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First time to Northern Italy/Switzerland, need planning tips

First time to Northern Italy/Switzerland, need planning tips

Old Feb 17th, 2023, 09:54 AM
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First time to Northern Italy/Switzerland, need planning tips

We have never been to Europe as a family (2 adults and a 10-year-old) and are hoping to take a 2-3 week trip this summer to Northern Italy & Switzerland, and possibly the South of France. I honestly don't know where to start. I have searched for sample itineraries but mostly found planned tours, which is not what we want. I know it's all so personal, but can anyone help me with any of these questions:
-What is the best/easiest city to fly in and out of from San Francisco?
-Any suggestions for a general route to take?
-Do people usually rent a car or take trains/buses in this area to get from place to place? If a car rental is best, should we rent a car in one country and drop it off in another, or rent cars in each country?
-My husband and I love hiking and culture, our son not so much! He will do some hiking and museums, but we will need to break it up with some more kid-friendly activities. Any suggestions for places with boat rides, chocolate tours, playgrounds, amusement parks, etc?
-My wish list includes Venice, Florence/Tuscany, Lake Como, the Riviera, and the Alps, but I know we may not be able to hit all of those on one trip. Not sure which Swiss cities are charming and easy to get to from Italy - I don't want to spend our whole trip driving from place to place, would love to have enough time to relax and explore.
I'm sorry for the very broad questions but just looking for advice so I can have a starting point for planning. Thank you!
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Old Feb 17th, 2023, 03:21 PM
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Will you have 2 weeks or 3 weeks? Big difference...

Car rentals are only needed if you intend to explore areas that are not served (or well served) by public transportation, so whether you need a car or not depends on where you decide to go. Renting a car in one country and returning it in another will likely trigger a surcharge. A one-way rental in the same country can also trigger a fee that may or may not be palatable to you. You'd have to get a quote for a dummy reservation to know how large the surcharge/fee would be.

If you do decide to drive at all (Tuscany, perhaps the Dolomites - see below), you need to learn about ZTLs (zona traffico limitato). These are traffic zones you can't drive into during many hours on most days of the week. They're everywhere. Basic info:


I suggest you do some research on your wish list destinations, decide what things you all want to see/do and figure out how many days/nights you'd need in each place to accomplish that. We can't really do that for you. For example, Florence is the Renaissance art center of the universe. Only you can say how many of these treasures you want tosee and expose to your son, or perhaps better put how much he'll allow you to show him.

After you read about Lake Como, you may not think there's much to interest your son beyond the falconry in the castle ruins above Varenna... although you could make a day trip to Lugano (Switzerland) using public transportation.. Ditto Tuscany which is (mostly) about wandering around small towns, absorbing the atmosphere, seeing some art/churches, tasting some wine, hiking. If you picked a countryside inn with a pool, your son might rather just stay put.

The Cinque Terre will be mobbed in summer, so you might think about whether (and/or how much) you'll enjoy your time there. You'd need to find out which trails are open.

You might consider spending a few days in Rome rather than everywhere on your wish list. There are so many things that should interest your son. Rome may be the only airport you can fly to/from without a connection.

Unless you find you have a great attraction to any particular Swiss towns, I'd stick to your wish list. You can get your alpine experience in the Dolomites if you have time. If you do go there, I highly recommend the Ice Man Museum in Bolzano.

Lastly, consider how hot and humid it could be. Coming from San Francisco, I going to guess that heat and humidity are not your friends. (I live in Los Angeles, and high temps/humidity make the middles of the days almost unbearable.)
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Old Feb 18th, 2023, 02:54 AM
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I would fly directly from San Francisco to Zurich in Switzerland and then travel to Lucerne or Interlaken. Lucerne is the nicer city but in Interlaken or Grindelwald there are more possibilities also for children. There are many cultural sights, beautiful lakes, mountains, gorges, caves and waterfalls to visit. A trip on an old paddle steamer on the beautiful Lake Lucerne is highly recommended!
After a few days you can easily travel from Lucerne to Italy and then follow the coast to France and finish your trip there.

