Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

3 weeks to spend in Spain, Italy, France....is that enough time?

3 weeks to spend in Spain, Italy, France....is that enough time?

May 7th, 2014, 11:16 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 30
3 weeks to spend in Spain, Italy, France....is that enough time?

My husband and I have only one trip (Scotland) under our belts outside the US so are relatively inexperienced in overseas travel. We are physically active and love outdoor activities of all kinds (running, biking, hiking, fishing, kayaking, etc). We also love experiencing the history, foods and beverages of an area.

We are in the very beginning stages of planning a 3 week trip sometime in 2015 and would ideally like to visit all three countries mentioned. We are most interested in places off the beaten path. We prefer the natural wonders of an area and places the locals like to go to versus the typical tourist attractions. We would consider spending some time in a few of the bigger cities if there is something that just shouldn't be missed.

Is it possible to have a fairly relaxed time in only three weeks? Can it all be done by train and public transportation or would it be best to rent a car? Is it best to do fly in/out of the same airport or does it not make that much of a difference in airfare cost?

I'm sure I will be posting more questions as things progress so any other advice would be appreciated.

Thank you,
kXb is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 11:40 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 14,521
Yours are rather big questions, so I will begin by addressing just one of them: Can natural wonders be visited by public transportation? Maybe not.

Think of your own country: do people visit natural wonders, nature and parks by public transportation? In my country, the US, we have to fly to a nearby city, then usually rent a car to visit the sea side, or mountains or canyons, etc.

Travel to and within cities in Europe is very easy by public transportation. Travel to nature areas is more difficult.
tuscanlifeedit is online now  
May 7th, 2014, 11:47 AM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 6,525
You could have a fairly relaxed trip if you can limit yourself to only one place in each country, with a few day trips, maybe. If you start adding trips here and there to see some of the big cities, then it would be better to stick to one or two countries.
bvlenci is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 12:15 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,563

Never understood the disdain for "tourist attractions" considering how many of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites (Alhambra, Mont St. Michel, Notre Dame, Colosseo) and "locals" of all stripes like to see tourist attractions in their own countries - two old people who look like me have been to just about every bloody museum in NYC on multiple occasions even though they've lived there for more than 150 years combined.

Do Romans avoid the Colosseo or Pantheon or Piazza di Spagna? Do Italians (80+% of whom vacation in their own country)? Do Parisians not visit Notre Dame (considering it's open for worship, the answer is clear) or Versailles? Would a country mouse from the Loire Valley not visit the chateaux or take a trip to Paris? In Europe, which has a virtually countless number of cultural, historical, political and sociological landmarks, these tourist attractions inform about the country, culture and history of where you're visiting.

You also need to come to grips with the size of the countries you're visiting. France and Spain would each be the third-largest state in the US - France is nearly the size of Texas; Spain is 20% larger than California. Both are more densely populated than their pseudo-counterparts. Neither necessarily has one "area of natural beauty."
BigRuss is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 12:31 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,509
You can easily spend a month or more in each and barely scratch the surface. We have had 17 trips to Italy, 6 to Spain and Portugal, and 4 to France and the Alps.

My advice is not think in terms of counries---that can be confusing---think in terms of regions. Spain is the outlier in this case--I would save it for a seperate trip.

So, if your question is " can we spend 3 weeks to get a tasting menu of France and Italy" the answer is yes.

Start in Paris and end in Rome--or vice versa[ 4 days each], and add 3 other destinations between them. Your choices will depend on the car question. My choices would be Nice[ Cote d' Azur], Venice, and Florence--assuming all rail travel.

Do not make the common error of most neophytes and add too mnay destinations. Five is good---six max in your time.

