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Italy Itinerary HELP with 3 kids. 12 nights

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We are a fairly well traveled family with 3 kids ages 13, 9 and 6. We have decided on Italy for our 2013 spring break trip. Because we are using FF Miles, we are stuck with going into Venice and out of Milan. We typically move at a quick pace and manage to see a ton and get a taste of everything when we travel. We have very little down time, which is how we tend to roll. That being said and wanting to visit several areas of Italy as first timers, We are looking at 2 nights in Venice, 4 nights in Rome, and either 5 nights in Tuscany area making day trips to Cinque Terre, Pisa, etc or 3 nights in Tuscany and 2 in Cinque Terre. Our last night (Easter Sunday) will probably be spent at a hotel near the airport in Milan, taking a late train out.(suggestions on this?) Is this an insane itinerary for a family like ours, doable? I'll take any suggestions as we have plenty of time to get this planned out. We typically try to find apts when possible as with 3 kids it is so much more comfortable and the same price or cheaper than 2 rooms. I'm open to suggestions on anything.

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    How many nites do you sleep in Italy---10, 11, or 12?
    Day one will be a loss, giving you 1 day in Venice--not good.

    MXP is 30 miles west of Milan so plan accordingly. I would drop the CT and and divide your time with 3 destinations---Venice[3], Rome[4] and Tuscany[4] with the last nite near Milan. You will want a car for Tuscany, so keep it and drive to MXP for your last nite---stopping on the coast for lunch.

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    Yes, how many nights altogether? Even 12 nights means only 11 full days to try to see everything on your list.

    I would consider not renting a car, staying in Florence rather than in a smaller Tuscan town. Since your trip is in the 3rd and 4th weeks of March, the weather could be cool and rainy, and there is more to see/do in a larger city when the weather is poor. You can make day trips from Florence to Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca, Pisa, Arezzo and Bologna using public trans. The CT would be an all-day day trip from Florence by train.

    Also because of the timing of your trip, I'd made reservations to climb the Leaning Tower.

    If you do rent a car for Tuscany, don't stay in Florence unless you find lodging well outside the limited traffic zone. South of the Arno would be good. You'll need a larger vehicle to carry five people plus luggage. Try to limit luggage to one piece per person.

    Someone might know about Rome over the Good Friday/Palm Sunday weekend, but I suspect you should find your lodging there ASAP.

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    We typically move at a quick pace and manage to see a ton and get a taste of everything when we travel. We have very little down time, which is how we tend to roll.>>

    does this mean that you view time spend on trains and in cars as a waste?

    in which case, you want to limit the number of times you use them to get from one place to another!

    honestly, you will not run out of things to do in how every many days it is that you have in Italy. venice is crammed with more than enough things to do in 2-3 days, and as Jean says, should you get bored with Florence you can take any number of day trips.

    by the time you've added in Pisa [which you could do as a day trip from florence] and your night at Milan prior to going home, you don't need to be racing around in order to find things to do.

    Depending on exactly how many nights you have, i would stay for 3 nights minimum in Venice, the last night in Milan, and the rest in Florence in an apartment reasonably near the station [which is where the bus station is too] to make day trips simple.

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    I am assuming that you have 12 nights available (including the 1 night in Milan).

    Then, considering your preferences, I would do 2 nights in Venice, 4 nights in Rome, 5 nights in the provence of Pisa, maybe just to the north of Pisa, where you can easily reach both the Cinque Terre, and also various towns and cities in Tuscany, like Pisa, Lucca and Florence, that way you would only need to find accomodation in one place. Last night would be at an airport hotel or B&B close to Milan airport. many even offer a free shuttle service to or from airport.

    You might consider taking a low cost internal flight from Venice to Rome - check out low cost airlines Ryan Air and Easyjet. Then after your vacation in Rome, you might pick up a rental car from Rome airport or as many fodorites here suggest, Orvieto and drive up to Pisa area, spend your 5 nights visiting the CT and Tuscany, and on last day drive to airport hotel, depositing car at airport on day of departure.
    Alternatively take another low cost flight from Rome to Pisa, and pick up car at Pisa airport, which is a nice small airport and very easy to pick up car (we dropped off our car in Pisa airport last December). If you book flights early you can get them for an extremely good fare - check them out on their website.

    If flight back home from Milan leaves very early in the morning (usually car rental offices open at 7am - check this out) you can deposit car at airport rental office the evening prior to your departure, and arrange with the hotel to pick you up from airport and to transfer you back to airport in the morning. I would break the trip when driving from Pisa area to Milan by booking an Easter lunch at a nice restaurant with good reviews on Tripadvisor in a town on the route you would be taking.

    I also travel with three kids, and it is always nice to stay in apartment hotels (preferably that also serve breakfast) When we book two rooms at a hotel/B&B etc, I email directly the hotel, and ask them if they can give me a special offer by booking two rooms for the family. You might even consider staying in a suite, or in connecting rooms, which sometimes come cheaper.

    If it were me, I would rent a car for Tuscany/CT, especially since you would be travelling with 3 kids, it would be so much easier than having to catch trains to reach destinations like CI, and Tuscan towns and cities. Most of them have huge parking areas outside the city, as Jean mentioned you always need to park outside the limited traffic zone.

    We always hire a mid size to full size car or small stationwagon, so that all of us are comfortable, and to fit in luggage and large pushchair for our disabled daughter. I am assuming that you need to be close to Milan airport on Easter weekend, so you would be missing the Easter celebrations in Rome. An idea might be that you might check out any Holy Week celebrations in Tuscany or CT, like some Good Friday procession. The Italians are very keen on Christams and Easter celebrations and traditions, so you might find something interesting or unusual for sure, probably even more so in Tuscany area in some of its towns and villages.

    Enjoy planning your holiday - the more you research on places that interest you, the more well-planned your holiday will be. If you need any assistance or suggestions, I would be more than happy to help.

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    Fantastic tips. Yes, it is 12 nights total and we arrive early in Venice....the usual all night flight that requires some recovery time. I have had several people tell me that a night in Venice is more than enough, so I figured 2 (1 being recovery would work. We could add a third.

    Spending time on trains and in cars is also part of the experience and sometimes a nice down time for the kids to read and relax. I find it enjoyable to pass through more rural areas and see countryside.

