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First timers travelling through Italy, Switzerland and France in Feb/March

First timers travelling through Italy, Switzerland and France in Feb/March

Oct 27th, 2014, 06:14 PM
  #1  
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First timers travelling through Italy, Switzerland and France in Feb/March

Hi, my wife and I are planning a trip to Switzerland. We're totally green! My wife is 51 and never been overseas, (we live in Australia), I'm 65 and have been to the UK and US a couple of times back in the 1980's, but never to Europe.
We've not yet booked anything, but are roughing out a plan, (and even that is quite exciting lol).
Into Rome from Singapore, we would like to see a little of the Tuscany region before traveling to Venice for a couple or 3 days. This is a must do, my wife makes lovely jewellery to sell at a local market, some of which originates around this region, and she would like to experience the area. May even be there for Valentines Day .
From there we are keen to experience one of the Alpine Express trains. At first it was the Glacier Express, but now we're thinking maybe the Bernina Express through St. Moritz to Zurich. From there we could spend maybe a week traveling through places like Zug, Lucerne, Grindelwald to Broc, (chocolate and cheese are a must also ).
From there we may visit villages and wine regions in France before flying out of Paris.
Travel would be almost exclusively by train, (and lots of walking) ,though I've been advised I could hire a car for the Italian leg.
The cities don't hold as much interest as the countryside, mountains, quaint villages, food and wine etc. All three star budget too, we're extending ourselves.
Any suggestions welcomed before we begin to book .
I can see now, the first suggestion will be you'll have trouble fitting all that into 4 weeks! lol.
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 07:18 PM
  #2  
 
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You can book the Bernina Express trip directly at this site: https://www.rhb.ch/en/home
Dukey1 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 03:41 AM
  #3  
 
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I guess you understand Feb/Mar is short days and cold/damp unless you are lucky. Not many wineries next to railway tracks but local buses pretty well. I'd focus on Champagne and Alsace for wineries in towns or villages as they are just easier to get to if you really must go by train though Dijon and Beaune might be ok.

The Alsace villages are very close (1.5km is pretty normal) so you could even do a walking tour (catch a bus from Colmar to one, walk through a couple and bus back). Champagne is basically made in the winery so Rheims or Epernay visit would do
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 06:11 AM
  #4  
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Thank you for those suggestions.
Yes you're right, we've discussed the fact that the weather may be quite adverse. By coincidence, my previous trips to UK and US were in February, and London and New York were bitterly cold.
With respect to shorter days though, it's likely we underestimate the effect that will have of curtailing the amount of activities in a day. Where we live is in a coastal beach resort area, which accentuates that contrast. The days are fairly long, even in winter.
The subject of rail travel was raised today, coincidentally, by a friend of my wife's, not so much in connection with wineries, but accommodation. The friend suggested that we are limited to more expensive accommodation because of our inability to venture further from the tracks. I haven't looked into hiring a car at all. The driving wouldn't faze me, but I expect you can't cross borders in a hire car, and it's generally much more expensive to hire a car if you don't return it to the original point of the hire.
Thanks for the bus suggestions for France, I'll look into that.
Could the same, (buses), be the case in Switzerland?

Thank you Dukey1 also for the Bernina link. One of the reasons we aren't doing the Glacier Express is that, whether we start or finish that trip in St. Moritz, we are faced with finding accommodation, which, in ski season is first difficult, and second too expensive.
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 07:42 AM
  #5  
 
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swiss buses (part of the rail company) are very much a good solution and are litterally the way the federation sticks together

French coaches tend to be private and only really work close to hubs, Colmar train station is such a hub.
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 08:08 AM
  #6  
 
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Hi Allyoop11,

In Switzerland, hotels are generally expensive, but it's not true that taking the trains/busses will limit you to expensive accommodations.

All Swiss cities and towns have excellent city/town busses (separate from the Swiss Postbus system), and the smaller places are so small that you can walk through them in an hour or two. Even though Luzern and Zug are cities and have great bus systems, their central areas are small; in both places I found I could walk everywhere without problems. Grindelwald is small enough to walk through. However, when you arrive with luggage, you may want to take a taxi to your hotel, especially since you may not know exactly how to get there. You will have no trouble getting from the train station to a hotel in any of these places!

