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Base in Tuscany without car

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Hi
We are flying in/out of Rome first week in August arriving mid-day Thursday for total of 13 nights. We will have 7 or 8 nights to spend travelling before going to visit our family located in between Rome and Naples. Note that we will need to get back to Rome to travel on to our family.

I'll be travelling with my daughters (12 & 14) and we are planning on spending about 3 nights in Rome and some time in Tuscany with day trips. We have not decided yet whether to stay in Rome first when arriving or travel on to Tuscany when we land but leaning towards traveling on.

Trying to figure out the best place to use as a base since we will not have a car. I have read many posts and still am confused which city would be best. A few ideas I had for day trips from Tuscany...
- 1/2 day trip to see Pisa and rest of day exploring our base
- Hire driver for 1 day and go to some of the towns - any suggestions for best towns to visit which would appeal to teens?
- Day trip to Venice with tour of glass factories/maybe beach?

While I would love for my girls to see the major sites I know they will surely get bored if we spend too much time in museums, churches and ruins. So while Florence seems to be convenient not sure we will end up going to all the museums since we would not really be there much with day trips anyways. Also, may be too much city with use spending time in Rome also. Biking/Hiking would also appeal to them if we could do it early before it got too hot.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Also recommendations for hired drivers and accommodations with AC (and preferably pool) are greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

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    >>> We have not decided yet whether to stay in Rome first when arriving or travel on to Tuscany when we land but leaning towards traveling on.

    Travel-on would be more efficient. It by-passes one full check-in/unpack/pack/check-out/trip to-from accommodation cycle. What other way yields almost half day at less cost? If you arrive early in Rome, what are you going to do until you can check-in?

    Your other requirements are difficult to meet with just one base:

    >>>- 1/2 day trip to see Pisa and rest of day exploring our base

    Pisa, Luca, Florence, Siena are some examples.
    From Siena, San Gimignano is a snap by frequent enough buses.

    >>> - Day trip to Venice with tour of glass factories/maybe beach?

    This is a major chore.

    Except just barely from Florence with immediate high-speed connection, Venice is too far to get to (2:05 from Florence), too time consuming to get to destinations after you reach there by train, and too many things to cover in one day. There is no beach as you might imagine in Venice. You have to go to Lido which is even further away from the station. Glass factories are touristy. The place of origin of glasses sold may not even be Murano. You might rethink Venice if these are the two primary reasons.

    If you want to do Venice, if your arrival at FCO is before around 1pm, you can go straight to Venice upon landing in Rome. It is about 4.5 hours from the Fiumicino airport by train. Most require a change of train in Rome. There are couple trains, 11:08 and 15:08 (see www.bahn.com for easier schedule navigation, www.trenitalia.com for price) trains also stop at Rome but you stay on the same train to get to Venice. The charm of Venice is the city itself, which would probably keep your children interested going through endless maze like streets and bridges after bridges. By not limiting visit to the middle of the day spending time with mass tourists, you can enjoy the tranquility that descends in this city after the tour groups are gone at night and in the morning.

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    If you want to make a day trip to Venice, your only reasonable base would be Florence, where you can get a fast train to Venice. Any other base would mean a trek to Florence before getting the train. You can also easily make a day trip to Pisa from Florence by regional train.

    The glassworks in Venice are on the island of Murano, which is a fair distance from central Venice, by vaporetto. The glassworkers begin very early in the day in the summer, and knock off early in the afternoon (I think at 2 PM), so you would have to leave Florence fairly early to see the glassblowing, which is something your children would probably enjoy. I don't think it would be possible to get there in time if you go directly from the airport, and you'd probably be too tired anyway to get much out of it. I would carry something you can eat on the train.

    When you get to Venice, there will be long lines to get vaporetto tickets. Last July, I took my granddaughter to Venice for a few days. I looked around and found a place where we were able to get tickets with no wait, but I don't remember where it was. I would think there should be newsstands or bars in the station that sell tickets, but I didn't think to look at the time. Maybe someone else can answer this. The vaporetto will be unbelievably crowded.

    You should have time to see at least St. Mark's Square when you get back from Murano. Try to get off the beaten path for a bit before you have to go back to the station. Maybe you could ride a traghetto (an inexpensive gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal, in lieu of a gondola ride.

    There are many guided bus tours of rural Tuscany from Florence. Most are geared to wine tastings and the like. If you don't find one geared to children, I'd go with the private driver. Montalcino is probably my favorite Tuscan town. San Gimignano is very nice, but will be sinking under the weight of tourists in August. I don't know how much better Montalcino would be, because I haven't been there in the summer, but it would surely be less overrun than San Gimignano. Your driver would surely be able to find a very scenic route going and returning, with a few stops on the way.

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    If you really want to include Venice, especially if you want to go to Murano for the glass blowing, I think you need two nights. You could take the train on arrival day (can nap on the train), and when you get to Venice it will be check in time at the hotel, and then you'll have the late afternoon/evening to explore. The following day you can do Murano and the rest of Venice (including the beach, although I'd suggest there are way better things to do with time in Venice - and I don't mean museums).

    The following day get an early train to your next destination. I would suggest Siena - the town itself is wonderful, it's easy to get to Florence /Pisa for a day trip, and especially if you are willing to hire a driver, it's central to lots of the great hilltowns. But that would require minimum 3 nights, really 4 unless you are willing to do maybe a half day trip to San Gimi and the other half in Siena and skip the hired driver (that would still give you Siena, Florence, Pisa and San Gimignano which are considered by many to be the highlights of Tuscany).

    Then early train to Rome for the last 2-3 nights. Most hotels will store your luggage if you arrive before check in time so just drop the bags and head out.

    That's a fast paced, but reasonable 8 days(eg the ratio of time in transit vs time actually being someplace is not bad). This kind of trip though does mean getting a relatively early start each day (like on the road by 9 each day). If you or your girls like to sleep in till 10 and don't really get going till 11 then these days won't work as well. Things are cooler and less crowded early. In fact if I were doing that trip I'd be at breakfast when it opened (usually 7-ish) and on the road before 8.

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