    I had not thought about flying from Venice to ROme. Definitely worth checking out. Anna, it sounds like you understand what we are trying to accomplish. Your plan seems realistic.

    I was considering getting a car outside Rome to drive to Tuscany, and was considering the day trip to Cinque Terre. It' really one of those places I've always wanted to visit. That's why it's a must, but visiting a Tuscan village can't be missed either. We are beach lovers, even in the winter months. Finding a good location for day trips seems very realistic.

    I am looking at two rooms at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport and yes, we will be traveling Easter Sunday to get to the airport. Our flight home is around 10:30 am. Im having a hard time figuring out the logistics of that hotel and weather we are better off driving from our last stop, dropping off the car or take the train to the hotel.

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    I love it!
    Those that tell you 1 nite is enough in Venice no doubt saw Venice as day trippers--probaly from a ship. Experienced Italy travelers will tell you that a week is barely adequate.
    We have been 5 times for a total of about 3 weeks and I would go back domani.

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    Since your flight back home is at 10.30am, you can very easily drive to airport. We have driven to Malpensa airport quite a few times and it is very accessible and easy to drop off car. We always use Avis, but all car hire booking offices are easy to find and located near each other. It is so very convenient when you travel with a family to drive and deposit car at airport. If you arrive at airport at 8.30am it would give you more than enough ample time to return car at rental office and check-in at airport.

    Regarding pick up of car near Rome, I would suggest you either take direct train or bus from central Rome, and pick it up from Fiumicino airport, or alternatively take train to Orvieto (as many Fodorites often suggest, and pick up car from there). We have picked up car from Fiumicino many times, and it is very easy to drive out of airport. Don't forget GPS, really really handy for driving on the autostrada (main toll roads), but it can also mislead you to reach some towns and villages, and give you a longer route, this gadget can be so hardheaded and keeps turning you round and round. Also irritates us when it leads us to a road that is closed for repairs etc - they should put in some intelligence in this thing, lol.

    Alternatively, you can drop car in the evening, and arrange for pick up by hotel and again drop off in the morning. But you are departing at a decent time, so I do not see the need of that extra hassle of going twice to the airport, especially with kids.

    I can perfectly understand you regarding your preferences in a holiday, as I always wanted to visit CT, and like you love and try and do everything in a holiday, I love culture, and I love the sea (and of course the majestic mountains), and I often try and fit in everything. In fact last December, we fitted in the city of Trento and the Dolomite mountains, some towns in Umbria, and Rimini, a seaside resort, of course literally empty in December on the coast of Emilia Romagna. We do not mind driving around at all, and love seeing scenary on the way as well, we are the wandering travellers type who like to make the most out of a holiday, but of course I also understand other Fodorites' opinions who like to relax and see the most of any particular place, or literally need a quiet holiday. Plus some do not enjoy the driving. It is a matter of taste and preferences. I always tell myself that my next holiday is going to be an easy-going relaxing one, and whilst planning it we just end up adding more and more. I always tell myself that I would never know whether I would be visiting that particular country or region again (even though I would probably be still returning to Italy the following year), from my experiences I found that life is too short and shouldn't be taken for granted, so I like to do my holiday like it were my last.

    Maybe it stems from the fact that my youngest daughter is disabled, and my younger son had leukaemia quite a few years ago when he was 7 years old, thank God he is now fully recovered and is a young man who will be entering medical school soon. But I guess that had left some impact on us.

    If you want, I will have a look for you regarding the express Holiday Inn in Malpensa, and if you are interested, at some accomodation on the coast close to Pisa and various towns in Tuscany and from where a day trip can be easily done at CT. You would have a bit of everything.

    bobthenavigator - I would also go back domani to Venice - even just to experience again the wonder of being in the majestic square of Piazza San Marco in the evening with the orchestra music flowing around, so very beautiful, and also for the gondola ride around the street canals, and for the beautiful colourful reflecting lights on its waters, and to take pictures on the bridge and the narrow roads of Venice. Ever traveller should experience Venice in my opinion.

    Enjoy it beachmum2.

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    >>>I had not thought about flying from Venice to ROme.<<<

    Not a good idea. It's doubtful it would be cheaper and would likely take longer. The train is under 4 hours and takes you between the city centers. With children, you qualify for the family discount on Trenitalia.
    http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=91fb335a9a605210VgnVCM1000003f16f90aRCRD

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    kybourbon - I thought that flying from Venice to Rome might be a possible good option since OP would be at airport, so it would just be a transit flight (though I would still get luggage and check in again to be on safe side and ensure luggage does not get lost) - no need for the family to leave airport, and take a 4 hour train journey, - the flight would only take 30 minutes or so - although of course you would still have to spare about two hours for transit.

    I do not think that there is a train direct from Venice airport to Rome, the OP and family, if they use train transport, would probably have to first go to Venice central station, wait for next train available, and then take the 4 hour train journey to Rome. So it would take more time than the 4 hours for sure. An advantage regarding this choice is that train leaves you at Rome Termini central station, wheras OP and family would have to take train (or bus) to Rome central station after arrival at airport.

    If you manage to get a good fare, low cost flights, if booked in advance may be as cheap as 20 Euro per person or even less. I was checking out some flights for myself - for a holiday in this same year and fares were only 20 euros one way per person (and this was not for an internal flight) - sometimes they can even go as low as 9.99 euro or 12.99 Euro. However, Ryan air does charge a further 10 euro per person as booking fee, and also charges for checked-in luggage. So if I were the OP I would check whether cheap fares are still available on the required days in the same airport that they arrive in (there are two airports in Venice - Treviso (a small airport and easy to roam around - we landed there last December) and Marco Polo), and how much the flight would cost for the whole family. If however, it is not feasible, or find that more time would be lost, then I would opt for train transport to Rome as kybourbon might prefer.

    Beachbum2 - I have checked out some coastal towns in northern Tuscany, they are all close to each other and look really nice - from where you can easily reach the CT (less than an hour's drive) and various towns and cities in Tuscany like Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Volterra and even San Gimignano (from less than an hours' drive to less than two hours' drive), - maybe even combining two towns in one day, and at the same time enjoying a stay at a coastal town. You are making me want to go to one of these towns now lol.

