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22 Days & 5-7 Countries - HELP!

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Greetings all,

I'm looking for some help with an itinerary and logistics for our upcoming, MARCH, trip to Europe.

We will be flying into Venice from Istanbul and have friends in Vicenza whom we will be staying with to start. We fly out of Venice on April 1st. So we are looking to travel between roughly March 13th and March 31st.

We are not traditional tourists, in that, we like to experience culture, meet locals, stay in small B&B's, etc. I am a commercial photographer, and so my goals are to see the most spectacular examples of mother nature and humanity as possible. We could care less about the larger cities and tourist attractions.

While in Italy we are looking to check out Bolzano, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, and Alessandria (where my distant family is from). We are not looking to visit Rome, Florence, Milan, etc. We'll save those for another time perhaps. We feel like we have our Italy section pretty well planned out, unless any of you think we have missed something that we MUST see in Central/Northern Italy. We are certainly open to suggestions for day-trips or overnight stays.

Moving outside of Italy, we are looking to explore the following specific areas:

Kuhtai (Austria)
Salzberg (Austria)
Liechtenstein
Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Split (Croatia)
(Possibly Denmark)
Possibly Switzerland)

My thinking is that we can travel either directly from Alessandria, Italy up though the Alps and then wrap east through Austria and then south into Slovenia & Croatia - and then back up to Venice. Or perhaps we can do it in reverse depending on how our actual itinerary shakes out.

My issue is that I have heard such conflicting info on renting a car vs. trains when doing multi-country tours. I feel like we can get away with only using trains in Italy, but fear that this is not a realistic option when traveling though Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia due to time spent on the trains, accessibility, and cost. Does this seem accurate? Or are the trains a realistic option?

Is it smart - or perhaps realistic, for us to think that we can rent a car in Italy and drive the Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia section of our trip successfully? Is it safe to drive the alps in a rental car in March? Is the weather prohibitive? I'm a competent driver, a law enforcement officer in the states, so I'm not bothered by winding roads, ice or snow, but in a non-all wheel drive vehicle, is it realistic?

Ideally, I don't want to spend more than 4 hours a day driving, and enjoy the concept of being able to stop in towns, restaurants, shops, along the way. A train does not allow for this obviously - so that was the intent behind renting a car vs. doing trains + buses, etc. A car provides so much more flexibility and accessibility to the country side.

Any advice you guys can lend to an unfamiliar American (me) would be fantastic. We are trying to maximize our trip while still allowing ourselves to be present in the moment and not overwhelming ourselves.

Any suggestions on places we must visit, or things we must do that fall in-line with what I have described above? Any places we should not go along the way? I have heard that Liechtenstein is worth missing, but it seems beautiful from my perspective - but what do I know? :)

We are looking at staying in non-traditional B&B's, i.e. tree houses, castles, and even in an Igloo in Kuhti. We are looking for fun, uncommon experiences. Any suggestions in this area would be openly accepted.

We are very appreciative of any information, thoughts, etc. At this point, we are pretty flexible as we are just now beginning to book our accommodations.

Happy New Year everyone - and thanks in advance.

-Adam

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