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Kelly_OCallaghan Jan 5th, 2011 07:56 AM

8-10 weeks for Italy, Greece, France, and Turkey- Summer 2011
I'm looking to plan a trip to Europe for the majority of the Summer of 2011. I plan to go for the end of June, all of July, and the beginning of August. I'm an experienced traveler (I have seen much of the Middle East and Asia) but the only European city I've been to is London.

Right now, I'm planning to spend approximately 2 weeks in Greece, 3 weeks in Italy, 3 weeks in France, and a few days in Istanbul. Right now, my plan is to fly from NY to Paris, work my way down France and over to Italy, work my way through Italy before flying to Greece, and then flying from Greece to Istanbul. I'm planning on staying at a number of Starwood hotels in each location, because I can use points to stay for free. I would like to be somewhat budget conscious, but I'm not restricted by it. I'm absolutely willing to stay in hostels, but would also splurge if there is a cant-miss hotel in a particular location.

My main question is about the cities I should visit in each country and what sightseeing people have found to be "musts". I would like to mostly be sightseeing and exploring, but would also like to break up the trip with some days at the many beaches. I know the standard places I should visit, but beyond that I would appreciate any advice! Also, what are your thoughts on the length of time in each country? Am I spending too much time in one, and not enough time in another?

Here is my plan as of right now (roughly in the order that I will visit the cities as well)

Paris, Versaille, Avignon, Marseille, a beach (I would love to hear thoughts on Nice vs. St. Tropez vs. Cannes), and Monte Carlo

Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, Positanto/Amalfi Coast

Greece: I had a tough time narrowing my time in Greece down because of all the islands! I'm interested in seeing Athens, Crete, Santorini and possibly Mykonos. I would probably go to Athens last, given the short flights between Athens and Istanbul.

Then it would be on to Istanbul before flying home!

I would really appreciate any thoughts or advice! Thanks!

krgystn Jan 6th, 2011 03:26 PM

Sounds like a fun trip.

Versailles is a half day trip from Paris, no need to stay there. Marseille is just a port town, for a first trip to France I personnally would not waste time on it. For the French Riviera of the towns you mention I would stay in Nice as there is the most to do. From Nice you can easily day trip to Monte Carlo, Cannes (which is boring if the festival is not on), and even St Tropez. Also don't miss Anibes and Eze. You probably need to add another region (possibly 2) of France to fill out the full 3 weeks.

The Italy itinerary looks good and you will have plenty to do in 3 weeks. Greece also looks good for 2 weeks, except I have not been to Crete but I understand it takes a full week on its own.

Smart3 Jan 6th, 2011 04:32 PM

Splendid trip already!

as krgystn pointed out - Marseilles is not worth the trip. Cannes and St. Tropez are quite overrated.

Bases in France:
Paris, Lyon and Nice.
explanation- from Paris you can reach Versailles, Normandy, possible day trips to Alsace or even Bruges, Belgium.
explanation2- from Lyon you can visit Toulouse, Avignon and the Cathar areas.
explanation3- from Nice you can take a day trip to Monaco quite easily. If you are up to it, you could also head over to Corsica (Ajaccio or Bastia) from a ferry directly from Nice.

Bases in Italy:
Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples
explanation1- Venice is perfect for Ravenna, Padua, Verona or a day trip via train to Milan. (I personally don't think Milan is worth being a base).
explanation2- Florence is perfect for Tuscany(Siena, Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, etc), Cinque Terre, Umbria (Assisi/Perugia).
explanation3- It's Rome. :)
explanation4 - Naples - great base for the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Pompeii/Ercalano and of course- for Pizza.

Athens, Thessaloniki, somewhere in Crete and/or Rhodes
Explanation1- it's Athens, perfect - just perfect
Explanation2- Thessaloniki, often overlooked base for Macedon travels.
Explanation3- not knowledgeable enough to comment on Crete-Rhodes bases, ferrying to Santorini, Mykonos, etc is advisable however.

Istanbul (it goes without explanation), Izmir (for Ephesus)

I'd advise doing more than just Istanbul in Turkey. Izmir is a good base for Ephesus.

As krgystn made clear - you'll need more places in France to base at. I'd recommend Brest for exploring Brittany, or somewhere in Alsace. You could just go into Brussels (adding Belgium to the trip) If you've been to China or Egypt, you know my train of thought here.

in summary (for quick read):
Bases in France:
Paris, Lyon and Nice.