    You might be interested in having a look at some accommodations in these coastal towns. There are so many apartment complexes/hotels that you might choose from that would be open in March/April.

    Have a look at these towns:

    Viareggio

    Forte dei Marmi

    Lido di Camaiore

    Lido di Massa

    I had a look at express Holiday Inn Malpensa, and it looks like a nice good hotel, and is given good reviews on Tripadvisor. It also offers free shuttle service to/from Airport. I would not hesitate in booking it for the last night prior to catching plane back home. I would email them directly and check if they would give you a special offer if you book two rooms or connecting rooms for the night - some hotels do give a special family discount when you ask for it, lol - others don't, but it is worth a try.

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    Just my 2 cents, we took 3 of our children and my Mom to Italy a few years ago. They LOVED Venice. I have been back twice myself since then. It is truly a magical city. For the record there is a beach on the Lido so you can see that as well. They loved taking the boat to the outer island Murano,Burano etc. That was a whole day by itself. Don't shortchange your time there! In Rome we hired a private guide for a full day tour of ancient sites. It was money and time well spent, they learned so much more than if I had been reading to them from guidebook. Happy travels...

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    Anna, thank you so much for your help and advice.... I think we will add a day to Venice and look for an agrotourismo in one of the areas you suggested. We can choose where we want to go for the day and see cinque Terre too. We have a lot in common which is probably why we share a similar travel mindset... My husband is lymphoma survivor. We know there is a chance it could return and hope if it douse, he can get through it again, so we travel as if we may not return. Life is short and we enjoy it to the fullest. I will call and book the holiday inn and check about the towns. Any suggestions for which area to stay in Rome? Apartment hunting now. I may also have more Venice options with 3 nights vs 2. Thanks for all the help. I love this forum.

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    beachbum2 - We have traveled to Italy three times with our kids. Our first trip was at the same time of year - spring break, and we flew home the day before Easter. Glad you are adding a day to Venice as that is one of their favorite places. Sounds like you have the Holiday Inn Express as your choice, but just in case, we did a similar thing (spent night at MXP before flying out the next morning) and spent the night at First Hotel(http://www.firsthotel.it/en/index.php) and were happy with that.

    When we were in Tuscany we stayed at Fattoria Tregole (http://www.fattoria-tregole.com/) in their Aia apt/villa. It had two bedrooms and plenty of room for the four of us.

    Here is a link to my blog which has my detailed trip reports as well as pictures:

    http://www.fromhometoroam.com/category/travels/europe/romeveniceflorence2005/

    http://www.fromhometoroam.com/category/travels/europe/piedmont-lerici-tuscany-rome/

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    beachbum2 - Yes, I totally agree with you that one should make an effort to enjoy life as much as possible - and also try and encourage my family to look at it with a positive and optimistic attitude, whatever the circumstances.

    I am glad you managed to add another day to your vacation, I am sure you will enjoy an extra day in Venice.

    We last visited major attractions of the city of Rome 4 years ago, and in December 2010 we just used Rome Fiumicino airport to land and hire a car to travel to Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast.

    We had stayed at a hotel called Hotel Crosti, which is very close to Rome's Termini Station. We had hired a car, and were brave enough to venture into the very centre of Rome by car. But we have the Blue Sticker for the disabled, and we always take our daughter with us, so that helps with the parking and entering restricted zones. Although we did walk it once in the evening from hotel to the very core centre of Rome, it took roughly over half an hour each way, so the Crosti is not in the very centre of Rome, but ideally located if you prefer to stay near Termini Station.

    In 2010 we were thinking of spending our last night in Rome, prior to catching flight back home, but decided to drive from Amalfi Coast and catch flight on same day. I had done some research and found a B&B that I really liked called Relais Maddalena which had raving reviews - I just looked it up again now and it has even more great reviews. Although we did not stay there, I had asked for his suggestions regarding parking facilities for the disabled, and other information, and he seemed to be a really nice helpful person. Maybe you can look this B&B up.

    The Navona Garden Suites also looked nice and were an option for us. They are owned by an American dentist, who even sometimes does walking tours with his guests!!

    I personally like the Piazza Navona area, there are many nice apartments in that area, just google "apartment near Piazza Navona" and you will get plenty to choose from, always check reviews of sites you like (preferably not in the square itself as it might be too noisy) - the area is so very central to all the best attractions of central Rome. It is a short stroll to the Spanish Steps, the lovely streets with famous shops like Via Condotti, the Fontana dei Trevi, (don't forget to buy an ice-cream at the gelateria in this square, in my opinion the best in the whole of Italy, plus of course dropping a coin at the fountain - they say that if you drop a coin there you will return again to Rome, and also walkable to the Vatican.

    You can take an open bus tour around the whole city of Rome, stopping and boarding again wherever you want. We went on one for a couple of hours to give my husband a rest from the chaotic driving in Rome, we had parked near the Vatican, there is a stop close by of these open buses.

    If you need any advice/suggestions, I would be more than willing to help out.

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    I booked our apartments for Venice and Rome, and am now completely overwhelmed with where to go in Tuscany. As I said before, we are such beach people that I would love to see Cinque Terre. After being in 2 large cities, I do not need to spend more than a day in Florence this trip. I know I will want to return for a longer trip in the future, but really want to see many areas this time. I have found several Agritourismos near Lucca and San Gimignano. Am I crazy to think about spending 3 nights there, then head to CT for 2 nights? I'm going to spend 4 hours of driving 1 day to see it anyway, shouldn't I just spend a night or 2 there and be within reasonable driving distance to see Tuscan towns? Anna, I would love to get more advice from you as you travel the way we do and have some experience with Tuscany. Are there places to park a car outside Florence or better yet to leave our luggage at in the train station? When coming from Rome, we could potentially spend the day in Florence before getting a rental car to head to the Agritourismo......this part is where it all gets confusing.

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    If you are going to le Cinque Terre, get rid of your car in La Spezia before you arrive and finally take the train to Milan.

    Or do it this way: Take the 4 hour train ride from Rome to le CInque Terre, spend two nights, then pick up a car in La Spezia and drive to your Tuscan agriturismo. On the morning of your last day at the agriturismo, drive to Lucca, see it, then drive to Pisa, see the tower, the drop off the car and take the train to Florence. Spend the night in Florence. Take the train from there to Milan.

