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3.5 weeks in Europe w/ 10-month old

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Hi everyone,

My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe from the end of June to the last week of July. We have traveled plenty before as a couple but the big change this time is a new addition - a son who will be 10 months old at the start of the trip.

Given this, we want to go somewhere that is more laid back and family friendly, and potentially rent a house / cottage that would serve as a home base for the entire time. With a baby, it will be hard to do any major excursions, but thought was to rent a car and check out the countryside / close sites.

The things that we think would be ideal are as follows:
1. Beautiful setting: ideally we would rent a home/apt overlooking the ocean with beautiful architecture in a city that isn't too big / crowded

2. "Baby-friendly": broad statement but basically easy to get to (we live in NYC so something like a direct flight and a short drive / hop to the destination. Then, while we're there, a place that is easy to use a stroller and drive a car. This rules out (from the little I know) something like the Amalfi Coast which would have too many steps

3. Nice to drive: plan is to rent a car and use that as a way to do some mini-excursions during the day into the countryside or to a local beach, etc. Somewhere that is car friendly and is "small" enough to experience diverse settings / buildings / food would be ideal

4. Safe: know crime is everywhere but don't want any places that are thought to be more at risk for robberies, etc.

5. Enough to do: I understand this is completely subjective but generally don't want to go to a small island where we would be pretty limited in the amount of area we could cover / things we could do. Our vacations pre-baby have been very busy but that isn't feasible with a baby but would like to have options available to us other than just hanging out by a beach / pool

So, hopefully that gives you experts enough to offer some guidance. Our initial thoughts are Tuscany, somewhere in Portugal (perhaps Algarve), or somewhere in the southern region of France but open to suggestions anywhere in Europe near a major body of water.

Also, if you think ~25 days is too much in one area but there are maybe two places within a relatively close distance that we could split our time, we are open to that as well.

Thanks!!!

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    Even with a hobbit, you have time enough for two or three major sites that would give you plenty of time and places to explore - like London or Paris or Rome. At ten months, junior is basically a potted plant who needs to eat and scoot around some and to have mommy play with him. He'll slow down your daily activities, but at his age he gives you a good excuse to go somewhere interesting and explore it in depth. Barcelona and the north coast of Spain both likely fit your wishlist, although I wouldn't have a car IN Barcelona.

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    yellow triangle pressed - no advertising allowed here, Mr A travel.

    Pred - I like the idea that you have already realised that you are going to have to change your travelling style. In fact our experience was that at 10 months they are reasonably portable [we did a driving tour from Toronto to New England and back when our oldest was about 12 months old] but having a home base from which to work is certainly a good idea.

    places that you might look at would be Portugal [not been there but I think that parts would fit the bill], Majorca [a very large island with plenty to see and do, and might be combined with Madrid or Barcelona] the Lakes area of Italy [loads to do there and you might squeeze in the odd day trip to Venice, Padua or Verona of you picked Lake Garda], Umbria; in France somewhere like the Luberon or the Dordogne would give you plenty of scope.

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    Thank you Russ and annhig for your replies! Interesting that you both have opposite views of traveling with a young child :)

    Russ - on Barcelona, we have been a few years ago and loved the city. On the north coast of Spain, any particular areas you would recommend?

    Annhig - for Lakes area and Luberon / Dordogne, may not be close enough to the ocean for my wife's liking, but will look into it.

    A few other questions:
    1. Any idea how 'driveable' Portugal is (versus French and Italian countryside which I have heard is beautiful)?

    2. Does anyone have a sense of which areas in Portugal would best fit the wish list I laid out in the original post?

    3. Thoughts regarding Tuscany as a home base? What about something further south in Italy such as Naples or maybe even Puglia?

    4. Didn't mention Greece in my original post but would love to hear any thoughts about it as well.

    Thanks again!

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    I don't know much about the French, Spanish, or Portuguese coasts, but I can tell you that Lisbon is mostly very hilly. It's near but not on the seas, and has a long promenade on the Tagus river.

    I know Italy a lot better than the other countries you mention, because that's where I live. Italy doesn't have any ocean coast, so you'd have to be satisfied with the Mediterranean and its smaller divisions (the Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, and Ionian seas) or with a large lake.

    If you want to be near a major body of water, in Tuscany you could stay in the Maremma area, on the Tyrrhenian coast. There is a large natural park there which keeps development of big resorts at bay. I've only passed through the area (spending one night), but relatives of ours used to go there regularly with their toddler son. It's not a hectic vacation area, although any beach in Italy that has easy access tends to get crowded in the summer, especially on weekends. June and July are not the height of beach season, though. The area is relatively flat, so should be good for strollers, but the beautiful scenery would be of the dunes and sand type. From the Maremma, you can visit the islands of Elba and Il Giglio. The Maremma is not very convenient for visit the classic Tuscan hill towns, though.

    Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, or Lake Garda would also seem to meet your requirements. However, some of the towns on these lakes are not particularly stroller friendly. Maybe someone else can be more specific than that. There are lots of places you could visit from a base on one of these lakes. Our relatives who used to go to the Maremma now go to Lake Maggiore, by the way.

    Much of the Amalfi Coast is also not stroller friendly, because of steep hills. Again, I haven't spent much time there and can't remember where a stroller would or wouldn't have been useful.

    There are lots of great towns on the central Adriatic Coast that would be stroller friendly and allow access to the beautiful inland hill towns, but this part of the coast is mostly flat, and the beaches are pretty filled with bathing establishments. Just south of Ancona, though, the Riviera del Conero, has some small beaches (mostly pebbly rather than sandy) at the foot of Mount Conero which have lovely views of little bays, cliffs, and rocky islands. Portonovo is one of the nicer towns, but the beach is mostly rocky.

