France/Italy Newbie Itinerary


Mar 29th, 2012, 06:39 AM
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France/Italy Newbie Itinerary

I've never been to Europe at all. Does the following itinerary look reasonable for a first timer? Im travelling with teenagers during peak summer season. I know it will be crowded and hot, but if you stay in these locations can you avoid some of the crowds by scheduling activities early morning and late afternoon, right? Is this too much city and not enough small town?

Paris 5 Nights - With maybe a day trip tour to D-Day beaches and Versaille.
Provence 4 Nights - This is small townish, right?
Venice 4 Nights - How do I get to Venice from Provence? Fly, Train?
Florence 3 Nights - If you are not avid Art person, is this too much time here?
Rome 4 Nights - Is this too short, especially to include a day trip? I heard most attractions are within walking distance.

I've read some of the posts from Stu Dudley in these forums, but they seem more focused on a romantic vacation to small towns vs a family vacation with lots of activities/sightseeing, agreed?

Thanks for advice, especially from others who have travelled to these locations in peak summer. Also, I would love to hear any favorite hotels for a family of 4. I heard it is hard to find rooms that can sleep 4 and I definitely need A/C.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 06:49 AM
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First Timer, with teenagers? This is a VERY ambitious schedule. Your first day/night in Paris will likely be a jet-lag mess. That gives you 4 days/nights in Paris. Two of those days will be out of the City - although Versailles is an easy day trip of 5-6 hours total, but Normandy is an 18 hour day. That leaves two in Paris. Then you leave Paris and head to Provence. The first day will be check-out, train, check-in and done. Then you have two days in Provence - I assume you'll leave Provence on day 4. See the pattern? Basically reduce each stop by 1 or two days for the travel to/from. If you're wanting to show the kids train, planes and automobiles, you got a good itinerary. Otherwise, with 20 days, I limit it to a maximum of 3 bases - say Paris, Provence and Rome or Paris, Florence and Rome.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:03 AM
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I'd say if you aren't an avid art person, you could skip Florence (or just make it a day trip from Rome).

Add those 3 days to Paris and Rome (or split with Provence). As apersuader65 says above, you'll have lost a day to travel/jet lag in Paris. You'll lose your last day in Rome to travel home (unless you've counted that already).

I've never traveled to Venice from Provence so can't help. Others can.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:04 AM
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This is a throw-darts-at-a-map dream vacation, not a realistic one. With 5 days in Paris, one of them a jet-lagged mess in all likelihood, you can't possibly get out to Versailles AND the D-Day beaches and hope to get to know anything about Paris.

Don't know what you mean by Provence is "small townish?" Provence is a huge area, encompassing the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Lubéron, and the Côte d'Azur. It has villages, towns, and big cities. You haven't given us a clue about what in Provence you want to experience, so hard to give advice.

If you are going to travel long distances in Europe on a really tight schedule like that, you should probably fly, so check into flights from, say, Nice to Venice.

With regard to Florence, if you're not an avid art person, what draws you to it?

Four days in Rome with a day trip is, yes, pretty short.

I would get out the guidebooks and some good maps and start over. With 20 days and teenagers in tow, I'd pick 3 destinations at most. If you must cover two countries, plan for open-jaw flights - into one country and out of the other.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:09 AM
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apersuader65 - Agreed, first day Paris will be a mess, but we should be able to wander around the city anyways to see a couple of things before we pass out. I understand how mid vacation travel eats into your time on the travel days, but 3.5 (Florence->Rome is fairly easy by train) change of venues in 20 days should be a good enough compromise to see alot, but not get too bored right? I guess I could drop off Florence and only change locations 3 times, because I really want to experience Venice.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:25 AM
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Ok I am dropping Florence.
I like the 4x5 symmetry of this:

Arrive late morning. Zombie walk around Paris.
Paris 5 Nights (D-Day beaches or Versaille, not both)
Provence Area 5 Nights (9:30am TGV from Paris)
Venice 5 Nights - Fly from Nice
Rome 5 Nights (Train/Fly, not sure)
Leave next morning for 11:30am flight.