    If you no longer are using a car by the time you get to Milan, there is really no advantage to spending the night in an airport hotel. It's actually harder in someways than just getting a hotel in Milan and using the excellent public transportation to whisk you to the terminal the next morning.

    If you decide to throw le Cinque Terre into the mix, everybody has to be prepared for the fact that it could rain the one day you are there. I suggest you book a hotel with a very good 24 hour cancellation policy, and watch the weather forecast right up until the last moment. If you see rain, in the forecast, book Pisa instead. From there you can day trip to Lucca, and then have more time for just enjoying your agristurismo. Change your car drop off to Florence airport if you've already seen Pisa.

    Hope that isn't too complicated.

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    By the way, you will be seeing plenty of Renaissance art, architecture, painting and Michaelangelo's work in Rome, and if your family hasn't got an already well-developed interest in Italain painting and Renaissance history, you might want to skip Florence completely.

    The family might find Pisa very informative and unique, plus the Duomo and Galleria in Milan -- easy sights to see -- are often kid-friendly fun (you can climb on the roof of the Duomo, and it doesn't look like any other church where you will have been).

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    In case my rainy day strategy wasn't clear:

    If you end up needing to cancel your reservations in le Cinque Terre, book Pisa for two night and use that time to see both Pisa and Luccal. Then pick up a rental car in Pisa (the rental company will let you switch the pick-up) and head to your agriturismo. After your agriturismo stint, drop off the car at the Florence airport, take a taxi into town, spend a night in Florence. Next day head up to Milan by train.

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    Great thought! I had not thought about switching it up and doing CT first, then the agri or actually heading into Milan for the last night vs airport hotel. I had always heard it really wasn't worth it ......My worry with heading to Milan in the am for the flight out of Florence is our flight leaves at 10:30 am on Easter Monday, needing us at the airport by 8:30. I figured we would have Easter Sunday to see a few things and could stay very late before heading to Milan. The whole where to pick up the car, drop, what area of Tuscany to stay in with the kids is killing me. (such problems to have) lol.

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    You do need to be in Milan the night before your flight. I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

    Almost everything you might want to see and do in Florence will be closed on Easter Sunday.

    Something you could consider is to see Florence en-route to Rome from Venice. Get off the train, stow your luggage in the station, tour the town, get back on. How well that works for your family depends on how early in the morning you can be on the train from Venice, and how flexible your Rome apartment landlord is about when you arrive at the apartment.

    Personally, I would see Florence as day trip during your agriturismo stay. You canget plenty of detailed directions on the Slow Travel message boards about how to drive to the edge of Florence and park without inadvertantly breaking any laws, depending on where you're staying in Tuscany.

    If you are really nervous about driving into Florence, you can park your car in San Gimignano or Poggibonsi and take a one hour bus to Florence. Likewise, you could park you car at the Lucca train station or one of the towns on that train line and take the train to Florence.

    Since almost nothing will be open in Milan on Easter Sunday either, maybe the best ordering of your trip is:

    Venice
    Rome
    Tuscany (including the option of a daytrip to Florence)
    Drive car to La Spezia for drop off, go to Le Cinque by train
    Train to Milan late in day from le Cinque Terre to spend final night in Milan

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    Regarding car pick up, you could go to Florence directly from Rome, stow your luggage at the station, tour the town, then pick up a rental in the late afternoon and drive to your agriturismo.

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    Beachbum2 - I will gladly give you my recommendations, but as always, everyone has their own opinions, and these are my own.

    I would not base myself in Florence, espcially since you mention that you do not want to visit this city for more than one day (it is always way too crowdy, it was even during Christmas season, so I imagine it would also be the case during Eastertime. We had gone for the day, strolled around, had lunch, and in the evening drove to Casole D'Elsa - also so close to San Gimi.

    In 2010 we had spent some days, in one of our stops of several, lol, in an agriturismo just outside San Gimignano. It is less than 1km away from its city walls and very easily walkable to San Gimi (as many Fodorites like to call it, lol). It is a beautiful agriturismo, has beautiful, clean, new apartments, and a breath-taking scenary of the countryside of Tuscany. It is called Agriturismo Nicolai - Palagetto di Sotto. Their breakfast was very good. They also produce wine and olive oil and we were even given a tour of their cellars with wine-tasting. We were lazy, and drove (not walked) to San Gimi every time we visited it. It was so close that we visited this lovely medieval town about 3 or 4 times, even to have dinner there. We parked just outside the city walls, so close,(we do have the sticker for parking for the disabled, we have it because of our daughter) but there are also parking lots close by. But as I already said, you can also easily walk it from the Agriturismo if you prefer to do a leisurely walk. It was December, and they did not offer dinner in low season, but other reviewers on Tripoadvisor remarked how delicious their dinners are. You might be interested to have a look at their website.

    From San Gimi we visited Siena, Florence, Volterra, Casole D'Elsa etc staying in this part of Tuscany for just 3 nights - you save soooo much time when you drive around yourself, no hassle to reach train stations, wait for trains, load and unload luggages - it is so convenient especially if you have kids with you, now we would not travel any other way, and you manage to fit in so many more places at your own leisure. And also since you specifically mention that you do not want to spend much time in Florence visiting the museums etc.

    So, IF it were me, I would spend a few days in that area, and then drive to a coastal town or village close to the Cinque Terre, I would choose a seafront hotel or B&B or apartment, and spend two nights there, - maybe stopping along the way in Pisa so that the kids can see the tower, and maybe go up it (you can even purchase the tickets beforehand not to stay in queues to purchase tickets - we didn't do that and the boys did not manage to go up it as the next slot time they were given was for 5pm, and we did not want to waste that time, as we were heading to an agriturismo on a mountain not too far from Pisa called Agriturismo Settesoldi (also up a winding mountain road), the owner and his wife are very charming and accommodating and funny and even maybe a bit eccentric - no TVs in the Agriturismo - but this Agri is too much out of the beaten track IMO but perfect for those who want total seclusion and relaxation.