Hope this helps !
bobthenavigator is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 12:40 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 7,644
Since you prefer natural wonders of an area, I'd start with those, even though most people start with big cities. Which natural wonders appeal to you most? You might enjoy exploring Switzerland and perhaps an area like the Dordogne in France.
KTtravel is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 12:43 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,509
I too love off-the-path natural beauty destinations, and have sought them out for 40 years now. If you do not like my above suggestions then consider these:

Provence, France
Orta San Guilio, Italy
Portovenere, Italy
Montalcino, Tuscany
Spello, Italy

But, you will need a car.
bobthenavigator is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 12:51 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 2,931
There is nothing wrong with not wanting to see major sites and the crowds that come with them on this trip, but don't say "if there is something that just shouldn't be missed"--because there is only what you want and what you don't want.
You can always do a nice mix of "big deal city" and off the beaten path. What you need to do is get guide books for all three countries and decide what you want. To do all three would mostly likely be a tour of cities, as getting from place to place typically requires going from city to city. If you do adjacent places, that works well--for example Barcelona and the south of France.
Last, I will say that I have regretfully never had three full weeks to travel. If I did, I would be thrilled to be able to spend it in one country--it is a luxury that many never get.
yorkshire is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 01:03 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,308

IMO you are likely to have a more satisfactory experience combining all the elements that you mention if you stick to one country. you are, i infer, reasonably young, and have plenty of time to visit each of these places on more than one occasion if you wish.

if you were to pick Italy, you could start in Venice. go up into the Dolomites and do some walking, drop down to Lake Garda and windsurf or sail at Riva del Garda, spend time in Florence, then go cycling in Tuscany or Umbria and end your trip in Rome. [there's loads more you could so, but this would combine most of what you have in mind].

In Spain, you could start in Barcelona, go north through the wine country of Rioja to the north coast, then drive south through the picos di europa and end your trip in Madrid. [there's a current thread about off the beaten track places to see in Spain]

And in France, after Paris [of course] there is cycling in the Loire Valley visiting the chateaux, canoeing on the Lot or dordogne, swimming/sailing out of the lovely harbours of Brittany, etc. etc.

A bit of creative thinking and playing with google should give you plenty of ideas.
annhig is online now  
May 7th, 2014, 01:16 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 45,618
You can get a brief glimpse of each of those countries in 3 weeks, for sure, but nothing even close to in-depth. I'd do one country myself (have done 6-8 weeks in a country and wasn't close to seeing 1/100th of it), but it's your trip to divvy up as you see fit.

If nature is a compelling factor, no, public transportation really won't do. You'll see some passing by train and bus windows, and you may be able to get to naturally scenic places that lots of other people go to, but if what you're looking for is true wilderness, you'll need a car.

If you do decide to do two or three countries, buy open-jaw flights, into one country and out of another. It's usually no more expensive, especially when you consider the costs of backtracking to your entry point.
StCirq is offline  
May 7th, 2014, 06:34 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 30
some very good advice....thanks to all that have responded so far!

tuscanlifeedit - sounds like we need a car to really do what we would like. at least they drive on the "right" side of the road (maybe my husband won't try to kill us when it's his turn to drive )

bvlenci - duly noted. that was husband's initial thought.

bigruss - being newbies, we obviously don't have a good idea about the size of the countries mentioned so i appreciate the comparison. we have no aversion to seeing the tourist attractions. our main aversion is to huge crowds although we have discovered (at least here in the us), if you get started early to a popular spot you can avoid the largest crowds and we are fine getting out early.

bobthenavigator - jealous of your travels! sounds like we will be going for a car and trimming down the number of countries. now it will be a decision between spain and italy i guess (france will have to wait)

yorkshire - check! guidebooks and internet searches will be purchased/utilized very soon to narrow things down

annhig - yes, we are young....in our mid 50's (hahaha!). i truly hope that our health and finances will allow further travel overseas but i would rather do a trip in the right way (for us) than try to cram it all in and be rushed

stcirq - thank you very much for info on open-jaw flights. perhaps we won't have to arm wrestle over the spain/italy question
kXb is offline  
May 8th, 2014, 08:45 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,563

Hmm. No Vatican on Sunday or Wednesday (or whatever day His Holiness does public mass).

Search this site for Louvre and best times - really doubt there are any. Same for Versailles.