Comments? Any favorite hotels with A/C?
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:36 AM
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My husband and I like to stay on the go when we travel and we don't tend to stay too long in one area so this itinerary seems doable to us, but it is A LOT! My two cents would be to remember the travel days. They don't really count as being very "vacationy" unless you want to sit on a train and enjoy what you see from outside your window. We took a train through Switzerland once to get from Germany to Italy and I thought it was wonderful!

Also, 4 days in Venice is too long. We were there two days/nights and thought that was plenty, but to be safe you could cut out just one. San Marco is my favorite church. It's breathtaking!

We definitely aren't artsy, but we fell in love with Florence. It's amazing, walkable, The David is unreal, and sitting on the street eating gelato late at night is one of our favorite memories.

We did not like Rome. Maybe we were in bad moods and it rubbed off onto our experience there, but we thought it was dirty, crowded, and a bit unimpressive...though the Colosseum was insane!

Anyway, every one has their own opinions of things and the hard thing is that you won't know what yours will be until you get there. Try to make your schedule as flexible as possible. Maybe that means skipping out on a town after a couple days because you just are feeling it or staying longer in one because you can't get enough. I think you guys are going to have a blast! You'll probably argue a bunch because traveling is a bit stressful, but overall you'll come back with some incredible memories! Have fun!
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:39 AM
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Check out flying from southern France to Rome, and going north from there. I suggest you not plan to overnight in Florence. Plan on stopping there en route to Venice (from Rome), stowing your luggage in the train station, taking a walk around town. There is a great deal of Renaissance art in Rome, including a lot of work by Michaelangelo.

By eliminating your three nights in Florence you can linger in other places. My first suggestion would be to add 2 nights in Paris so you can find your family travel rhythm. If everybody is raring to go, you can easily get out to Versailles or book a coach tour to Normandy (long day). If there is resistance to marathon sightseeing, then you'll know how to gear the rest of your trip.

Add the leftover night to Rome. If you are all energizer bunnies when it comes to sighseeing, take a day trip to Pompeii or Ostia Antica.

I suggest you rent apartment sin both Paris and in Rome (the second will really help you get a laundry done!). You will save money and you can get AC, which you will surely need. For four nights, you might also be able to find one in Venice with air con. Sometimes in Venice you can find b&bs with shared baths where only you and your family would be sharing the bath. If you can find one with AC, that's another way to save money.

As for Provence, most people do in fact go to the area for the small towns. (Only on Fodor's is a request for help from a self-declared new traveler to Europe be met with an arch sneer.) Were it me traveling with teens, I'd be utterly uninterested in 'quaint markets' and be looking for river rafting or beach time or cave exploring -- a complete break from cultural sightseeing. It might simplify your life to take a train to the coast and have a beachy holiday there, and use the trains to mix it up in terms of towns to visit, without renting a car Then you could fly out of Nice to Rome.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:39 AM
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Much better. You can save a lot on the train tickets Paris to Provence if you buy early, like 3 months ahead of time.

You don't give details about Provence. Will it be inland Provence or the Riviera? For inland Provence, a car is best. Will you then drop the car at the Nice airport? If it's the coast, you can base in Nice and use public transportation.

Take the train from Venice to Rome. It's city-center to city-center, easier and more comfortable.

Re: hotels. You are looking for quad rooms, which, as you have heard, are rare. And you're traveling at the same time as other families. What is your budget per night?
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:44 AM
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Hi EuropeNewbie -- we were posting at the same time.

It looks like you already have your transatlantic tickets, committing you to flying out of Rome, which would commit you to putting Rome at the end.

Usually, people cannot find a non-stop flight from southern France to Venice , which is why I recommend, if you can at all afford it, switch your air tickets so you go from southern France to Rome, and depart from Venice.