    So then I would drive to my coastal accommodation for two nighs (north or south of CT but still very close) and relax with a wonderful seaview (I gave you above some recommendations of seaside towns where you might base yourselves)and do a visit to the CT and maybe even manage to fit in Lucca. Then on the last day you take it easy and drive along the Ligurian coast to Malpensa (maybe if you have time available, even stopping in Genoa (or Genova NOT Geneve, that is in Switzerland). There is a huge Aquarium in Genoa, if I am not mistaken the largest in Europe - in the case your kids are fans of visiting Aquariums, like my younger boy is). Then drive at your own pace to Malpensa, drop off car, and arrange for a pick-up by hotel staff - alternatively drive yourself to the airport to drop off car yourself before flying out of Malpensa. Make sure you leave extra time for depositing car at rental office.

    In cities in Tuscany always make sure you park outside city walls in the big parking lots. You find them practically in every town and city, often more than one parking lot in fact - do not venture in the centre. We always are very brave and drive to the very centre, since we have the Blue Card for the Disability, but anyone here who has it and is reading this, please note that in some towns or cities, you still would need to phone and inform the local police that you are going to park or drive into the inner centre - there is usually a tel. no. on the signs (sometimes we even get the number from the car hire rental office on our arrival. In 2010, we were still given a fine in Florence when we parked in the very centre, just a couple of blocks away from the main square - we received it several months later, but it was revoked when I sent documentations as proof. So bottom line, make sure you park in the huge parking lots outside centre of cities, and not in a central street like we do, and you should be OK. That little extra walk surely makes up for the hassle of taking trains or other public transport. However, if you are not ok with this, I am sure you can easily find transport from San Gimi to Florence, and other towns and cities - waste of time and energy and money though IMO. Volterra is nice, but it is up a very steep winding hilly road with no barriers - at least the one that we used - so bear that in mind.

    Don't get all worried about planning the holiday,it is not worth it for sure - in fact I enjoy the planning stage as much as the holiday itself, browsing around locations and accommodations.

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    Just came to mind - you might even book a nice Easter lunch on your route to Malpensa (just read again your post and saw that it would be Easter Sunday, so probably - check this out - the Aquarium in Genoa would be closed on this Public Holiday). So in that case I would not venture into Genoa, but find a nice restaurant or Agriturismo on your route and have Easter lunch there.

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    I have to heartily disagree with Anna about driving along the Ligurian coast, especially if it is nice Easter weekend. I would also nix the idea of the Acquarium, which will surely be closed. It is a lousy venue anyway, laid out with forced marches through the gift shop areas and for most non-Italian kids, who are used to whiz-bang interactive science museums, this one is very old fashioned and pedestrian, even if it the largest one in Europe.

    There is very little "coastal driving" from le Cinque Terre to Genova. The road by necessity cuts inland, through many, many tunnels. You actually see more views of the coast from the train. On a sunny Easter weekend, which is what you are hoping for, the coastal routes clog with Italians headed for the sea to enjoy lunch and the weather. When the route turns north, heading to Milan, it is a fast, twisting mountain road that is filled with daredevil motorcyclists who ride it for sport on sunny Sundays.

    Get rid of your car before you go to le Cinque Terre, where you won't need it anyway, and take the train to Milan.

    If you luck out with a sunny Easter weekend in le Cinque Terre, I suggest you stay put and enjoy your big Easter lunch right there, rather than joining the competition for pretty spots elsewhere. Afterwards, take the train to Milan. You'll find some nibbles in bars around the Duomo and be able to turn in early so you can get up early in the morning for your flight.

    If you don't luck out with nice weather, take an early morning train to Milan and have your big lunch there. Walk off the calories around the Duomo and turn in early.

    But I do agree with Anna that the area around San Gimignano might be a nice base, and Nicolai is a fine recommendation (but check recent reviews). You can play Florence by ear. You can pick up your car in Rome, Orvieto, Chiusi or in Pisa if you don't want to commit to going to Florence until you see how your kids vote after several days of sightseeing.

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    maybe stopping along the way in Pisa so that the kids can see the tower, and maybe go up it (you can even purchase the tickets beforehand not to stay in queues to purchase tickets>>

    www.opapisa.it

    allow 10 mins or so beforehand to get to the ticket office and put any bags/back-packs in the lockers provided. if you can get a slot later in the day the hawkers should have gone, but even if they haven't the "campo dei miracoli" is not so called for nothing. I never ceases to amaze me that while most of the inhabitants of europe were living in little more than mud-huts, the italians were able to design and build edifices of such incredible beauty and intricacy.

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    Anna, Too funny....Agriturismo Nicolai - Palagetto di Sotto is one of the agritourismos I have been considering. There are a few outside Lucca as well, but I liked the option of being so close to a town. poggio al casone and Borgo La Torre are considerations. They are close to Pisa and Lucca. Any thoughts for specific places outside or in CT? I'm not seeing many options for the 5 of us. Your responses are helping me make sense of this second half of the trip. pizzocchieri, are you recommending we stay in a hotel in Milan center vs the Holiday Inn Express by the airport? I like your thoughts about dumping the car before CT. I love European rail travel, but agree that for Tuscany, the car is key to being able to stop at several places in a day and see things off the beaten path. I think Florence would work well as a day trip, if at all during our Tuscany stay. We have one of the best aquariums in the world close to us, so I am not concerned about seeing that. I like to see things we can't in the US.

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    Yes, I am suggesting you dump the car before you get to le Cinque Terre and take the train to Milan.

    Since it looks like you would arriving in le Cinque Terre on Saturday -- correct? -- you probably can only drop off the car in La Spezia in the morning. The rental office will be closed Saturday afternoon.

    There are many small b&bs in the le Cinque Terre villages that can handle a family of five, especially those with shared bathrooms, because your family can share one. Monterosso al Mare probably hasn't the most conventional hotel rooms. You can also stay in Levanto and have a short 5 minute train ride into the towns. If you can't seem to find anything by perusing TripAdvisor, ask on the TripAdvisor message forum for le Cinque Terre for help.

    You know your family and I don't, but were I traveling with kids who had never been to Venice and Rome, I'd want to see what excited them before making plans to see Florence and/or Pisa. If they absolutely loved the Roman antiquities, I would bypass Florence as a daytrip and instead go 15 minutes right above it to the hilltown of Fiesole, which also has Roman ruins & a great view of Florence. You don't have to, but you can hop a bus or taxi from Fiesole and go down to Florence and back. Or you can just get back in the car and visit someplace else.