Go in shoulder season not June-August (or early September).
BigRuss is offline  
May 8th, 2014, 10:17 AM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 2,435
We'd choose Italy. We've visited Italy many times and Spain only once and, while we enjoyed Spain, we love Italy.
dwdvagamundo is offline  
May 10th, 2014, 03:41 PM
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 76
DH and I have visited northern Italy, as like you, time was a major consideration. Also, like you, we do prefer off the beaten path. However, we did go to Manarole, Cinque Terre in September. Loved, loved it. No crowds, no vehicles, beautiful weather, hiking, food, wine. Also, spent a few days hiking in the Dolomites out of St Christina. Love Italy. So many people will tell you that a week in each country is not long enough. Agreed. But, when you only have a week, I suggest not trying to see the whole country…choose an area and revel in it. Then you can always hope to revisit, right? Oh, we travelled via Eurorail in Italy as this was our first time in Europe. Wonderful system. However, next trip to Portugal/Spain we will be brave and rent a car. Looking forward to reading more suggestions from Fodorites!
colleenbee08 is offline  
May 10th, 2014, 08:59 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 45,618
I would NEVER recommend Eurorail (whatever that is) or Rail Europe for travel in Europe, especially Italy. It's not a "wonderful system at all." There are plenty of better alternatives. Before you follow colleen's not-so-good-advice on this aspect of traveling, read the comprehensive website of Man in Seat 61. And use trenitalia to book.
StCirq is offline  
May 13th, 2014, 10:42 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 30
Thank you all for the input. My husband will be in charge or researching Spain and I will research Italy and we will try to pin it down. God willing, there will be time and finances to return to the area not selected for this trip!
kXb is offline  
May 13th, 2014, 10:54 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 16,406
If you are really into the great outdoors and want to see some odd sites then I'd recommend fitting a cycling holiday in, not one of those amazingly expensive american ones that need $4k just to get 7 days but do what the locals do, hire a bike for a few days and set off on your own. If you decide to go walking instead I'd suggest do the Trans-Jura cross country trail where you can book a hotel ahead and get into that area between France and Switzerland, all mountain meadows and tinkling streams. It is basically part of the GR5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europea...distance_paths.

If bikes are more the thing have a look at www.mybikeguide.co.uk for a bunch of ideas.
bilboburgler is offline  
May 30th, 2014, 10:48 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 30
billboburgler, great ideas. Thanks much.
kXb is offline  
May 30th, 2014, 11:22 AM
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 4,266
A great excursion - maybe a bit city-based.

We have paddled with them twice. Different sights and experiences each time.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
May 30th, 2014, 12:06 PM
Join Date: Feb 2014
Posts: 6,534
Some years ago I went to the Trotternish on the Isle of Skye for a week and when I returned from my trip and told people where I'd been, first they would ask "Where?????" and then they would say oooo and aaaaah and how they wished they could go someplace like that for a week.

When I spend in a week in Italy in southern le Marche or the val d'Aosta, and people hear where I've been, they don't even ask where. They anxiously ask if I've already been to Rome and Lago di Como, Venice, Capri, etc., etc, etc.

People seem to have very fixed ideas about the uncrowded parts of Italy even though they have never been -- and even though I have visited spectacular sights of Roman antiquity in the val d'Aosta and exception piazze in southern le Marche, plus vineyards, truly world class scenery. But best of all, one gets an amazing cultural experience in a place like the val d'Aosta in its hidden valleys. Ditto other untouristed parts of Italy (or Spain, France, etc.) You can feel the traditions plus feel the present day realities. Going to the crowded tourist spots can be less revealing and feel simply like one more extension of the global tourist industry.

You can also take the train to val d'Aosta, by the way.

Also, for those of us to move to Europe, the notion of understanding a foreign country and Europe is pretty much a lifetime project. Spending 6-8 weeks someplace is probably an invitation to start deluding yourself about the extent of your knowledge. It is true that while traveling, people tend to absorb a lot more and are more keen observers than when just sleepwalking around their own neighborhood at home. But still, most of the US in uninhabited and most of Europe is dense, dense, dense with layer upon layer of history and the interaction of micro-cultures,

It makes a profound impression to visit a variety of places in Europe in 3 weeks, and spending 3 weeks in just one place is not automatic guarantee that would give you something "deeper". Many who go to "just one country" leave without realizing that at one time (not long ago) where they want was actually several different countries. Would they have not gone to Venice and Rome in the same trip when they were in different countries?

Today we have the European Union and seeing more than one of its member states in the same trip is really interesting in that regard if nothing else. Plus, one of the most fun trips I ever took was London, Brussels, Berlin and Paris -- and that was only 2 weeks, not 3.

Have a great time, whatever you decide to do.
sandralist is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 02:01 PM.