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How to Spend 6 Nights in Venice & ??? (Split? Other Croatia destination?)

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My husband, almost-4-year-old son and I are traveling to Europe the first week in March to celebrate my big 40th, and are looking for some travel advice (of course).

We love charming towns on the Mediterranean cost or nearby. We're hooked on Villefranche-sur-Mer and try to go every other year. We've loved Siracusa, Arles and Rome. We're big walkers and love places where we can soak up atmosphere by simply wandering around, eating wonderful pizza and pasta (I'm a vegetarian, so this cuisine is a big hit with me), drinking wine, and generally slowing down. I'm also a sucker for ancient towns that ooze history, Roman ruins and places where we can travel without a car.

We like to have several days in a place to simply enjoy it, go for self-guided walks with a guidebook in hand, and not feel pressed to rush from place to place or fill our days cramming in sights. We tend to use the sights in a place as a guide for how to wander, rather than a list of things to pack into a day. (After our first visit to Rome we haven't gone into a museum in that city again. We just love taking in the feel of the place, noting and reading about sights on the way, but not going in to see the pictures and relics indoors.)

For my birthday, we'll have 6 nights in Europe and want to stay in two places. I've put Venice as my top priority, because I've been twice and loved it (off season). My husband hasn't been, and I want to share it with him.

For the second location, I'm tempted by the idea of Croatia, because I've heard so many wonderful things about it. And with my interest in Roman ruins, I'm intrigued by Split.

Now for my questions:

1) Will we love Split and, more generally, Croatia? -- My husband and I went to Portugal, and didn't love it at all. It had a buzz as being under-rated and under-appreciated, but as pretty as some places were, it had a definite un-charming feel to us. I guess we like more established charm, but definitely not fancy charm. We like Rome more than Paris and Arles more than Avignon, if that helps. When we planned our trip to Sicily I asked the forum if Sicily might be like Portugal and the consensus was no. And we agreed - we absolutely loved it.

2) Will we love the food in Croatia? -- Food is a big part of our travel. We love the pizza, pasta and olive fare of the French Riveria and southern Italy, not to mention the wonderful flaky coissants and amazing sandwiches. It's one of the main reasons we keep returning to Europe as our travel desination. Will we love the food in Croatia? I've read mixed things about it being everything folks love about Italian food, but also as being under-rated. (The food in Portugal was one of the downers for us. I know it's known for fish so as a veggie I missed out on what it's known for. Will it be the same in Croatia?)

3) Is Split the right choice in Croatia? -- We want charm and atmosphere, and ability to fill a few days wandering without having to go on full-blown day trips somewhere. (Our child still naps in the afternoon, we hope!) Is Split the right choice? We want to minimize time spent in transit, so the idea of a flight direct from Venice is appealing, but typically we try to join destinations by train so that we have more flexibility and avoid the hassle and time of airports and all they entail. Are there other places we should consider?

4) Are there other non-Croation destinations to consider instead? I want our 2nd destination to be a place new to me, as I love the discovery of a place. I've been to the Cinque Terra, Florence, Sorento-area and the north-east coast of Sicily in Italy, and we've been to Arles, Villefranche-sur-Mer in southern France. I haven't been to the Lake Como area, which is certainly closer to Venice, but March doesn't feel like the right time in that region. Going south seems to make more sense....

If you're still reading, two more notes:

* Climate -- We know early March isn't ideal from a weather perspective, but it's the only option we have and we do love the smaller crowds that it brings. We've been in Rome & Sorrento in January and I've been to Venice in January and loved them all. We're from Chicago and don't mind bundling up. We just don't want to be at a beach town where everything's closed for the season.

* Child -- I haven't mentioned my son in this very much. We took him to Arles and Villefranche-sur-Mer this spring when he was barely 3 and he made our travel all the better for us. We slowed down even more than usual and discovered playgrounds and carousals we would have breezed past before. We know we don't need to plan a trip around him -- he'll have fun wherever we go.

I know, probably too much information here, but wanted to help provide the background.

The forum is filled with so many wonderful people - thank you for all your help!

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