    Or if what they really loved about Rome was climbing the dome inside St Peter's, then maybe you want to climb the tower of Pisa or the dome in Florence. Pisa is an easy day trip from San Gimignano (where there are more towers to climb.)

    But I've seen intelligent, curious, cheerful youngsters of all ages, from 5 to 15, be really bored by touring and having things shown to them. They enjoy being with their folks, and racing around on holiday, but being in "Italy" has no particular meaning for them. If that's the case, I'd bag the day trips to more art and history sights and enjoy Tuscany's small towns for bike rides, horse rides, saffron collecting, sheep cheese farms, hikes and shops. If any of your kids are "Twilight" series fans, Volterra is where it's at.

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    <I have had several people tell me that a night in Venice is more than enough>

    I never understand when people say this. I've been to Venice twice. Staying 5 nights each trip and barely scratched the surface.

    Especially with kids I would think they will think Venice is more fun than your typical city (because of the maze of narrow streets, no car traffic, all the waterways, bridges and steps, pigeons, going around by vaporetto, etc. etc.)

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    beachbum2 - Yes, you had better forget the Aquarium, since it would most probably be closed on Easter Sunday, as I said in my second post - just after I sent you my first one. It was just a thought as my son has a fixation on aquariums, and we have visited so many, like that of Barcelona, Birmingham, and last year that of Cattolica in Emilia Romagna, and I always say to myself that if we pass through that area we have to visit that aquarium.

    It might be another option to dump the car as soon a you arrive at CT, but if it were me, I would keep it since you are staying only for two nights in Liguria. However, it also makes a big difference on whether you intend to find accommodation in one of the Cinque Terre, or somewhere very close by, or in a another town along the coast close which might even be in the region of Tuscany, but border with Liguria. Keeping the car might give you the opportunity to stop on the way at an Agriturismo for an Easter Sunday Lunch.

    But, on the other hand, if your kids would like to take a train ride, as many kids do, then it is another option that you leave car on arrival at CT, do your couple of days there and take train to Milan (I would not know whether trains go to Malpensa directly, as I haven't been on trains in Italy for more than 20 years now lol, before I met my husband. ,

    You do not have to take the Ligurian coastal road, you can take the autostrada or a secondary road, it is all a matter of choice, the advantage that you have is that you would not have a plane to catch on that same day. But again, it is all a matter of preference, if maybe you want to give an additional experience to your kids by travelling the last journey by train, then so be it. I have not yet been to the CT, although it was always on my list, I always researched on Liguria, and always ended up going somewhere else. I was also debating whether we should include it this December, if we visit Italy again these coming Christmas holidays, but then I read that in Fodors and other sites that in Wintertime this area is empty,dismal, andsome hotels and restaurants would be closed, and that the ferry system would not be working - plus the problem of many many stairs everywhere (because of my daughter we are unable to hike, and I postpone going to this area. However, I did read that in Manerola there is the biggest crib in the world with life-size statues, so that might be really interesting to visit. Plus I am sure that if I research well other Christmas festivities would be held in that region. However, I have been to Genoa and along some of the coast of Liguria (passed through so many many years ago when I went (the one and only time) on a group tour with my mother to Italy, France and Switzerland. Genoa itself has a huge port and seemed very industrial, but of course, LOL I need to visit it again if we are in the area because of my son and his interest in Aquariums. At the moment one is being constructed in Malta as well, and I am sure that he will be one of the first ones to visit it once it opens.

    We have driven from northern (like Milan soutwards in Italy auite a few times now, and never encountered any major problems - but yet again, it is always a matter of personal choice, I repeat, dropping off car close to the CT and taking train to Milan is another good option. The queswtion is the easter Lunch - where you would plan to have it if you were to take a train, if it is anything like the Christmas lunch in Italy, then it should not be skipped

    beachbum2 - so you intend to stay close to Pisa or Lucca and drop of CT, or use there as a base? And do you intend to stay in one of the villages of CT or somewhere else along the coast? I think at this stage what is best for you to do is to google a map of the region of Liguria and of Tuscany, see which towns or cities or villages you would most like to visit, and use a place/two places as a base that is closest to your preferred towns or whatever. You can do Pisa on your way to the CT if you would still be driving by car. Alternatively you can base yourself near Lucca or Pisa throughout the five nights and visit the CT and Tuscan towns and countryside from there.

    I forgot to add in my other post, since you are going to be in Italy during the Holy Week, including Easter, it might be interesting to research whether there would be any events or festivities in the surroundings where you will be going. The Italian organize beautiful unique events during Christmastime, I would assume that they do organize some for the Easter festivities (we all know about the Holy Week in Rome) If you want I can do some research on that for you, once you tell us how you prefer to plan your holiday.

    I had a look at the websites of the two agriturismos you mentioned - Borgo La Torre is in Umbria not in Tuscany, even further to the south of Perugia close to Terni. It is far from the towns and cities you intend visiting for sure (at least 2 hrs drive each way to Florence).

    Borgo La Torre looks lovely, about an hour 15 minutes drive to Florence each way, but close to Pisa and Lucca. It is about 1hr 15 minutes drive each way to the CT from Pisa. It is all a matter of personal choice, but if it were me, if to visit central towns and cities of Tuscany, I would choose an agriturismo closer to the centre of Tuscany, like near Florence or San Gimi, or even Siena - but if you prefer to be closer to the coast and Pisa and Lucca (and even maybe the CT), then I would choose Borgo La Torre. PERSONLLY I prefer the country-side scenary of central Tuscany. It somehow looks greener and less foresty and wild -I am recalling the scenary of when we were on the mountain in the provence of Pisa that I mentioned to you in my other post.

    If you pinpoint the areas where you prefer to locate yourself, then I would gladly help in researching accommodation for you.