I hope this helps
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Old Feb 18th, 2023, 03:05 AM
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Things worth thinking about

Dates! summer is a long time, when are you going?
Costs, if you are happy to spend loads of money you will find Switzerland is happy to help you. If the budget is more limited then Italy will offer you a better deal.
Trains, seat61.com gives you a good idea of how to go about this
Trains, Swiss trains are very well organised. Northern Italy train map is extensive
Cars, as Jean says. Also worth noting that local laws are different to where you live so the ZTL of Italy bans unregistered local cars accessing some places, while some french cities require a badge which might not be included in your rental (or at least check)

High summer the Italian beach will be full, as will the big tourist cities. On the other hand the Dolomites (mountains to the north east of Italy) can clear out of tourists so an interesting opportunity.

Booking.com is pretty useful to find places to stay, but also look out for B&B, and agriturismo.it lets you stay on a farm
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Old Feb 18th, 2023, 06:42 AM
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Just a thought: My husband and I are big fans of the Bernina Express from Chur to Turano. You might want to work it into your itinerary!
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Old Feb 19th, 2023, 10:36 AM
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You can open jaw it from Zurich or Geneva and out of Italy. In Switzerland, as suggested above, you can go to the Bernese Oberland (like Grindlewald, as mentioned). The unusual system of lifts and cog railways may keep the 10 year old fascinated as you make your way up to the top of the mountains. There are also some great activities for kids: Adventure Parks have ropes courses and zip lines, including lower ones for younger children. There are also some land toboggans/mountain coasters --- carts than run down the ski slopes in tracks or chutes. These were some of the most popular activities with the expat families, when I was an expat.

You can then train it down to Lugano and then transit over to Lake Como. Menaggio is the first city on that site but Varenna might be more interesting. From there, you can take the boats all over the lake. On your exit out, you can head to Como and take a train to Venice. From Venice, train to Florence. After seeing Florence, get a car and go into the countryside (you can train and bus it, but this gives you a bit more flexibility to seek out the kid friendly options). You can catch a flight in Florence that will connect on your return (you could drive all the way to Rome -- it is not that difficult but another 2 1/2 hours}+ by car from Siena). If you had more time, you could go to Pisa and then to Viareggio if you want some beach time or continue to the Cinque Terre. I don't think you have time to go into France, however, without dropping one of the destinations.
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Old Feb 19th, 2023, 11:47 AM
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Thank you, all! I have reserved a bunch of guide books at the library and will dig in and start to do research to at least narrow down the cities to hit on our trip. I think we will cut out France and either do Italy/Switzerland or maybe just focus on Italy on this trip. Unfortunately we can't go until June 25 at the earliest, so I realize it will be hot and crowded in Italy, which is why I am leaning more toward Northern Italy and Switzerland instead of including Southern Italy in this trip. Hoping for 3 weeks, but with work schedules only 2 may be possible. It's a long haul from California so I want to try to fit a lot in!
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Old Feb 20th, 2023, 06:57 AM
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Early Summer in Italy

Late June, early July is not a bad period to visit Italy. It will be hot but not as crowded as August, the vacation month in Italy. With two weeks in hand, try to focus to a limited number of nearby destinations to explore. Travel less, enjoy more.
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Old Feb 21st, 2023, 10:18 AM
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Switzerland and Northern Italy itinerary help

We were hoping to go to Italy this summer (Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Cinque Terre), but after reading so much about the sweltering temps, we have decided to limit this trip to Northern Italy and Switzerland instead, and maybe do southern Italy another year in the spring. This will be an approx 2-week trip with a 10-year-old and my husband and I. Here are my current thoughts, can you please tell me if this is doable and what we should focus on?

-Fly into Venice - 3 nights
-Lake Como - 3 nights
-Lake Lugano?
-Switzerland - 7-8 nights not sure what is best to focus on here - Lucerne, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Interlaken, Zermatt, Geneva, Zurich? Would love some suggestions for highlights to hit in this region that don't involve lots of travel time so we can see the sights and not be on the go for the whole week. Any suggestions for the best order/route to follow? We were not planning to rent a car if we don't need to.

