Barcelona, Lake Como and...?

Old Mar 27th, 2014, 01:45 PM
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Barcelona, Lake Como and...?

Hello experienced travelers,

I'm in the beginning stages of mapping out a trip for this summer (late July-August, about 3 weeks). We have traveled quite a bit in Italy, France and Switzerland and hear that siren call for a return to Europe.

We love it all: big cities like Paris and Rome, quaint towns like St Paul de Vence and San Gimignano, cultural centers like Florence. We also love the beauty of the countryside in Provence, Tuscany and of course the Alps. Our favorite way to travel is to break it up by alternating 3-4 days in larger cities with time in smaller towns, and often like to finish with a few days in a restful spot by the sea.

We also like to visit at least one new area and return to favorite spots. We have never been to Spain, but I've been reading several guide books, and it looks like there are many beautiful places. I'm sure we could plan a wonderful trip there for the whole time, but we would rather just sample a bit on this trip, and leave time to return to our beloved Italy.

That said, Barcelona looks amazing. We would like to either start or end our trip there, then take a ferry or regional jet to Italy.

One area of Italy that we haven't visited is the Lakes region, and we'd love to stay in Bellagio or Varenna for a few days. Then we'd like to take a train to Florence, spend a few days, and then rent a car to go to Siena, using that as a base to visit Tuscan towns.

We'd also like to spend some time in the Italian Riviera, but it seems so remote from the other areas that I can't find a way to do it this trip. If anyone knows how this could possibly fit in, please help. My thought is that we'd spend an inordinate amount of time on the train to Florence (10 hr???) and the driving looks a bit treacherous.

We would end our trip by flying out of either Venice or Rome. We could also fly out of Milan, but we really aren't that interested in spending any time there. Nothing is booked yet, so I'm totally open to any suggestions, and would be so grateful for your input.
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 02:45 PM
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I guess I'd start with exploring the jump from Barcelona to The Lakes (fly to Milan?) then I think the rest should not be too difficult, including the Italian Riviera, moving around in Italy by train. I would think you could probably do The Lakes, to the Riviera (there would be several train changes) , then to Florence, Siena and out either Rome or Venice. Sorry I'm a bit short on details - hopefully you know how to research the train schedules. I planned a trip several years ago where we were going from the Lakes to either Rapallo or SML. We didn't end up taking the trip but I'm pretty sure the train was not going to take 10 hours!
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 02:52 PM
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We drove from Panzano in Tuscany, between Siena and Florence, to the Italian Riviera on the autostrada in a few hours. We also have driven there from Milan and it was a relatively easy drive on autostradas to the Italian Riviera. We have stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure several times and recommend it highly. We also have spent a lot in time in Bellagio, using a driver service from Milan or a rental car to get there. Neither the Italian Riviera nor Lake Como are difficult to access. How much time do you have for this trip? It sounds like you're planning to cover a lot of ground.
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 03:43 PM
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Thanks for your speedy replies. We would like to spend about 3 weeks.

suec1: I did a quick search on train schedules on google, but not on the official train site. Google had us connecting from Santa Margherita Ligure to Genoa, then to Milan, then to Florence. The total time was outrageous, so I gave up the idea. I will check on the official train site for a better schedule. I should have remembered not to count on Google too much!

Happy: thanks for sharing your experience on driving. I was picturing cliffside roads similar to the Amalfi coast. We would like to visit all the places mentioned, but it does seem ambitious, so we might want to cut back. Would you recommend cutting out the Riviera this time and just going to Tuscany? We really would like to see Barcelona, even though that is the out of the way part of the trip...
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 04:01 PM
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I would base in a smaller Tuscan town, not Siena, unless you were thinking of staying outside of the city and not in it. Siena has just gotten too big and trafficky with morning and afternoon "rush hours," etc.

I wouldn't head to a coastal town in July/August, but I admit I don't need beach time on my vacation. I live in a beach town.

If you stick to your dream list, you'll have 6 destinations in "about 3 weeks." As you investigate travel/driving times between points and what you'd like to see/do everywhere, you may find you have one too many stops. Could you fly out of Florence or Pisa? Is either Venice or Rome a "must" on this trip?
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 04:24 PM
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Hi Jean,

You are lucky to live in a beach town--we live in the currently frozen North in upstate New York! So we would love some nice warm weather. However, we had wondered about the advisability of visiting the Italian Riviera at peak season. We're really not looking for beach time, just being by the water. We enjoyed the French Riviera on day trips, and thought that the Italian Riviera towns would be similar.