    I have just gone and checked latest reviews on Tripadvisor for Agriturismo Nicolai Palagetto di Sotto,as pizzochieri suggested, to ensure that it has kept up its good standards, and the last nine reviews all gave it a full 5 out of 5 stars - so many reviews written since we were there nearly 2 years ago - I always seem to pick the good ones when few tourists would still know about that particular accommodation, especially since I am always on the look-out for newly opened or newly renovated ones - believe me I do lots of reaeach before we go on vacation - even sometimes email for advice Tripadvisor reviewers who stayed in that particular accommodation or area, also to check how accessible an area is, etc. But of course, there are also so many other agriturismos in Tuscany that offer the same hight standards. I remember another agriturismo I had shortlisted when browsing on the net in 2009/2010 is called Il Cellese, it is also in central Tuscany, but up a hill - it already had raving reviews at the time, and I am sure that they kept adding up - maybe you might want to have a look at that as well and of the reviewers on Tripadvisor. I remember they had mentioned that you need to pass through a short dirt road for few kms, and since we were going in Wintertime that had put me off, but maybe they have fixed this road, I would not know. But it does also look lovely and owner seems to be an extremely nice person. If you prefer to be more cut off in the country, but still centrally located for many towns and cities of Tuscany, it would be nice option for sure.

    Palagetto has the advantage of being in the countryside (maybe not as high up as il Cellese) and still very close to the medieval town San Gimi (as I said, we ended up visiting it three times). The roads are good and relatively (in Tuscan country roads) wide, and no high hills with narrow winding roads to drive. When you arrive close to San Gimi (if you choose this Agri) phone them up, so that they give you directions, as our GPS had taken us to the back of the Agri, not to the entrance gates. This Agri has secured gates with intercom. Ask for an apartment with a lovely countryside view.

    I would be more than willing to help you out in accommodation, but I think first you need to decide the exact location/s you prefer to base yourself.

    If it were me, and had to be at the airport at 8.30am in Malpensa, I think I would choose an airport hotel, so that you can relatively take it more easy and not having to wake up earlier, in having more time to have everything packed up, have breakfast without rushing too much, etc. - it is totally a different matter when there are five of you travelling, I know that from experience. I would also not risk being stuck in some traffic early in the morning when having a plane to catch. If you would like to visit Milan centre, check out if hotel offers shuttle to the centre of Milan - again that is my opinion, maybe you might prefer to stay in in central Milan, and wake up a bit earlier to go to Malpensa.

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    Anna and pizzocchieri, you have been so helpful. Because we are going to travel to the coast for 2 nights, It makes sense to be near San Gimi or in the Chianti area of Tuscany. Either are still only around a 3 hour drive to the CT coast. We are looking at Agriturismo Nicolai Palagetto di Sotto (their villas), or Il Borghetto near San Gimi, or Il Cellese in the Chianti area. It looks like with any of these options, we could pick up a car outside Rome and it would be a couple hours drive or take a train to Florence, pick up a car outside Florence and drive a short distance. I don't know what will be easier. Suggestions for where to consider car pick up outside either city? Any of these options give us time to explore San Gimi, Volterra, Florence or Sienna and even venture to Lucca.

    I am thinking that we could visit Pisa on our way to the coast. Could we squeeze in Lucca too?

    As for the coast, finding lodging for a family of 5 for 2 nights is a bit of a challenge unless we get 2 hotel rooms (a pain with luggage, etc) I did find Uliveto Nel Parco which is in the National park of Cinque Terre in Monterosso and Villa Valentina in Lavanto. Both would have parking, and we would actually need a car at Villa Valentina. There is a small apartment in Riomaggiore (La Scogliera) It is pretty basic, but the views make up for it:-) Anyone know about any of these? They all get very good reviews. Thoughts on locations? I have sent them all emails to check availability, so that may be the determining factor. I'm guessing if we have a car in CT, it will be just as easy to drive to our hotel or car drop at MXP vs return to La Spezia or Genova to drop and get a train.

    For some reason, this trip is requiring alot more tought and coordination then our previous trips...all fun, but I want to get many things taken care of. Recommendations on Care hire companies?

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    Anna,I know you gave suggestions for outside Rome.....Looking for thoughts on our lodging, etc as well as Tuscan towns your kids loved. I know Sam Gimi was a favorite with several visits. Thanks

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    Hi again beachbum2

    Always in my own personal opinion, but I would for sure prefer to keep hired car and deposit it in Malpensa, especially since you are stopping at the CT just for 2 nights and just one full day at CT. It certainly makes it more easy that you won't have to find car hire office to deposit car, then catch a train to Malpensa, and again find your accommodation there, with three kids and heavy luggages. On your way to Malpensa you can break the road trip by pre-booking an Easter lunch at a restaurant or Agriturismo - they do big feasts the Italians on events like these - a nice experience for sure. I can imagine that you would like to fit in a little stroll around the centre of Milan, so if I were you, I would keep the car till day of departure, and book an airport hotel that would have a free shuttle to Milan centre, at least one way and take a taxi back if the shuttle does not run till a bit late in the evening. Or maybe you can return car at airport on your arrival and then take shuttle to Milan centre, but I do not know if you would then have enough time for that. Anyway, just take it as it comes, then and decide there and then, depending on the time of your arrival. Always IMO, I would pick up hired car either from Fiumicino airport after visit to Rome (we have picked car from this airport, no problem at all) - taking a taxi or a train ride to reach MXP, or take train to a town from Termini Station in Rome (I think many fodorites here mention Orvieto) and pick up hired car from there and drive to Tuscany. Since your time is limited, I would stop for a visit to Siena on the way - we had done this once but driving in reverse direction, southwards. We had stopped just for an hour or two, visiting the cathedral, the main lovely huge square - where we had a delicious ice-cream, and streets in the centre - but for us it was enough to hava a feel of this city. Then it is a short drive to San Gimi - if you choose this location that is. As I said, even if you arrive late in the evening (which we did), the road is tarmaced and very accessible. Just always take the phone number of the accommodation so that you inform them of the time you would be arriving - maybe even informing them when booking around what time you would be arriving.

    Personally, Volterra did not impress me that much - probably because the road to reach me was so steep and winding and narrow with no barriers - I hate those kind of roads. I loved the town of Casole D'Elsa, very accessible. It is a medieval town with lovely surrounding country views. There is a parking lot just outside its town walls and a public lift to reach this walled town. A truly lovely experience. You should of course go to Florence. They also say Montepulciano is lovely, but I hav never been yet, but it is on my list. Now for the kids - there is Pinocchio Park in Collodi - not far from Florence, it does not have high reviews but I guess considering their ages, your kids would still love going there.