Bases in Italy:
Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples

Bases in Greece:
Athens, Thessaloniki, somewhere in Crete and/or Rhodes

Bases in Turkey:
Istanbul, Izmir

alternative additional bases- Brussels (Belgium) and Turin (Italy)

travelerjan Jan 6th, 2011 05:01 PM

As a person primarily experienced with Greece (9 trips in past 11 years vs. 1 to France in that time), I'll confine advice to the Greece portion, plus Istanbul:

Greece tho the smallest in population covers far more Space than Italy/France -- and its mostly Water. Roads & Trains not feasible for u & ferries fan out like long fingers, rather than criss-crossing handily. Thus, advise you fly IN to Athens & also OUT in this sequence:

•ATHENS - Fly IN, don't leave airport, fly immediately out to Chania, Western CRETE
•CRETE - 5 nights; 1 day Chania, rent car, drive south... tons of landscapes, ruins, beaches, then NE to Palace of Knossos/Heraklion for daily AM fast-ferry to Santorini
•SANTORINI - 2 nights tops (SO crowded in High Season!) - go there for the Gorgeous Caldera view, but not for swims (beaches so-so) or authentic Greekness (its all tourism)
•ANOTHER ISLE? (Not Mykonos - too much like above); depending on schedules, PAROS, or MILOS. (2 nights) Then a fast-ferry or plane back to PIRAEUS (Athens' port)
• ATHENS - 3 nights; time enough for the highlights; then to airport for ISTANBUL

ISTANBUL -- As u say "a few days". Don't be pressured to try more of Turkey -- you are already over-reaching, as it is, and you'll be tired from all your travels.

PS: Crete = ancient civ. Rhodes = Medieval. If latter is your thing, skip Crete & do Rhodes, there's a handy Blue Star ferry (5pm - midnight) 3x a week Rhodes to Santorini.

otherchelebi Jan 7th, 2011 04:00 AM

Traveljan has very good advice on this end of your trip. Once you have experienced Santorini, you may not be excited about the smaller islands, except possibly Rhodes which will also be very crowded. Extend your stay in Crete or Northern Greece instead.

It really does not make any sense to stick a couple of days of stanbul at the end of a major European Odyssey. It is also clear from your proposed itinerary that Turkey or istanbul are not areas of interest for you.

You can always read a little on these places and if you can build up any interest, than plan a separate visit.

Southern France:

Nice is a nice city but not much of a beach area. Good and expensive designer shops.
Monte Carlo : rather a disappointment unless you wish to experience the grand casino and eat some very expensive meals.
Cannes : has beaches, mostly to the west, just off the promenade and all along it. Some hotels after that area also have good beaches but all very crowded, like sardines. Some very good restaurants in the small villages above Cannes and on the coast to the West. Juan Les Pins is also very nice. (possibly my favourite )
St. Tropez : The town is not very exciting but the beaches are wider and nicer. You will probably need a rental car here.

If you are interested in castles and medieval villages, our favourite area is the Languedoc. Just for info check one of our choices which turned out to be excellent, "Chateau de la Caze"


Do not bother with Milan unless you know you can go to the opera. It is a modern city with good but expensive shopping.
However, you should definitely consider Portofino and Santa Margharita.

It will be a very good idea to have a rental car for all of Southern France and all of Italy.

In Tuscany, do not miss Sienna and Saint Giminiano, and the farm restaurants in their environs.

you will be dealing with three quite different cultures and peoples. Except for the touristic areas and especially in Italy, English will not be widely spoken, but the Italians and Greeks will be attempting to communicate with you anyway.

Plan your next trip to Spain and Turkey, and let us know so that we can make other suggestions and recommendations.

My general idea is that almost every country requires and deserves more than a week, with some countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey, i would say at least three weeks, and preferably five. Spain is also a good 3-4 week country, although you may get tiredd of tapas, corizo and paella.
France will have the overall best food, but all other locations will have very pleasant surprises as long as you are willing to try everything.

Kelly_OCallaghan Jan 7th, 2011 07:57 AM

Thank you so much for all of your comments!

I'm realizing that I was trying to stuff too much into 6-8 weeks and have decided to narrow my trip down to just Italy and France. Your suggestions for "bases" was VERY helpful, thank you so much!

Given that I will now be able to spend between 3 and 4 weeks in Italy and in France, would you suggest any other day trips from these bases that wouldn't have been feasible when I was trying to to Greece and Spain as well?

travelerjan Jan 7th, 2011 08:23 AM

Good decision to stick to 2 countries. As for bases, Smart 3 gave the logical ones AND the day trip possibilities. Why ask for more??? There you go again, trying to "overstuff" your trip! If you want more, then instead of more Day Trips, when not move ON, from Florence for instance and instead of day-tripping to Lucca, spend a couple of days there.

