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Tuscany/Rome or Paris/Loire/Spain with kids? need opinions for next trip

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Hello all,

I am planning very far ahead here - I am in the beginning stages of planning our 2 week trip to Europe 11 months from now. Yes, I get that it's way ahead, but I need time to budget and save. I like to decide where to go, then watch the Euro and jump when rates are a bit more favorable. So here are the particulars:

1. family of four - 2 daughters who will then be 10 & 15. My kids are troopers when traveling, we take carry-ons only and they are responsible for their own stuff. We live in a rural area and we enjoy seeing cities when traveling, but like natural beauty too.

2. our last big trip was Christmas 2010 - we went to Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Parma and Switzerland. Loved it. their first trip to Europe and the kids did fine. I enjoyed it, but it was rushed and the kids and I would like to stay put in places a bit longer next time. We out voted my husband who likes to be on the move.

3. I would like to rent apartments/spaces with a kitchen so that this time I can do some cooking - i got very, very tired of eating out all the time on our last trip. It was torture to be at the fish market in Venice on Christmas Eve and not take anything home to cook!!

4. My husband and I like most everything about travel - visiting museums, walking around old towns,hanging out, I especially love open air markets. My kids are like us - though my oldest daughter is very interested in archeology and science/mathematics. My youngest goes along for the ride and has a good time no matter where she is.

5. The crux - Spring break for the kids next year is March 31 through April 8 (the week before Easter Sunday). We plan on taking them out of school for an extra week. That could be the week before or after their spring break/Easter week. I have leaned toward taking the week after Easter since the second week of April may have a bit more warm/sunny weather than the 3rd week of March. But am concerned about the Easter crowds, holiday closures and rates for the week after Easter.
here's the scenarios:

In Italy we would fly into Milan and out of Rome. We would train down and visit Florence for a few days, then on to Siena for a week as a base for Tuscany (I love Siena - we would rent a car for a few days to tour the area, but drop off and train the rest of the trip) then on to Rome where we would visit Pompeii and/or Ostia Antica as a side day. In Rome we'll stay in a convent or apartment downtown.

In France/Spain we would fly into Paris/out of Madrid. We would stay in Paris for about 5 days, then do a driving tour of some chateau and eventually make our way down to Spain (by train, probably after dropping off the car in France) where we would visit the Ahlambra then on to Madrid.

We are very blessed to be in a position where we can consider either trip. Each has it's benefits. I must say, it's a real toss up for me and my family says they would like either trip. I am influenced by my familiarity with Italy. I speak no French, but at least a passing bit of Italian. I'd like to make this decision, then investigate housing, touring and other things - when traveling we try to operate on a tight budget and preplanning saves us each time, as does watching the Euro for the most opportune time to buy tickets, etc.

Any things that I should consider in this decision? should we go the last week of March and first week of April or the first two weeks of April? Does it make any difference? Am I naive to think that Easter in Siena would be lovely? Will Rome then be crowded the week after? Perhaps it would be cheaper and less crowded that third week in March - sometimes a week can make a difference....so, where and when to go?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

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