Unlike most towns, where traffic lights, roundabouts and parking restrictions are abundant, small hilltop towns in the Tuscan mountains have found other ways of coping with traffic management and road safety.
Aromatic Road Signs
Wreaths and crosses are placed at all major accident black spots. These floral road markings have proved to be much more effective than the standard slow down, danger sign or flashing traffic light.
Speed Management Stalls
To reduce traffic and speed, the local market is held very close to the edge of, or just on, the road. There are no written rules, but every car driver knows that they must give way to shoppers and market stalls on market day. This technique also has the added benefit of keeping cars off the roads because old ladies and non drivers use these occasions to get their own back by purposely having long lingering, strategically positioned conversations in the middle of the road.
On non-market days, the traffic duties of the market stalls and old ladies are taken over by dithering mothers with badly-parked prams and informal mass gatherings, which act as makeshift roundabouts.
Short-term parking is tolerated on blind corners, pedestrian crossings, pavements and other non parking areas. These tactically placed obstacles reduce speed and increase pedestrian and driver awareness. These zones have no minimum or maximum parking duration; drivers are kindly alerted that their time has expired by other vehicles sounding their horns.
If you are new to the area then please do not park in the same places as the locals do, as you are sure to get a parking ticket. Knowing when, how and where you can park your car takes years of practice and some insider knowledge.
Visitors can never understand how their car can get towed away whilst parked in an authorized council car park and displaying a valid ticket. Timing and a copy of the local Time Out is the answer, knowing what fiestas are on in the town, and more importantly, in which large open space venue they are taking place, will help you decide when you have to move your car to make way for the local brass band, pork on a spit stall or Madonna procession.
Be careful of residents only parking zones. These zones are not marked and cars do not display resident's permits on their windscreens. To apply for permission to park in these areas just inform the local traffic warden that you are staying with friends who live nearby. You won't need to show any formal documents but you will be required to indicate yours and your friend's cars.
In the 'Old Town' areas of these hilltop towns, geographical and architectural traffic management systems have been fully exploited. The steep, twisty, narrow and cobbled streets have eliminated the need of speed cameras and speed limit signs, helped keep fatal accident statistics to near zero, and contributed to the local economy, especially in the panel beating, brake and tyre sectors.
Visitors are advised not to drive in the old town areas unless accompanied by a local guide. Although the streets are only just wide enough for one vehicle, plus one pedestrian standing with back against the wall, there are few one way systems. Therefore if you must drive in these areas, be sure to brush up on your reversing and hill-starting skills. Again a copy of the local 'What's on Guide' is a must if you want to avoid being caught up in the middle of a local flag throwing or mushroom tasting manifestation.
Another commonly seen vehicle in Tuscan hilltop towns is the APE, a three wheeled car-like means of transport, close relative to the scooter and best described as the open top transit van version of the Robin Reliant. These vehicles do not require the driver to have passed their driving test, or to have any formal knowledge of road traffic laws. Visitors should be wary, as these vehicles do not follow any specific rules. Local residents are able to identify each individual Ape from its characteristic markings and hence adapt to that particular Ape owner's interpretation of road traffic etiquette.