Have fun as you plan!

s
swandav2000 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 08:47 AM
  #7  
 
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Suggest you have a good look at the weather in these areas. This is dead winter in Switz and many ski areas require that you reserve lodgings for at least a week. Italy and France will not be as snowy - but it;s still winter and chilly rainy is common. Not sure how much there will be to see at wineries - with all of hte vines cut back for the winter and you will need to find places that are open in off season.

Cities should work well since there is so much to do even if hte weather is bad.

If you don't want winter sports suggest you look carefully at the amount of time in switz - which is SUPER expensive, esp in high season - you may want to spend more time in Italy and France. But do keep in mind that countryside will not be at it's best in March.
nytraveler is offline  
Oct 29th, 2014, 11:08 PM
  #8  
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Great, thanks for the suggestions, and the good wishes.
My wife has always wanted to visit Switzerland so we'll just take our chances with weather and make it interesting even if the weather isn't ideal. May not have another opportunity.
I can see that many properties are already booked out, but still some availabilities.
Booked flights today, so I'll try and find time to get onto that Switzerland accommodation.
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 12:14 AM
  #9  
 
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PalenQ has some great Switzerland advice, if you do the advanced search on this forum you can find some of his threads for instance he comments on

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...or-78-days.cfm

generally just about every question that has ever been asked can be searched on the same search looking at Switzerland and these questions often ocever bus, train and what to do in the winter
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 09:37 AM
  #10  
 
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I fear you have misunderstood the weather in Switz. It's winter in the Alps - lots of snow and below freezing temps. Will you get a winter wardrobe (winter coat, hat, gloves, scarf, winterized booties with non-skid soles, thick sweaters and warm pants) in OZ or wait and buy in europe at high prices.

If you are used to winter weather it's not really bad (no colder than NYC) but I suspect you don;t get a real winter.
nytraveler is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 09:38 AM
  #11  
 
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I fear you have misunderstood the weather in Switz. It's winter in the Alps - lots of snow and below freezing temps. Will you get a winter wardrobe (winter coat, hat, gloves, scarf, winterized booties with non-skid soles, thick sweaters and warm pants) in OZ or wait and buy in europe at high prices.

If you are used to winter weather it's not really bad (no colder than NYC) but I suspect you don;t get a real winter.
nytraveler is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 03:10 PM
  #12  
 
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I second the suggestion of Lucerne as a base for several days in Sw., easily one of the most photogenic towns. I have never rented a car in Switzerland for any of my trips, always using trains, buses, gondolas and my feet to get to remote places. While it will be cold, most cities (Zug, Zurich, Bern, Lucerne) are at lower altitudes, and should not have abundant snow to hamper movement. I believe that the more-touristed mountain lifts, like Jungfrau, Pilatus, Rigi, Zermatt run year-round, though views may be whited or fogged out. What do you hope to see/experience in Switzerland?
mokka4 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 06:21 PM
  #13  
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We're so grateful for the helpful advice, thank you all so much for taking the time. I did a quick advanced search and will go back to that when time permits.
Lucerne and Grindelwald booked .

Venice was the next subject. At first we looked like being there on the weekend of Valentines Day for Carnival, which held appeal, but being holidays, we wouldn't get to see Murano on a business day, glass blowing, beads etc., so we've had to change plan and train from Rome to be in Venice for the weekdays and then from Venice will double back. May therefore have to miss Tuscany, regrettably, as we need to finish the Italian leg in Milan for the Bernina Express.

No need for concern NYtraveler, we are aware of the fact that it is mid winter then. Circumstances, (work, available dog sitter etc.) dictated our time of travel, so it's just a matter of playing the cards we're dealt. As I mentioned previously, I have experienced two winters in both London and New York, plus I was actually born in a cold region of Australia. It used to snow on my birthday every year when I was young, so I know that cold winds can be very painful. Obviously we hope that the weather card we're dealt in Switzerland in February will mean snow covered Chalets and scenic mountains, but it could also mean muddy walking tracks and fog shrouded mountains. We're thinking thermal underwear, warm coats, waterproof hiking boots etc. I wasn't intending to yodel while wearing shorts, (maybe another time) .

Must look into Ponte Vecchio.