I still recommend no matter how you do it that you look for apartment rentals. It is not difficult for European newbies to do and it is much cheaper than staying in a hotel. If you have a washing machine everywhere you go then you can pack very light. Overpacking is the single biggest mistake newbies to Europe make.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:55 AM
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I'm also taking the fam on our first trip through Europe. We're me, hubby, and two boys, but we're doing things a bit differently. We're travelling for a little over three weeks throughout Northern Italy/Southern France/Switzerland. Family in Milan asked us to come in, so we actually created the vacation around using them as a hub. We're using a home exchange website ( for a place in Milan and using trains to get to Bern, Verona, Venice, and Marseilles (after exploring Milan as well, of course). We're doing a stint in Rome, but taking hotels for those two nights. The swap kept prices down for us, so if you want to use Rome as a hub, you might want to consider swapping.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 07:55 AM
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Wow - there goes my symmetry. I thought Rome and Venice were sure bets. Now I'm wondering if I should skip Venice, shave off Rome days and spend time in Tuscany area or Cinque Terra.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 08:01 AM
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A lot of teens are very bored in Tuscany.

Look, most people who post here have a very limited knowledge of Europe and only a handful travel with teens (and none with your teens). Very few travel in summer. (Tuscany is sledge-hammer hot).

A great many posters are going to tell you to go to Switzerland instead of France, Spain instead of Italy, Florence instead of Venice or the Amalfi Coast and why not Greece.

Your plan for 5 days in the destinations you picked will be marvelous if you can make the logistics work smoothly. These are beautiful parts of the world, with many interesting things to see.

And even if you are occasionally roughing it or have some tough logistical connections for a day, it's not the end of the world.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 10:20 AM
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zeppole - Thanks very much for your input. Reading these forums makes me very unsure where to go. You usually have no idea of the demographics, situations, past travels, etc of the people posting.

I agree with you on apartments. We have used very successfully several times to book condos. With active teens we need space from each other. Do you have any specific recommendations for apartment websites, or even better, specific apartments you rented in Paris, Rome, the southern coast, and maybe Venice? I am concerned time is running out on getting the good ones.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 10:54 AM
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That's a load of horse puckey. Most people here have loads of experience with European travels; many travel with teens; and lots travel in summer.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 11:26 AM
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Agreed with StCirq - I've travelled as an adult with teenagers (and as a teenager myself) to Europe, including France, including during the summer, as have plenty of others. With that said, it's easy to get analysis paralysis here.

I'm glad folks brought up apartments, as that will make things much more comfortable, as you won't feel like you're on top of each other the whole time. I've used Vacation in Paris and have been very happy with their service & apartments. I'm sure others have their favorites as well.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 12:39 PM
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I have two teens, we've taken them to Europe, and we've traveled to Europe yearly for about 20 years, so I have some knowledge of some parts of Europe (lots of trips to France and Italy). But of course, I don't know about your teens and their interests, and the interests of the rest of your group. Another caveat being that we've almost always been able to avoid traveling during the height of the summer season.

We, too, have avoided spending time in Tuscany with the kids; just not enough they'd be interested in (yet). On the whole, we think they prefer large cities, though my son loved his time in the Dordogne (visiting prehistoric sites and castles) and my daughter loved her week in Le Marche, Italy (various sites, museums and castles).

Venice was endlessly interesting, don't cut it. The best thing about Venice is just wandering around, but there are great museums and lots of art in situ in various churches and scuole. Those are good because you can enjoy the art without spending hours in the place.

I would agree about skipping Florence; of the "big 3" cities of Italy, even though I'm a huge art buff, it's my least favorite. Venice and Rome, for big cities, have more to see and do, especially for those who are less interested in art. A favorite with the kids too (though they're a bit unusual for teens in that they're big art buffs too).

How are you planning to get around Provence? Rental car? Keep in mind that the Aix (didn't like so much), Arles (love it), Avignon (good too) areas are not real close to Nice, so if that's the area you're considering, you'll need to factor in travel time to the Nice airport.