We are hoping to get non-stop flights home to JFK, and I had researched two options on Delta from Venice and Milan. Venice is a bit less expensive. I could not find a direct flight from Rome on Delta to JFK, but I'm pretty sure that we've taken one in the past. We could fly out of Florence, which might be a good idea. The only drawback is an extra stop in Amsterdam where we would change planes. I'm not familiar with that airport, but we generally try to avoid flights like that.

We have stayed at the Palazzo Ravizza in Siena before and with their parking it has been easy to get in and out of town. They are located right by the town wall and you just zip down the hill.

Yes this is a lot of dream spots, and I forgot to mention that it might be nice to stop in Ravenna on our way to Venice. I'd love to see the mosaics...but we really can't visit all the places in a sane way, so I know we need to pare down somewhere.

Neither Venice nor Rome is a "must", but they seemed like good departure cities. We enjoy both of them, but if anyone has a different option we could consider we'd be open. Thanks for your help!
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 04:39 PM
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Cybertraveler,
We stayed at the Palazzo Ravizza in Siena also. Lovely place!
We had no trouble leaving and driving all over Tuscany. I would not rule Siena out as it is a great city with nice restaurants, shopping and in my opinion a great place to base your Tuscan travels.
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 06:55 PM
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There is a regular flight from Barcelona to Genoa airport in summer so if you wanted to include the Italian Riviera, it would't be difficult if you can find an acceptable routing from the US to Barcelona.

For reasons of weather and crowds I would suggest starting in Barcelona, then flying to Genova and enjoying some time on the Italian Riviera (Camogli? Santa Margherita Ligure?) -- and from there you probably have to make choices about what else you could fit in from your wish list.

The towns of the Italian Riviera are a lot funkier and more antique than the sanitized French Riviera. They are more colorful and locals still fish. There is almost no luxury shopping or high end eating. You eat the local food. It isn't cheap, however. It is also generally more vertical and in summer the sun is fierce for most of the day, so walking around is a sweat, since you are climbing rather than walking most of the time.
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 07:28 AM
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Thanks for the information on flights and the Italian Riviera. We've been to the Amalfi coast and stayed in Positano, which we loved. Would you say that Camogli or Santa Margherita Ligure are similar? The climbing certainly sounds familiar!

Back to the maps and guide books while I know I need to make some choices...
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 09:11 AM
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Santa Margherita is a large town, more polished than Camogli which bills itself as a fishing village. We stay in SML and visit Camogli. You can't go wrong with either choice.
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 10:14 AM
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The reason Camogli "bills itself" as a fishing village is that it is. It has a resident population of fishermen and tuna net less than a mile off shore. Its marina is filled mainly with small fishing boats. Santa Margherita Ligure still has one fishing fleet but its marina is mainly filled with pleasure craft. It is next door to Portofino and it is very popular with young professionals from Milan and Turin as a weekend and summer vacation spot.

Niether Camogli or Santa Margherita Ligure are as "high rise" as Positano. The buildings of the Italian RIviera are painted pastel gelato colors, not white, and there is no colorful tile tradition. That part of the Italian Riviera (except for Portofino and le Cinque Terre) is not as crowded in summer as the Amalfi coast and it doesn't have the same wall to wall tourist shopping. One of the bigger differences is the food. Along the Italian Riviera the pasta sauce is not red, there is no pizza, and anchovies and langoustines and mussels are the most common seafoods, plus some tuna and octopus.

Another large difference is that you can get around by train as well as ferry along the Italian Riviera, not just a two-motor road.
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 11:18 AM
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Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the Italian Riviera. I think SML sounds more like what we are looking for as a place to stay. Glad to hear that it's not as "high rise" as Positano; we actually had to stop and rest on our way home from the beach area just to catch our breath! And we're in good physical shape, so that was surprising.

Happy: I used Google maps street view to see what the road would be like driving from SML to Lucca, and was pleasantly surprised. It looks like a fine drive without the hair-raising cliffside curves of the Amalfi Coast. One idea for the itinerary would be for us to take the ferry from Barcelona to Genoa, stay in SML for 3 nights, then drive to Florence via Lucca, stopping to visit Lucca on the way. Does that sound doable?

sandralist: how would you recommend getting from Santa Margherita Ligure to Bellagio? That is another alternative itinerary, but I don't think we'd want to drive all that way from SML to Como. I was thinking that we could take a train to Genoa, switch to Milan and switch again for Como. Then would we take another train to Varenna, or would it be better to hire a driver from Como? From Varenna, I know that we would take the ferry to Bellagio.

