No, no, no. There’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful. It’s cheap and nasty and expensive and cheerful ― Jeremy Clarkson
I’ve been traveling for quite a while now, and no matter where I go — Italy, the UK, France, Belgium, San Francisco — the absolute worst part of the trip is dealing with car rental agencies. And, when we rent a car in Italy, it’s the gift that keeps on giving: six months later we always get notification of some unprovable speeding violation or driving in a “zona limitato” that results in a mad scramble to pay the bill within 24 hours because, if we delay, it will cost approximately three thousand times as much.
It really leaves a bad taste in my mouth that this country that I love so much will play games like this with its visitors. Sometimes the tickets are already paid for by our credit card (provided by the car rental agencies) and the notifications are just that. A fait accompli. Sometimes, like last year, we are notified that we were filmed in a head-on collision and were expected to pay vast sums of money to the car rental agency to pay for the totaled car. Of course, there was no such collision (we might have remembered such an incident, no?) and it allegedly happened the day we left the country. But that sinking, violated feeling takes a while to shake off.
In early spring, I read a review from my friends at Welcome to Sulmona about car rentals. Katy and Susanna said, in no uncertain terms, that if anybody planned to rent a car whilst in Sulmona or other parts of Abruzzo, that they should contact Riccardo at Orso s.n.c., a start-up rental agency founded and run by a local Sulmonese. I did. And, folks, it’s a whole new world!
First of all, Riccardo is as nice as can be and his English is very good. But best of all, he is all about service. He has studied the rental car market and knows what the other companies are doing wrong. So what you get from him is good, clean vehicles; exceptional and timely service; and no surprises. No fear-based insurance scams, no outrageous holds on your credit card, no bait and switch. Just an honest transaction, beautifully executed.
In May, I needed a 9-passenger van so that Tim could assume his duties as driver/co-tour guide on our Taste of the Mezzogiorno Tour. We would be logging a lot of miles: from Rome to Sulmona, on to Trani (with stops in Polignaro a Mare and Alberobello), on to Matera and then back to Rome. My choices were to go back to one of the two other rental agencies at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, where we had had not-so-great experiences every time — or to take Katy’s advice and try Orso s.n.c.
I contacted Riccardo by e-mail a few months earlier, and told him what I needed: a diesel fueled, manual transmission 9-passenger van in good shape, with unlimited mileage, that could withstand the ups and downs (literally) of the tour I had planned. And he came through with flying colors, keeping me apprised for weeks about the make, model, price, etc. It was more reasonable than any van I’d rented, in better shape, and he delivered it right to Fiumicino for me. And, at the end of the trip, he met us back at Fiumicino right on time.
But that’s just the beginning. After we parted at the airport, Tim and I went up to the car rental floor to pick up the car we had reluctantly ordered from another company (because, at the time, Riccardo didn’t have the small sized car we wanted; after 10 days in a big van, we wanted a petite model!). When we got to the firm’s desk, we learned that nothing close to the car we had ordered was even available . . . that they would charge us a huge premium for insurance (which is why their stated rate was so low) . . . and that they would not rent us the car without Tim’s International Driving Permit.
Don’t believe anybody when they tell you the IDP is not necessary – these people seriously would not rent us a car without it. When I couldn’t find it, I suspected that I had left it in Riccardo’s van. My M.O. is to unpack it and put it in the glove box right away, so it’s ready to show to any Polizia or Caribinieri who might stop us along the way.
I called Riccardo (a tad hysterical and borderline explosively angry) and he said he would come to the rental lot and meet me with the paperwork. He was halfway back to Rome to meet a friend, but he (a) searched for the IDP, (2) turned the van around, and (3) found us and returned the license. That’s service!
I cannot recommend Riccardo and Orso s.n.c. enough. He has been adding more cars and vans to his fleet since May and will be ready for us when we arrive in Sulmona in October. He also offers driving services, GPS, child seats and pick-up and delivery at any train station in the Abruzzo region. Tell him Tim and Linda sent you . . . and rest assured that you’re getting the best deal and the best service around!