to the left at the top of the bobby pin, following the many signs, and come back down the other leg.
As you're approaching the top of the bobby pin, there are plenty of gas stations, so you can fill up your rental car before you drop it off. Then you're going to have to move over to the left lanes to make it around the top of the bobby pin (so as not to be in an exit-only lane). As you're making your way back down the bobby pin, start moving over to the far right lane (only a single lane goes into the airport parking lot). By now, you should be comfortable enough with the Italian driving to make it through the melee of cars. We actually did a test run the day before and were really glad we did because of this last bit of merging.
Dropping off the Rental Car
Dropping off the rental car can be a bit daunting, at least at the time we did it (9:00am on a Saturday). Again, there may be no one to help you. There will be cars being left everywhere, and no one seems to know what they're doing. You need to drop your car off in the correct lane of cars for your rental company (they'll yell at you if you don't), but you needn't find an empty numbered space. Just pull in behind other cars that are being dropped off. Then empty the car and wait for someone from the company to check your papers. Hand him your keys, get a copy of the paperwork, and off you go to begin the departure process.
Go to the Departures building and then - treat yourself to the best coffee in Italy. It's upstairs in the Departures building and I do allow time for it. The pastries are fine, the spremuta is red orange and juicy, but for me, their cappuccino is my dream cappuccino - it seems to be all warm, highly caffinated, perfectly frothed foam, no apparent liquid espresso and I have no idea how they do it, but a big Bravo to the whole All-Amerigo cappuccino crew there at the airport lounge. One last sip, and we're gone.
Read Stew's Rant about changes at the Florence airport.
www.seeyouinitaly.com/FindingFlorence/: Stew's photos to show you the way to and from Florence.
Parking in Florence: Slow Travel notes about parking in Florence
Driving on the Autostrada: Slow Travel notes about the highways in Italy
The Autogrill: Slow Travel notes about the rest areas on the Autostrada
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