I also agree about StuDudley's itineraries; they are great and very detailed, but they're not the way we travel and see stuff.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 01:51 PM
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St Cirq is right. Also, although more time spent in travel certainly lends credibility to advice, some limited experiences may be just as useful. I live in Baltimore but have never been to any ball game of any kind, do not have a clue where to buy tickets, where to park, etc. Friends who visit me always go to a game. With their one visit, their advice about that would be of value, so don't discount the possibility that advice from limited experience may still have merit.

The same is true for general travel rules, like not moving around too much, or one night hotel stays. I will not waste a lot of time traveling that could be used for sightseeing or just soaking up the culture of the area. Still, there are things I will do that go against all rules just to have a particular experience. I hate dragging bags around, but sometimes, it is worth it and teens are generally pretty good about it.

Example: This is something most would not do or recommend, but on my favorite trip to Paris with teens, we landed at the airport and went straight to Versailles. We stayed at a beautiful hotel directly across from the chateau grounds. We ate lunch outside and spent the afternoon walking, biking, boating, etc. on the chateau grounds (pretending to be rich) and saw the chateau all lit up at night. We were first in line the next morning to tour the chateau for a couple of hours. We had lunch, splurged on a taxi, and were back in Paris at our hotel by 1:00, rested and ready to hit the sights there. It was a Wow start to the trip, super impressive to the kids, yet restful. For me, it was much better than any sightseeing in Paris that first, jet-lagged day, and then taking most of another day to visit Versailles, which is how I had always done it before.

I actually did not think your first plan was terrible, a lot, yes, but not terrible, except for the long haul from Provence to Venice, and the day trips from Paris.

I prefer your plan of Rome at the end for two reasons. Flying out of Venice is usually early in the morning and not a pleasant way to end a trip (especially from Venice), and (this is the big one) arriving in Venice by train and walking out of Santa Lucia Station to face the Grand Canal is one of the highlights of years of travel. After six trips there, it still makes my heart stop.

Unless your teens are really into WWII history, skip the battlefields in France on this trip - too long, and there is so much to do in Paris. Versailles is really an easy, short trip. It is a great place to spend a day. If the kids are into it, you can rent a boat and paddle around on the lake, or rent bikes and bike around the grounds, plus the little town is charming with a great little market and nice little restaurants.

As to too much time in Venice, there are so many easy day trips from Venice that if you find it not to your liking, you can always take a train to Padua or Vicenza or a boat to Burano. One thing all my teens loved was being in a place they could meander around by themselves - together, of course, but without adults. The same with Florence. My teens loved one day in Florence (seeing David and the Duomo, walking, etc.), but absolutely loved Siena and Pisa.

However, heat will be a major factor in the summer, so these places might not be as enjopyable for your kids then. While an apartment would be great for the space, a hotel with a pool can't be beat in summer.

I've never gone from Provence to Italy, so leave the logistics to others to recommend, but (if you can't fly into Venice) you might try flying into Milan (or Verona - no idea if that is possible), and stopping in Verona for the afternoon and night rather than going on to Venice. I know - a one nighter, which everybody says don't do, but it is a lovely town, great central piazza, pretty at night, good food, wonderful for walking around and not out of your way if you must go through Milan. Then it is an easy train ride into Venice the next morning.

When I lived in Europe several years a long time ago, I traveled differently than I do on trips from the states now. When I was teaching, I took students on trips planned for teens. Again, different approach to the trip. Teens with other teens travel differently than teens with their parents. You will use the advice you think best for you. When things go askew, something better often happens. No matter what you choose, fast or slow, apartments or hotels, you will have a fantastic trip!
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Mar 29th, 2012, 03:44 PM
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Nice burn, StCirq
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Mar 29th, 2012, 03:59 PM
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Yes, it sure was StCirq. Signed by one who has travelled extensively in Italy with a teen and except for the month of August during the summer time.
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