Road rules: it's easy to get caught out in Italy

The usual rule of following the practice of the locals often leads to a ticket, clamping or being towed away

The streets of Rome resemble an anarchic art installation, with Alfas and Fiats of uncertain vintage perched precariously on pavements, others squeezed against ancient stones or Baroque churches, all seemingly in flagrant contravention of parking rules, yet somehow immune to the attention of traffic wardens. Into this tagliatelli of transport arrives the unwitting tourist in a rented car.

The usual rule of following the practice of the locals often leads to a ticket, clamping or, worst of all, being towed away.

Even if you end the trip with the hire car and your record apparently unblemished, months later a letter may appear from an Italian institution demanding restitution for an infringement of the ZTL (zona a traffico limitato) – the central, historic area of most Italian towns and cities where daytime access is allowed only to vehicles with specific permits.

Some hotels within these zones are able to offer their guests temporary permission to enter, but until you are sure of this, whenever you see the red circular sign with ZTL, steer well clear.

Be careful, too, of the street parking places signified by blue lines, which indicate that you can park at a price (or, at night and/or on Sundays, free of charge). The rules for the meters or ticket machines are often complex and easy to transgress. Best ask a friendly local for advice – usually, a nearby shopkeeper or café owner will be well versed in what you need to know.

They may also be able to sell you a disco orario – parking disc – for use where streets are marked with white lines, indicating free parking for up to a certain time.

Even better, find a properly staffed parcheggio on the periphery of the city centre. They offer a degree of security as well as immunity from parking fines. The new car park under Piazza Cavour in Rome costs a modest €3.50 per hour.