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After a calamitous holiday in Italy last year that featured a hurricane, power cuts and plagues of scorpion, wild boar and hornets, almost the happiest event of which was a hailstorm that peppered the bodywork of my hired Fiat Panda with 40 or 50 small round dents but touched none of my friends’ cars, we decided to do exactly the same thing again this year: same time of year, same house. We even gained another family, the Browns, avid disaster tourists.

With one difference: this time I was determined to upgrade our car from one made of tin foil to one that could handle both Italy’s dodgem motorways and Tuscany’s harrowing, hilly, if beautiful A roads. Ultimately I really wanted one that could make it up the villa’s vertiginous, torturous stone driveway without throwing up (car or passengers).

Fiat Pandas struggle up Tuscany’s vertiginous roads.Credit: iStock

Except, what do you know but in the intervening year hire prices had gone up by 36 per cent, while my income decreased by exactly the same amount. So it was back to scrutinising the “compact” section: Pandas.

That was back in February. I’m not stupid, though; I understand algorithms. So I simply shut my laptop and deferred the whole business until July.

Unbelievably it worked. “Compacts” were €200 cheaper but what really caught my eye was a sleek, sexy, black midsize saloon at €430 ($A729). Possibly a mistake? Crucially it was an electric vehicle, a Polestar 2, whatever that is (a Volvo, it turned out), with acceleration approximating that of a Porsche. I could laugh at Italian boy racers while doing my bit for the environment.

Not that I actually care about cars. I’m just keen not to come across as merely cheap. Cheap and dumb – fine. After some due diligence (Eurostat, Alternative Fuels Observatory) that suggested Italy had 38,000 charging points with very few EVs queuing up to use them because Italians remain faithful to the combustion engine (my surmise), I booked it.

Straight away, my wife was onto the holiday group WhatsApp: “Ben’s hired an electric car for Tuscany.” There followed the usual ignorant sallies: “You can come with us, Marie”, “Back to the Future but Ben rigs his car to the Duomo” etc. A friend even mentioned the topic at work, causing his Italian colleague Gisela to fall about laughing. She said: ‘The mafia will run all the chargers, and won’t have built them, or they won’t work. Or the local farmers will be stealing all the power.’”

Absolutely ridiculous prejudice, I said. “The website Welcome to Tuscany says there are 14,000 charging stations in Italy. Two in our village alone, Google Maps says. This is not the 20th century.”

While we waited in the long queue at the car hire desk at Florence airport, my wife begged me to swap to a normal vehicle. But this only made me more determined. You can’t start a running joke on a group holiday and then back out. I was intent on being the man in the Bateman cartoon who rented an electric vehicle in Italy. I would relish their faces when I pulled up at the villa in my torque-y, rangy beauty and – my final flourish – plugged it in to the villa’s own power supply to charge for free. “But to be clear,” my wife was saying to the Hertz lady, “we can charge this car from a domestic socket at home. If there were no charging stations, somehow?” “Certainly.” “Certainly?” “Certo.”

The ‘sleek’ and ‘sexy’ Polestar 2.Credit: Alamy

Sadly the full triumph of my arrival at the house in a car with 330 km still on the clock, which had glided up the mountainous drive, and conveyed us in swift, silent, air-conditioned bliss was totally eclipsed by the news that the Browns’ Jeep – of which the wife, a car reviewer, had been quite proud – was currently stuck up another stone track 110 km away with two punctures.

They had followed Google Maps up, as it turned out, a footpath. In the kerfuffle about finding a cab to drive them on to our villa (€180, $A305), they had brought the Jeep’s key with them, instead of leaving it for the rescue man. Someone would have to drive it back the next day. Obviously, having the superior car, I volunteered.

That trip ate up 235 km of my range. It involved diversions, including down a footpath. All right, the footpath, although I wasn’t dumb enough to get two punctures. On my return at dusk, I was anxious enough about my range to scout the charging station in the village, but couldn’t pinpoint it in the dark. In the light of day, this turned out to be because the car park in which it would be situated hadn’t yet been built.

My car then announced that the other local station, a Tesla Supercharger, was unsuitable for my car, knocking out another 40 per cent of all Italian EV stations. Back at the villa, my idea of a running joke had become 12 people on their phones, all shouting out EV locations and advice, right down to 11-year-olds. I decided it was time the domestic charger came out, but I couldn’t find it in the car. Because it wasn’t in the car.

The whole party of 14 in four cars then decided to come and watch my progress at a charging station in Radda, 20 km away. Tourists: gormless idiots. But this car park had been built, the charging station stood there and plugging-in was child’s play, literally, followed by applause, pictures and lunch. When we returned, the car wasn’t charged. Insufficient power in the charging station. Some local farmer air-conditioning his chickens, I imagine.

Eighty-ish km left. Not even enough to drive the car back to Florence airport and apologise for accidentally filling it with petrol. (“Oh, the back seat mainly.” ) Until now I really hadn’t understood range-anxiety, which is the tension built up about spending the night in your car in a local dogging spot.

I had one shot left: home (20 km), then in the morning drive to Siena (60 km), where it was alleged the car hire company had a charging station and office. Siena, home of the Palio, the violent urban horse race where jockeys whip and punch each other for supremacy, just like London rush-hour.

Palio in Siena: As bad as rush hour in London.Credit: iStock

Three cars set out this time and I calculated that, just to fill up my car with juice, we would have driven 60 km (120 km round trip), plus Radda, and all my back-up cars, possibly to fail. When I would walk the rest of the way to the Hertz office and go full gammon, demanding a new car. With 2 km to go, I had 2 km range left, but luckily the Hertz office was in a suburban wasteland, not the city centre. I finally plugged the Polestar into a working charging station and felt ecstatic release. Only an hour to wait in 40 degree sunshine and I’d be good to go.

So I popped into the office to ask the whereabouts of my domestic charger. It was under the bonnet, they pointed out. “Ah!” I said. “You see, the main charger was in the boot, and I thought the bonnet contained… not the engine, obviously…” EVs don’t have engines. That would be dumb, obviously, not checking the bonnet, because you thought it housed the engine. The domestic charger was under the bonnet. But it didn’t work at our villa anyway because it required an adapter.

When I finally dropped the car off at Florence airport, I complimented the Hertz man on the car (let nobody say gammons never say nice things), and he responded: “Yes, a beautiful car. But no charging stations. Only one in Florence, one in Siena.”

Next year, I may rely on horsepower and perhaps enter the Palio.

The Telegraph, London

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