Any suggestions for a scenic, gastronomic wine experience in Northern Italy to compensate for missing Tuscany?
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 06:54 PM
  #14  
 
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Ponte Vecchio means "old bridge" and is the famous bridge in Florence lined with jewelry shops.

Can you share your actual schedule of days? We might be able to offer some help with how to adjust you schedule to be in Venice on workdays and still include your other wishes.
ellenem is online now  
Oct 30th, 2014, 08:55 PM
  #15  
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Rethink. Read your blog travelinggaby, sounds delightful. Too good to miss in fact. We probably shouldn't disregard just because it's a double back. Train trip appears to be only a couple of hours and we have 3 or 4 days.
To answer, we will purchase clothing before leaving to ensure comfort and correct fit. 30 kg each with Singapore Airlines.
To see, hopefully as above, chalets, interesting walks, different sights to here, historic sights......snow.
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 11:26 PM
  #16  
kja
 
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You are going to have one awesome trip!

I learned about Yak Trax from one of your fellow countrymen, Melnq8 - haven't tried them yet, but they sound like an awesomely light weight way to prepare for snowy paths!
https://www.yaktrax.com/product/walk

The Bernina Express is amazing, for both technology (if that is of interest) and utterly incredible scenery. Would you try to take it straight through or stop somewhere in the Engadine? I eschewed ski resorts and was in that area in June, but FWIW, I loved my time in Pontresina.

Also FWIW, I was a bit disappointed in Broc - and yes, I love both chocolate and cheese! You might consider skipping Broc if doing so lets you meet other needs. You can see how cheese and chocolate are made on YouTube, you'll probably have opportunities to sample cheeses if you book lodgings that include breakfast (and that is a good reason for doing so IMO!), and very decent (if not superb) chocolates are reasonably affordable, especially at COOP groceries (which are common in Switzerland) Actually, the COOPs I visited had chocolates from the factory in Broc (Cailler) at almost identical prices.

The meaning of the number of stars attached to lodging could be different in Europe than in Australia, so be sure you REALLY need 3 star accommodations before booking.

You should be able to visit all the places you mention without a car. If you do decide that renting a car best meets your needs, you might face a large drop-off fee, but it all depends. I've had great success finding affordable rates and good service though the brokerage, gemut.com:
http://www.gemut.com
As swandav said, you don't need to worry about finding lodging near train stations in Switzerland -- public transportation options are excellent. In many areas, you can plot out your route in advance, door to door, using sbb.com:
http://fahrplan.sbb.ch/bin/query.exe/en

Some of the areas you plan to visit have incredible wines that are not produced in quantities that lend themselves to export. Don't hesitate to ask your servers or shopkeepers for recommendations -- they may know of some excellent local options!

" so we've had to change plan and train from Rome to be in Venice for the weekdays and then from Venice will double back" -- I agree with ellenem: give us a bit more info, as we may (or at least somebody might!) come up with a better option for your consideration.

And yes, layers layers layers! I find silk a great fiber for layers for travel -- very lightweight, compact, and effective. And if you're lucky, you'll find some Gortex-lined walking shoes/hiking boots that weigh only a pound or two -- mine are Salomons, but other companies offer some similarly lightweight options.

Hope that helps!
kja is offline  
Oct 31st, 2014, 02:45 AM
  #17  
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Yes, most helpful thanks, I'll certainly be open to local wine suggestions, and of course we love Italian food ☺.
Regarding Broc, I had that thought today actually, wondering if it was worth going there.... for what? I understand that Swiss cheese and chocolate are available everywhere, not necessary to see where it's made, so yes, worthwhile suggestion.
Itinerary is, into Rome February 8, Rome to Venice 10th, out of Venice 12th and free space now till 16th when we'll take the Bernina Express from Milan to Zurich, (with changeovers), Lucerne is 17th to 20th, Grindelwald is 20th to 22nd and then free till Paris on the 28th, my wife's birthday on the 1st ��, fly out on March 5th.
Suggestions particularly welcome for February 14th and March 1st ��.
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Oct 31st, 2014, 05:27 PM
  #18  
kja
 
