The roof was leaking on my pants as the rain intensified and I kept laughing. We were waiting on the side of the road for the rest of the tour group to catch up. I leaned over to manually roll the window down and yell at the girl on the Vespa to throw her handbag (it was too nice to get wet) in the back of my car to keep it dry. She quickly accepted my offer and added her husbands’ backpack telling me I was lucky to be dry, I said “my roof is leaking” and she laughed. I was on the Tuscan Hills of Florence Fiat500 tour hoping the sun would reappear soon.
Growing up, my parents made sure that my sister and I learned to drive manual stick shift. Mom drove a manual Honda so if we wanted to borrow the car we had to learn to drive it. Fiatreedom was our incentive to learn. Knowing how to drive a manual car let me have fun in Spain with the Land Rover experience and now here in Florence in the cutest little car, the cinquecento, aka Fiat 500 tour.
Learning the Fiat 500
WalkAbout Florence operates the Fiat 500 tour year round twice a day and generally combine the cars with the Vespa tour. I booked through Viator because I had a discount code for the Self Drive Vintage Fiat 500: Tuscan Hills and Italian cuisine half day tour. There are a few Fiat 500 tours to choose from on Viator, but this one included lunch and the starting point was central. I thought the early morning tour would avoid the rain (sadly it didn’t).
The meeting point, the WalkAbout garage was easy to find near the river and the Uffizi Gallery. The tour left at 9:30 a.m. and I was told to arrive 15 minutes early for the paperwork (bring your license). When I walked down the alley, I saw the group learning how to operate the Vespa’s and three vintage Fiat500’s in front of them. Inside the garage, I met Adam, a Kiwi traveler who would also have his own car today (cost €110 or about $126.10 at the time). We were both commenting how cute this car was as we were shown the mechanics of the car.
- Roll the window down (sadly both Adam and I are old enough to remember this one)
- Roll the roof back if you want (we will definitely do this later when the sun comes out)
- Turn the windshield wipers on by flipping the switch up (easy to remember)
- Put the keys in and then lift the switch located next to the car brake for ignition to start the engine (this would trip me up a few times as it was hard to catch).
Adam and I then decided which car we wanted – I chose the navy blue and Adam wanted the one with the basket. We jumped in to get familiar with “my car” – leather seats, switches and basic stuff – and I was surprised that despite the fact that I was taller than the car, the inside was roomy however I did need to push the seat way back. Outside the vintage car measures 9’ 9” long.
Angel, the aptly named guide, gave everyone two way radios in case of problems and there would be problems on this tour, namely, the rain, slow Vespa folks and some traffic so we missed a few stops and photo opportunities.
The Tuscan Hills of Florence
We quickly drove over the bridge and Arno River to go toward the Tuscan hills (aka the suburbs). The first stop was the popular Piazzale Michelango (panoramic Florence views) but due to tour bus traffic and slow Vespa’s we didn’t visit, we just waited for everyone to catch up. While at first, Adam and I drove behind the Vespa’s on the side of the road, the beeps of cars passing us made me decide to become a driver on the road so I moved up to follow Angel. It was also my only chance to get above second gear.
The Don’t Do This While Driving Video
Angel has patience, much more than I do as we had to stop a few times to wait and he tried to nicely explain to the slower drivers that they were holding us up. We turned off the main road and started driving through a village on a small road that screams “Italian countryside”. Stone villas, lush gardens, olive trees, the one lane roads leading to churches. Then the rain started, slightly at first as we all stopped for a photo op.
Back in the car, I was flying down the roads (not really, I may have hit a high of 10 mph in second gear). It was fun to look around and I was happy not to be in the rain as the Vespa’s were. Then my roof started dripping slowly at first. As we drove through the villages and navigated the streets, my car didn’t feel small at all, it was perfect size, until I saw a GIANT Mini Cooper.
Using the Radio
After more than two hours driving around the suburbs of Florence in the Tuscan hills, some of which involved cobblestone streets, a roundabout and tricky turns with traffic, I needed a bathroom break. With the Vespa delays we were considerably behind in time and well past our lunch time so I used the radio to ask “how long until a bathroom break”. Angel pulled the group over (we had to wait for a couple) and ran to my car and said “sorry we are running late, about 15 minutes, can you wait”? I replied “sure if you go fast and ignore the Vespa’s” he laughed.
Angel drove on and then stopped again! I was now a bit crazed with another stop but this time he ran to my car and said “get out, leave everything and go!” pointing at the fancy café on the corner. I did as told and left my handbag, camera, everything in the car as we ran into the café. He ordered an expresso so I could use the bathroom (in Italy, bathrooms are never free, you have to buy something or pay). This is why he is my Angel! As I was leaving another girl ran in and then I saw cake! My purse in the car and the first piece of real cake in a month left me sad but lunch was only a few minutes away.
Driving back on a country road which fits one car comfortably, we had to pull over a few times to share the road for the giant modern cars to get by. We then found parking for all cars and bikes at the villa and made our way to lunch.
Italian Villa Lunch
The villa is used by groups for a variety of functions, we had a table to ourselves in the empty dining room overlooking the Tuscan landscape. Drying out, we all shared stories of our travels in Italy as Angel brought out plate after plate of foods as well as some wine. The foods were fantastic, the sun had come out and the wine was lovely. I had forgotten the many delays, forgave the folks that caused us to miss our photo stops and just enjoyed sharing a meal in the Tuscan hills of Florence.
Driving Back to Florence
We were pressed for time otherwise we could have stayed longer in the garden enjoying the serene views.
With the sun fully out, Adam and I rolled open the car rooftop and began taking photos before the cars and bikes began the journey back to Florence.
We lost two Vespa’s on the way back (ten minute wait) so close to the city before they caught up and we crossed back into the city center.
Adam stopped quickly as we were surrounded by a large Asian group crossing the cobblestone street. They proceeded to stop to take many photos of our group in the cute cars and on Vespa’s – it was funny because we had to use the horns to get through (the horn beep is not threatening at all). Back at the garage, Adam and I said goodbye to our adorable cars but not without a million more cute photos. It was such a fun day you should start learning how to drive a manual car now before you go to Florence for your Fiat 500 tour.