Hiring a car
If you want to hire or even take your own car, driving round Lake Como is perfectly do-able. Hire the smallest car you think you can manage with, because this will pay dividends in parking and maneuvering. Get a manual in preference to an automatic. Do buy the extra insurance coverage when you hire, although it might seem worth taking the risk. Or if you travel a lot, consider buying an annual hire car insurance policy. However careful a driver you are, you can’t prevent a fluke like the pothole that has suddenly opened up at the mouth of a tunnel where you can’t see it. This happened to us once and we were so glad we were covered. There are a couple of car hire companies that just operate in Italy, SicilybyCar and Noleggio!. We have found them to be very good and excellent value.
Road classifications are A for autostrada, or motorway, SS for strada statale or national road, and SP for strada provinciale, or local major road. Small village roads are managed by the local comune. On the western shore of the lake the state high road SS340 is quite wide most of the way, although it does get narrow in Lenno and Colonno, so that there are traffic lights with single line traffic. The eastern shore road, and the road going up to Bellagio, are SPs, rather narrower and more twisty, but just take it gently. If you want to go any distance, for example arriving at the lake from Milan, or going to Milan, consider taking the SS36 highway that skirts the eastern side of the lake, but above the villages. This road is almost a motorway. Note that the etiquette for giving way to motorists coming onto the highway from feeder lanes is that the car coming on has to wait for a space and doesn’t expect you to slow down to let him in. Be aware that flashing your headlights means ‘Hey, I’m here’ and doesn’t mean ‘Please, after you’.
Just keep a cool head and don’t be flustered by cars coming up behind you. Don’t get fazed by the idea of Italian drivers. Generally, Italians are good drivers – they understand what their car can and can’t do, and given the opportunity, they will do it! But in any case, the car in front of you or behind you is just as likely to be a hire car with a British driver! At the weekends and in the summer you may see crowds of cyclists in a peleton formation. Treat them with respect. Pedestrian crossings are not treated in quite the same way in Italy. Many drivers will disregard waiting pedestrians rather than stop the flow of traffic. So don’t feel obliged to stop if it doesn’t feel safe for you, and if you do stop, don’t be surprised if the pedestrian you are stopping for looks slightly amazed. You can always wave and say ‘sono inglese‘ (‘I’m English’). Note that a flashing amber light means ‘proceed with caution’. Your biggest problem in the summer months is likely to be with parking. Be prepared to park your car on the edge of a town or village rather than right in the middle. If you are taking the car ferry, note that there is a strict system of queueing, and the shore controllers know what order they sell the tickets in. This is because when you buy the ticket they ask you the model of the car. You buy the ticket for the car and driver, and then state the number of passengers. Don’t try to squeeze in out of turn and don’t get in a panic if it looks as though the ferry is full – the staff have an uncanny knack of getting everyone on.