    IF it were me, I would prefer Agriturismo Nicolai Palagetto di Sotto, as it is very very accessible, very close to San Gimi (it is nice to be in a place not too cut out from everything and near a town to go for a stoll), plus it also offers the beautiful Tuscan country views. There you have your own privacy, they give you the keys and you feel at liberty. I am saying this because in 2010 we were in this country house, it was like a relatively large B&B - and like you have to bump in one of the owners every time you arrive and depart, or bump into other guests. Plus we had dinner at a communal table and all other guests were Italians from different regions. It was very interesting for me and hubby, since we speak good Italian, but my kids were utterly bored and did not feel at ease at all. The guests of course were nice to them, asking what they were doing at school etc, always in Italian and us translating, but they said they would not come again with us unless we ate at our own table - they say they prefer their privacy - maybe because now they are in their late teens. But they did love Palagetto di Sotto, the breakfast is good by Italian standards, the area is huge and lovely, and they enjoyed the visit to the wine cellars. Il Cellese also looked inviting to me, but the fact that they do not even offer breakfast, and there is a dirt road to reach it up a hill, put me off, even though reviews and the place itself looked so inviting.

    I think that you probably would manage to do Lucca and Pisa in one day, since they are close to each other, and since time is always limited. If you want to go up the tower, then prebook, as already suggested by myself (also take annhig's suggestions) - we did not ascend up the tower and still greatly enjoyed it from the outside, and its surroundings. If you do these in one day, all the more I would suggest you keep car, since you would probably be arriving at CT in the early evening.

    Did you book accommodation at the CT yet? And what exact town do you prefer in CT or in surroundings? As I mentioned, I have only done some research on CT but have never been, although it was always on my toplist. However, if you did not manage to find accommodation there, I will gladly do some research for you.

    Try and not get too confused about organising this trip - you are choosing some of the easiest and nicest locations in this holiday, so enjoy planning it!!

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    beachbum - check out these three B&Bs - they seem to be so lovely with high reviews. Check for parking - I think they do have available, I do not want to do so myself right now as I might forget the names - but I did see that they offered parking in two of them for sure.

    Affittacmere San Giorgio
    La Serra sul Mare
    Alla Marina Affittacamere

    They all have raving reviews. Maybe you might ask if they would give you a special offer if you book two rooms, many do usually give a good discount when you ask for it!!

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    I am a complete idiot.......Every year for the past 9 years, our kids have had off Holy week and return to school the Tuesday after Easter. Why should this year be any different? Somehow, I came upon the actual date of Easter and realized that we have off the week after easter. The whole time I was planning the trip, I thought Easter 2013 was April 7, not March 31. I didn't plan to be in Rome for Easter, now we are. I guess on a positive note, we are Catholic, so this will be a bucket list thing to knock off. My only concern is seeing the main sights in our limited time there with all the crowds and closings and having 3 kids in tow doing it. We will be in Rome Sat- Tuesday and need to be at our place in Tuscany by 7:00 pm Tuesday.

    I have all apts. and villas booked. We are in Venice Mar. 27-30, Rome March 30 till Tuesday April 2, then Agriturismo Nicolai Palagetto di Sotto till the 5th and Villa Valentina till the 7th and the Holiday Inn Express at MXP for the night of the 7th

    It looks like the apt in Rome is avail. the 2nd -5th....I could see if I can swap dates with Tuscany.

    If we are in Rome for Easter, I plan to ask our Archdioces about getting tickets for Easter Mass. What else can we do Easter Sunday and Monday? It looks like we would need to do the Coliseum on Sat. and the Vatican on Tuesday am for a tour. This just threw a whole lot more coordinating into the trip. Any thoughts?

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    beachbum - a few years ago we flew into Rome on Easter sunday which was not a great day to be arriving, I can tell you.

    the good news is that loads of restaurants, bars and cafes are open; the bad news is that most shops and attractions aren't.

    if you end up doing this, i suggest leaving the colosseum, forum and palatinate until the Monday as they are some of the few things that ARE open on easter monday. places that normally close Monday [like castel san angelo] close on the tuesday as well, which is irritating. The vatican will be heaving, but if you book a tour, at least you'll get in, and St. Peter's will be open, come what may, though I suggest getting there early to avoid the security queues.

    here's a website that may help with finding some other museums etc. that are open over the holiday:

    http://www.rome.info/museums/cards/

    this one might help too:

    http://www.ticketeria.it/events-eng.html

    best advice - don't do anything on the saturday which you could do on the sunday or monday when there will be far more closures.

    also, if you can move your trip round so as to avoid being in Rome over Easter, do it.

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    Annhig, Great tips, Thank you! After thinking this over, as much as I would love to switch this itenerary out, being in ROme may be better than being in Tuscany over that time. My thought is that less will be open in the smaller Tuscan towns and those towns will be filled with all of the big city residents leaving. I know we will not enjoy Rome as much as we would at a different time, but if I am prepared for that and at least have my list of when we can or can't see things and figure out the best time to see the vatican, it should be tolerable. Besides, then we get to go relax a bit in small tuscan towns after the insanity. Being that I would have avoided this and thought I was with my planning, maybe it is meant for me to be there. Great to know to save colosseum, forum and palatinate until Monday, now to figure out what we can see Sat., Sunday and Tuesday am.

    Any restaurant suggestions for Easter Sunday near Piazza Navona?

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    so be it, beachbum.

    I can't remember in detail what we did on Easter tuesday - I have a vague recollection of queuing to get into The Vatican museums and giving up after a hour or so, then trying the Castel San Angelo and finding out about the "if we normally close mondays, if monday is a holiday, we'll have Tuesday off as well" rule. Then looking for something to do, we walked over to Trastevere and came across St. Celilia's church [do go down into the crypt if you go there to see the mosaics] had a lovely lunch, and felt a lot better.

    The second time we stayed in Rome we had an apartment near the via coronari - there are several restaurants along there - and in the opposite direction along via v. Monte Giordano we had a couple of nice dinners here:

    http://www.ilfico.com/ilficoristorante.html

    and here:

    http://www.anticatavernamangiabene.it/ [recommended by our apartment landlady who had her own birthday party there]

    I can't imagine that you wouldn't find a meal somewhere on Easter sunday, but if you wanted somewhere specific, i think it would be a good idea to book. Either of the above would be excellent choices.

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