    I really like the town of Senigallia, near which I live. It has a great beach for babies, with a long stretch of very shallow water, lots of fine sand, and almost no waves. There are some long stretches of free beach that have dunes and wild flowers, although the best blooming period is usually April or May.

    Senigallia also has a very attractive medieval center which is walking (or biking) distance from the beach. Senigallia is a biking town; nearly everyone from 5 to 80 rides a bike at least some of the time. There are also some great restaurants in Senigallia. (We ate at one of them, Raggiazzuro, today, after I had minor dental surgery, and they solicitously offered me all kinds of nice things that didn't have to be chewed and weren't on the menu.)

    Further south on the Adriatic coast, there's some nice scenery on the Gargano peninsula, in Puglia, but the towns I saw were a bit too beach-resorty for my taste. There's very little to visit inland of the beach, either, and what there is involves very twisty roads.

    Umbria has one large lake, Trasimeno, but most of its shore is not terribly scenic. Lake Bracciano, in Lazio, is a very easy trip from Rome and has some pretty towns, including the town of Bracciano, which is on a hill overlooking the lake.

    Also, in Lazio, the Castelli Romani area is a region of lakes, castles, and hill towns, but the lakes are on the small side, while you said you wanted a large body of water. More or less in this area, Sermoneta is one of the prettiest towns I've seen in Italy, and the Gardens of Ninfa are absolutely beautiful even if you're not really into gardens. They've been planted in and around the ruins of a medieval town. My husband thinks gardens are a bore, but he was very impressed with Ninfa. To protect the gardens, they only open them to visitors a few days a month, and you have to take a tour. They do have some tours in English.

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    Annhig and I aren't that far off - I go for the hub and spoke so the kids can deal with some semblance of routine.

    My oldies liked Bilbao. I've not been to the north coast of Spain, that's on the list for the future.

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    This may seem totally nutty to some, but were I traveling with a baby for close to a monty, I would go someplace where I had instant access to great medical care in an emergency. That would be France or Italy at the moment because Greece, Portugal and Spain have faced a lot of difficulty maintaining their medical services because of policies of austerity.

    I wouldn't hesitate to travel with a child and am not predicting doom, but it would be a determining consideration for me. Others, no.

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    I was so happy to see that you are a) experienced travelers and b) know you have to adjust life with your child.

    I do think you could locate yourselves in at least two places with the same pacing in mind.

    Something that came to mind mid-post was that perhaps you might like to do the Cote d'Azur and skip the car in that area. I'm serious. The train and bus transportation in the area is SO easy that we stayed in one place and did some sort of day trip, mostly by jumping on a train, every day for 8 days in a row.

    While you could stay in Nice (which we did), I think Antibes, Villefranche sur Mer etc would fit your bill rather well. Both would allow for lots of nearby strolls and hikes and yet give you the option to jump on a train to explore something else within minutes.

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    Thank you all so much for your responses! Great information from all.

    bvlenci - thanks for all the great information about Italy. If I were to stay in one place and have enough driving range to do day trips to pretty towns and the like, what would you recommend?

    AlessandraZoe - I will look into the Cote d'Azur area. Where did you go on your trips on the train / bus?

    Does anyone have any Portugal information they could share?

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    Look at these---some of my favs from previous trips:

    Menton, France----on the Italy border

    Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy--good day trips in area

    Nazare, Portugal

    Good luck !

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    So we stationed ourselves in Nice midway between ocean and rail station (it was April--we did not plan on getting a tan).

    Our rail excursion range was Cannes to Menton. By rail we did daytrips to Cannes, Antibes/St Juan les Pins and Villefranche sur Mer/Eze sur Mer (there are hikes that connects these town pairs, PLUS there's a nice hillside hike up to Eze from the Eze sur Mer stop), Monaco and Menton.

    By bus, we did Mougins to Grasse, and then we did Nice to Vence, down to St Paul de Vence (Fondation Maeght museum--awesome). We came back that way a bit, I think, to do Haut Cagne/Cagnes sur Mer, but I truly do forget.

    We booked this area specifically because a) we love art --and the Cote d'Azur has AMAZING art and b) we would much rather plan spur of the moment daytrips via mass transit than spend our time mapping out routes and parking the darn car. One of my kids was a teen; the other was on the verge, so I can't compare kid experiences. But I certainly CAN tell you that once we landed in Nice, we made no certain plans or reservations. All daytrips were decided over breakfast by group vote.

    Add the beach vibe in summer, and I think you have something.

    Ooh, I forgot...there are a lot of "Petit Trains"--those French tourist trams--in many towns along the coast. I wuv them. I'm serious. My kids said they were embarrassed at the time because of my enthusiasm for all things Petit Train, but years later, as they have traveled on their own, I see A LOT OF PETIT TRAIN pics on their Facebook pages.

    How we got to Nice: I was certainly planning on doing the TGV from Paris thing when someone on this website pointed out I could take a cheapie Paris/Nice flight from Orly for far less. That person was correct. Even counting in the CDG/Orly bus transfer, it made life MUCH simpler. You could easily break this up with a quick Paris stop with easy connection to Orly. In the 7th, for example, here's a good AirFrance Bus connection to Orly.

    And Nice airport is really chill. Transport from there to Nice, Antibes, Villefranche is a snap by taxi or bus.

    As to what YOU want to do, please consider...
    Based on our recommendations, friends of ours planned this same trip for their anniversary. They thought they'd do daytrips. They never left Antibes for a week--and they loved it.

    Anyway, good luck planning.
    AZ

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