Another thought I had was possibly flying home from Bergamo instead of Venice. Even though we love Venice, it might save time if we cut out that stop...any suggestions would be so helpful! Thanks!
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 12:00 PM
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Happy: I'm researching hotels in Santa Margherita Ligure. Do you have one that you would recommend? We're looking for a 3 star accommodation, that feels like a 4 star...
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 12:23 PM
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If you pick the right train you can go from Santa Margherita Ligure to Milan without a switch in Genoa. Might as well just switch in Milan for the train to Varenna rather than pay for a car.

However, I would skip driving to Florence. Use the trains. If you really really want to visit Lucca then consider it as a day trip from Florence.

If you are thinking about taking the ferry from Barcelona, you might look into the possibility of taking the ferry to Livorno. If that is possible, then you could take a train + bus (or short taxi ride) to Lerici on the Italian Riviera. Or you can even rent a car and drive (there is a lot of parking in Lerici). You could use the car to see Lucca as a day trip. But you can also visit Lucca as a day trip by train from Lerici (via the La Spezia train station).

Last but not least, I am not sure you have enough time for this, but if you took the ferry from Barcelona to Livorno and then went straight to Florence by train, you could follow Florence with a stay in Lerici and then a train to Milan to go to the lakes.

Haven't got any opinion about keeping Venice or flying out of Bargamo!
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 01:14 PM
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We stayed at the Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita. You will have to check the rates now because we were there in 2007. It is a very nice hotel with a beach across the street. We took the bus from there to Portofino and it was a quick 15 minute or less ride. The Grand Hotel Miramare is right on the water with a lovely swimming pool.
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 05:01 PM
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Well, thanks to all of your suggestions, I think I have worked out a nice itinerary draft. I'd love your opinions on the following...

Fly into Barcelona, stay 4 nights

Take cruise ferry overnight to Genoa, then train to Santa Margherita Ligure, stay 3 nights

Train to Lake Como, stay in Bellagio 4 nights

Train to Siena, pick up a car (haven't researched this part yet, so not sure where, but I'm thinking the train station?) Stay in Siena 3 nights, and take day trips to neighboring towns

Drive to San Gimignano, a favorite of ours, and stay 2 nights "just because" we love it

Drive to Florence, drop off the car and stay 3 nights.

Fly home from Florence. The flight goes through Amsterdam, with a 3 hour layover which seems sufficient if the flight is on time out of Florence. Anyone familiar with departing from Florence? I have only flown into Florence.

Total: 19 nights

Still roughing out the details, so your thoughts are always appreciated!
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 12:13 PM
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ttt
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 02:30 PM
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The devil is in the details once you leave Bellagio and head for Tuscany. If you are traveling on a Saturday or a Sunday you won't be able to rent a car in Siena because the rental offices will be closed. Even on a weekday the logistics might go faster if you went from Bellagio to Florence and picked up the rental car there -- although again it depends on when the rental car offices are open (and how comfortable you feel driving out of Florence).

If you are leaving Bellagio on a Sunday then the only place you can pick up a car in Tuscany is at the airport in either Florence or Pisa.

As for flying out of Florence to catch a plane in Amsterdam it doesn't matter if you are booking it all on a single ticket. If flights are delayed or cancelled the people who sold you that routing are obliged to get you home. If you are flying a separate airline out of Florence on a separate ticket you purchased on your own and your flight is delayed or cancelled and you miss the connection in Amsterdam then you are stuck with buying an entirely new ticket out of Amsterdam to get back home. In July I would not count on that being cheap or readily available.

Also I will point out that somebody else might do your Tuscan tour this way:

Leave Bellagio > go to Florence by train > stay in Florence 3 nights.> pick up rental car and drive to wine country near Siena for 3 nights > stay San Gimignano 2 nights > drop of car in Pisa airport and fly to Amsterdam. But the same deal applies about booking a single ticket for the last leg of flights home.
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 03:13 PM
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sandralist: Thank you for sharing your wealth of information! It's especially helpful to know about car rental logistics. We have rented cars in Florence a couple of times, and we are very comfortable driving out of town from the Hertz office in town, so that's not a problem. We would not even need the car until we leave Florence, so it would only be one time driving a short distance out of town.

I like your suggestion of going to Florence first when we head to Tuscany. I had only put it at the end to facilitate flying home. I had not considered flying out of Pisa, and will research flights now. I'm trying to stay with Delta, as I have enough miles for 1 free ticket, so I will book single tickets for the entire flight home.

The only drawback to flying out of Pisa is that we don't much care for Pisa as a place to spend our last night. Do you know of a charming hotel or area in Pisa that would be nice for a last night stay?

Thanks again!
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 03:17 PM
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You could probably spend your last night in Lucca and get to the airport in time for a morning car rental drop off and departure. It is less than a half hour drive.

But otherwise I can't help you out because I like Pisa!
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