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Planning Return Trip to Italy, but Can't Make up my Mind Where!

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My husband and I are in the process of planning a return trip to Italy in September 2013 for our 14th wedding anniversary. By then, it will have been 4 years since we’ve been to Europe, so we're more than ready! (our last trip was Greece in 2009, and we’re going on a cruise to Alaska this year.)

I frequent the Europe forum for ideas and trip reports, and I know I’ve asked this before, but I’m having a terrible time trying to come up with the “perfect itinerary” for us this time around. We can spend 13 nights in Italy (not including travel days). Every thread I read gives me a new idea, and something else sounds incredible! I need to get a grip!

It’s our 2nd trip to Italy. In October 2003, we visited Rome for 6 nights, San Gimignano, Castellina in Chianti, Assisi and Orvieto. I don’t think I want to visit the same destinations this time, since there is still so much to see (although I’m not opposed to staying a night or two in Rome again at our favorite hotel if need be).

We're open to either trains or driving, or a combination. We like museums and Renaissance art, wine and food, and staying at smaller, romantic inns or B&B’s. We often spend our days just walking around a place, soaking in the atmosphere.

Here’s where we’re at right now: Venice is an absolute must for this trip. Cinque Terre is also somewhere we’ve wanted to go for years, so I’m thinking of trying to build a trip that incorporates both CT and Venice (preferably ending in Venice.)

We are considering an “all train travel” trip, such as Rome-CT-Florence-Venice, or Nice-CT-Florence-Venice (husband would love to go back to Villefranche-sur-mer for a couple of days.) However, every time I think of this scenario, I feel like I’d be missing out on a few days just leisurely driving around the Val D’Orcia area of Tuscany, or touring the hills of Piedmont. We usually have incorporated hilltowns into most of our Europe trips, because we like the quaint villages and driving around at our own pace, at least for a few days of the trip. But, maybe adding something like Lucca or Verona would complement the trip and still give us more atmospheric, romantic Italian towns to enjoy without heading to Tuscany? .

Lake Como, Piedmont, Lucca, Verona and Bologna have all peaked my interest, so I'm definitely open to considering them as well. Honestly, the only place that isn’t on my list as a possibility at this time is the Amalfi Coast, because I know that is a probably a separate trip at another time for us.

Can anyone help me focus on what may be a good combination for this trip? I'm not trying to make this the "end all, only time we'll ever go to Italy again" trip, but I just want to find the right mix and pace for us. Thanks so much!

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