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“Itinerary is, into Rome February 8, Rome to Venice 10th, out of Venice 12th and free space now till 16th when we'll take the Bernina Express from Milan to Zurich, (with changeovers), Lucerne is 17th to 20th, Grindelwald is 20th to 22nd and then free till Paris on the 28th, my wife's birthday on the 1st ��, fly out on March 5th. Suggestions particularly welcome for February 14th and March 1st ��.” So:

Feb. 8 – arrive Rome
Feb. 9 – Rome
Feb. 10 – to Venice
Feb. 11 – Venice
Feb. 12 – to ?
Feb. 13 – 15 = ?
Feb. 16 – Bernina Express from Milan to Zurich
Feb. 17 – to Luzern
Feb. 18 to 19 – Luzern
Feb. 20 – to Grindelwald
Feb. 21 – Grindelwald
Feb. 22 – to ?
Feb. 28 – to Paris
Mar. 5 – to home

Is that right? Then let me make a very strong recommendation: Get some good guidebooks (or spend some time with a few in your local library), identify the things you most want to see in each location, note their opening/closing times, and mark them on a calendar. Then pencil in your transportation, add some time on either side for getting to/from the train/bus station or whatever, checking in/out, packing/unpacking, getting oriented, etc. (A typical rule of thumb is that you lose ½ day whenever you change locations – it won’t necessarily take that long, but it’ll give you a reasonable starting point for planning.) Then see how things fit together. I think you might want to seriously consider cutting some locations. And don’t forget possible jetlag at the start of your trip! I’m sorry to say that your trip sounds to me like a race through cold and dark weather to glimpse a few truly wonderful places for just a few brief moments.

Here’s another way to think of it: I know you said that cities aren’t your highest priority, but just giving some of these cities a day or so really runs the risk of seriously shortchanging them. A first visit to Rome typically merits at least 4 full days, more during the winter/holidays when your options for sightseeing are limited by seasonal activites, limited daylight, etc. A typical first visit to Venice would be a bare minimum of 2 full days, more if you have special interests there or during Carnival. Paris easily warrants 4 to 6 full days.

If you do continue to plan on taking the Bernina Express route, I would not recommend going all the way back to Milan to start – go straight from Venice to Tirano (or another closer starting point, depending on how your timing and routing work out). And unless you want to visit Zurich, don’t take it all the way there – switch to a train to Luzern in, perhaps, Chur (I hope experts will chime in on the best connections). And consider taking the regional lines that travel the same lines rather than the privately owned “Bernina Express” per se.
kja is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2014, 05:09 PM
  #19  
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Thank you for the tips. We may have suffered a little from the combination of excitement and inexperience.
We have a calendar that we have reprinted a couple of times as we've changed.
With respect to cutting locations, we've already done that with Rome and Paris. Rome is not much more than an entry point for us, crazy as that may seem, but, as we don't have 6 or 8 weeks, something had to give. The high point for us is the Alps train, Luzerne and Grindelwald, in the middle of the tour. Heeding your advice re length of stay I will try and add a Luzerne date at the beginning,(16th)and another Grindelwald date the end, (22nd). I checked train times from Chur to Luzerne and that seems possible. One difficulty is that we can't yet book the Bernina Express as we're more than 3 months out.
We're still hoping to do Florence 12th to 15th and also visit a village region in France on the way to Paris.
Appreciate the advice.
Alleyoop11 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2014, 11:20 AM
  #20  
 
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for your Switzerland trains you are doing enough to make the Swiss Pass a great deal - covering all the trains you are taking - and you can just hop on any train, lake boat, postal bus, city trams or buses at will (except for trains like Glacier Express which can always be full so book ahead and there is also a supplement to pay - but the zillions of regular trains and transports just hop on. And Swiss Passes are very useful in the Jungfrau Region - 100% to Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Murren, Gimmelwald, etc.

For lots of great info on Swiss trains and passes I always recommend these IMO superb sites: www.swisstravelsystem.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.ricksteves.com.

and to me the Bernina Pass rail route is tops in scenic trains not only in Switzerland but in Europe! Awesome baby! You can take regular trains over the exact same scenery by just hopping on and I actually prefer those over the always it seems packed to the gills official Bernina Express trains - on local trains which do take a bit longer since they stop much more than the official BE trains do - I can scoot back and forth from side to side as the scenery dictates - on official BE you are pretty much stuck in your seats.
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