This trip will be end of June and early July. My son is not a huge hiking fan (unfortunately) so want to try to balance hiking with culture, sightseeing, good meals, and other kid-friendly activities. Thank you!
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Old Feb 21st, 2023, 11:31 AM
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We merged your new thread with the existing one
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Old Feb 21st, 2023, 06:19 PM
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There is no need to visit Lake Lugano if you are heading to Lake Como. Lake Como is the better choice, much prettier, mountains coming down to the lake.
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Old Feb 21st, 2023, 07:16 PM
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We've done this trip many times with our son between ages 5 and 15, starting in our hometown of Los Angeles. So let me try to focus in on a plan for you, based on your interests and your son's wish list.

I'd fly into Nice, Spend a few days not in Nice, but Juan les Pins, because the beaches are sandy and nicer, and has the best hang out vibe. Take the local train along the Riviera to Cannes Then train to Venice. Spend time there, with a day trip to Verona. Our son, at 12, LOVED both Venice and Verona. From there, train to Montreux (need to deal with this part quickly) for the Montreux Jazz Festival. I'm not a fan of Jazz, but the festival is all world music. Pop, Rock, Punk. Montreux as a base is fantastic! You can go to the chocolate train to the Nestle chocolate factory, take a day trip on lac leman to Lausanne and back, a day trip to Zermatt and take the little train up to see the Matterhorn, see the Château de Chillon, eat, drink and chill along the promenade, all sorts of fun things! Even take the train to Bern for a walk about and see the Bears of Berne. Or head to Luzern . . . can't tell you how many things you and your son can experience there, from the Dying Lion to the Railway Museum, to the Cog ride up to Mount Pilatus and the cable car back down.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2023, 08:00 AM
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As above, visit either Lake Como or Lake Lugano. It's impossible to make a ranking, they are just different.
Lake Comno is much bigger whereas Lake Lugano offers more possibilities to go easily to viewpoints (Lakes and Alps from Mont Blanc and Materhorn up to Bernina and Ortles).
There are one cog wheel railway, 2 rope railways and 3 cableways (gondolas) leading from lake Lugano area to viewpoints and panoramic hiking trails. Other attractions around Lake Lugano are the Swiss Village Museum Swissminiatur, the fun park Tamaro, a copy of Leonardos Last Supper painted by a disciple in a small chapel, the Swiss smuggler museum, some medieval churches with frescoes........
If you prefer high "mountains coming down to the lake", go to Locarno on Lake Maggiore. From there you can go by bus and gondola up to glaciers......
Lake Como makes sense if you want to proceed from there by Bernina Express to Eastern Switzerland whereas Lugano and Locarno are the starting points for trips by Gotthard Panoramic Express and historic paddle steam boat to Lucerne.or by the scenic Centovalli train and the Simplon Post bus (or railway) to Brig and from there to either Aletsch Glacier, Zermatt, Montreux or Interlaken.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 01:47 AM
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You can drive into Chamonix area from Italy which isnt too far from Milan. Lake Annecy is like Lake Cuomo and there are hundreds of things to do and see in the French alps year round including train rides. There are thousands of cultural events and activities during the summer. All depends what you or your 10 yr old like.
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Old Feb 28th, 2023, 01:42 AM
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"Lake Annecy is like Lake Como"
Should that be a joke?
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 01:30 AM
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12 destinations in 10 days? Huh!

Originally Posted by cs_adri View Post
1.5 weeks in 3 countries: Lucerne, Jungfrau region (Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald), Kandersteg, Matterhorn, Annecy, Verdon Gorge, Marseille, Monaco, Menton, Milan, Lake Como, the Italian part of Switzerland
Really not my travel style! You will just have the time to change hotels and a quick selfie in every place, spending the rest of the time moving around.
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