Being a Greece traveler, I've never understood this obsession with a "base", anyway. I say, stay a few days, pick up your suitcase and move along if you want new scenery. Being fixated on a base sounds more like a cruise-fan who delights in only having to unpack once. On the other hand, the "base" approach means you must leave a charming place before dinner ... where if you're staying at the new place, you can experience sunset, dinner & starlight there.

If it's in order to capitalize on your Starwood points (lucky you), well you can use them up in Paris, Rome and maybe Venice ... and in the other smaller places, enjoy staying at charming little inns that never heard of Starwood (maybe think it's some kind of amusement park?).

otherchelebi Jan 7th, 2011 11:19 AM

Great advice from Travelerjan again.

Even Terry Pratchett could believe that 'starwood' is the kind of kindling one burns to make the stars which are actually compressed fires fixed at the sky of the Diskworld.

charnees Jan 7th, 2011 11:33 AM

otherchelebi said "It will be a very good idea to have a rental car for all of Southern France and all of Italy."

Well, no. You DO NOT need a car for Venice (train to other towns), Florence (train and bus to other towns), Rome (also use train and bus) and Naples (also train and bus available). For one thing, you cannot drive into those cities without violating the Zone of Traffic Limitation, for which you will get hefty fines charged to your credit card from the car rental company a few months later. Finding your way around in those cities is very difficult by car, and the Italian drivers will not be considerate of your confusion. Even with a GPS. You might rent a car for a day or two to see some of rural Tuscany, though.

krgystn Jan 7th, 2011 11:43 AM

I agree with charnees about the rental car, they are expensive and a hassle and not that relaxing. I would not get one except on the days that it is absolutely necessary.

otherchelebi Jan 7th, 2011 01:28 PM

you are right one should not attempt to impose one's own traveling style on others.
we have always enjoyed the flexibility and the freedom a car allowed us wherever we went, including Southeastern England and Thailand and definitely, france, italy, Holland, Germany, austria and spain. we always felt that we saw places we would not have and ate at restaurants we could never have seen otherwise. The sense of getting away from the usual tourist haunts was very enjoyable to us.

the other extreme is to always go on tours.

we have never received any fines or tickets except twice, one in Colchester for forgetting to feed a meter and one in New york City, on broadway and 97th. And yes, we also drive in Manhattan, but not in London since the security precautions of a few decades ago in the City.

travelerjan Jan 8th, 2011 04:52 AM

otherchelebi, 2 things: why bring up "the other extreme" since Kelly has never once said she wanted to do tours?? It sounds as if she's sensibly planning to use trains etc, with perhaps a judicious rental car on a day-basis. So, just because she's not doing what YOU do, doesn't mean tours.

Also in your advocacy of car rental, you use the pronoun "we." Kelly is an "I" ... and the cost consideration is different for one person than for 2 or more.

kybourbon Jan 8th, 2011 07:38 AM

I hope you have points to burn as most of the SPG hotels that won't require a car to reach are CAT 6. You might consider the Meridien in Rimini for some beach time.

I wouldn't entirely rule out Milan since you could use the 4 Points Milan Center and do some day trips. You can easily train Milan/Varenna (5€, 1 hour) to visit Lake Como. Catch a ferry from Varenna, stopping to see a few sites, ferry on to Como and train back to Milan (3€, 30 minutes).

I disagree with the advice to rent a car for France/Italy. It's very expensive to pick up in one country and drop in another. You can reach most of the places you want to see in Italy by train or bus.

Instead of hostels, you might consider monasteries and convents in Italy. Some have curfews, but others don't.

otherchelebi Jan 8th, 2011 07:47 AM

Kelly, please ignore totally the above two posts and this one.
No one should have any reason to impose anything on you. Just travel anyway you feel comfortable and enjoy it.

travelerjan, i am sorry that my English is not good enough for you to understand what i mean. Nor is it good enough for me to understand what you mean. My first sentence says the same thing as you appear to be repeating. Accusing people irrationally is not a part of helping out OPs, but is rather "extreme" (not in relation to tours.) Of'course kelly did not mention tours. Nor did she say she was afraid of driving or that she was planning to travel all alone, nor that she would be on a tight budget.

She says she is an experienced travel. So she is not going to do what you or i recommend to her. She has her own circumstances, will read everything and make her decisions. I do not understand what your beef is, especially after i wrote twice that you gave very good advice. ???

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