Tuscany's iconic countryside makes it a hugely popular region for road trips. © Franz Marc Frei / LOOK-foto / Getty Images
Here we highlight six classic road trips, ranging from gentle Tuscan jaunts to hair-raising mountain adventures.
Piazza del Campo is the heart of beautiful Siena and famous for the Palio horse races. © Peter Unger / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images
A taste of Tuscany
Taking in two of Italy's great medieval cities, the wine treasures of Chianti, and swathes of classic Tuscan scenery, this two-day route leads from Florence to Orvieto in the neighbouring region of Umbria. Whet your appetite for the road ahead by feasting on fine art and Renaissance architecture in Florence before striking south to Chianti wine country. Stop for a tasting at the Enoteca Falorni in Greve and to sample the region's celebrated bistecca (steak) at L'Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano. From here, follow the backroads to Siena, a stunning medieval city centred on an awe-inspiring Duomo and a 12th-century square, Piazza del Campo. Overnight at the Pensione Palazzo Ravizza.
Next morning, head to Montalcino to stock up on Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy's revered red wines. A short drive to the east, the Val d'Orcia provides quintessential Tuscan landscapes with its billowing green hills, cypress trees and hilltop towns. Lunch in Pienza, then continue, via Montepulciano, to Orvieto, a striking hilltop town famous for its remarkable Gothic Duomo.
Baroque treasures in Sicily
Hunt Unesco-listed baroque treasures on this two-day tour of Sicily's rugged southeast. Start off by investigating Catania's grandiose historic centre and brilliant fish market. After a seafood lunch at the Osteria Antica Marina, hit the road and make for Syracuse where you can trawl through ancient ruins at the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis and stroll elegant baroque streets in Ortygia. Overnight at the stylish Hotel Gutkowski.
On day two, continue to Noto, home to what is arguably Sicily's most beautiful street – Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Once you've digested this masterpiece of urban design, turn inland to Modica, a bustling town wedged into a deep canyon. Stock up on the town's famous chocolate before pushing on through the rocky hinterland to Ragusa and the handsome historic centre known as Ragusa Ibla. To round the trip off on a high note, treat yourself to dinner at the Ristorante Duomo, one of Sicily's top restaurants.
The famous bridge at the Fjord of Furore is a highlight of the Amalfi coastline © 35007 / Getty Images
Stunning views on the Amalfi Coast
Experience Italy's most spectacular coastal scenery on this white-knuckle drive along the Amalfi Coast. From Salerno, the main southern gateway to the coast, strike west to Vietri sul Mare, a small town famous for its ceramics and the start point of the coastal road proper. From here the driving becomes more challenging as the road narrows, the curves become tighter, and the views become ever more dramatic (and distracting).
After about 20km, you'll arrive in Amalfi, the coast's main hub. Stop here to look round the landmark Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea and then head up to Ravello in the hills above. Lunch here, perhaps at the Ristorante Pizzeria Vittoria, and enjoy heady panoramas from the town's lush gardens. Next, push on to Positano, a chic, near-vertical town where colourful, steeply-stacked houses cascade down the precipitous hillsides. Beyond Positano, the route leads inland, up and across the hilly interior to Sorrento, a lively tourist hotspot overlooked by the dark, brooding bulk of Mt. Vesuvius.
Picture-perfect villas on Lake Como
Surrounded by Alpine peaks and wooded hills, Lake Como (Lago di Como) is the most picturesque of Italy's northern lakes. This leisurely one-day drive, which takes in elegant art nouveau villas and lush waterfront gardens, is best undertaken in April and May when the area is awash with spring colour.
The obvious starting point is the town of Como itself. Once you've explored the charming historic centre and the nearby Villa Olmo, take the swooping road up to Bellagio. Stop at this charming lakeside village to explore the grounds of neoclassical Villa Melzi d'Eril and lunch at Terrazza Barchetta. Suitably refreshed, leave your car and jump on a ferry to Tremezzo, home of the 17th-century Villa Carlotta and its spectacular gardens. Back in Bellagio, pick up your wheels and strike southeast, following the scenic lakeside road down to Lecco and on to historic Bergamo, where you can rest up at the Hotel Piazza Vecchia.
La Villa is just one of many pretty villages in stunning locations in the Dolomites. © Rebecca E Marvil / Stockbyte / Getty Images
Grande Strada della Dolomiti
The Great Dolomites Road provides some of Italy's most exhilarating driving. Running from Bolzano to Cortina d'Ampezzo, it boasts superb scenery as it snakes past craggy, saw-tooth peaks and over lofty mountain passes.
From Bolzano, head eastwards towards Ponte Nova, where you'll get your first sight of the Dolomite's mighty granite peaks. Continue on to Val di Fassa, a magnificent valley framed by forested slopes and gigantic rock summits, and up to the 2239m Passo Pordoi. The descent from here is slow going but you're rewarded with stunning views as you corkscrew down to La Villa in the spectacularly sited Val Badia. This is serious sports country with superb winter skiing and wonderful summer hiking. From here you could push directly on to Cortina d'Ampezzo, the chic resort that marks the end of the road, but for a more relaxed trip, stop for the night at the Dolomit B&B.
Escape to the wilds of Abruzzo
Just over an hour's drive east from Rome, the little-known region of Abruzzo is a world apart from the big city, with wild, empty valleys and unspoiled mountain landscapes. From the capital take the A24 autostrada to Fonte Cerreto, from where it's a twisting climb up to Campo Imperatore, a highland plain overlooked by the Apennines' highest peak, Corno Grande (2912m). Continue on to Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a remote, semi-abandoned village high in the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga. If you're travelling at the weekend you can lunch here at the Locanda Sotto gli Archi (santostefano.sextantio.it), otherwise pick up picnic supplies in the village.
In the afternoon, push on to Sulmona, a graceful town set in the shadow of the Morrone massif. Famous for its confetti, Sulmona makes a good base for exploring the region's rugged southern reaches, offering good accommodation at the Legacy Casa Residencia and filling food at places like Il Vecchio Muro.