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Help choosing destinations for our first trip to Europe (France & Italy)

Help choosing destinations for our first trip to Europe (France & Italy)

Old Jan 13th, 2011, 03:41 AM
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Help choosing destinations for our first trip to Europe (France & Italy)

My husband and I are vacationing in Europe for the first time this spring! I am trying to plan our itinerary. I have been reading a fair amount about where to go, but would like some first hand advice. Our constraints are:
-We are based in Boston, MA, and will depart from and return to there.
-We will be in Europe from May 31st - June 25th.
-We will spend the last week of our trip (June 18-June25) in Cherbourg, France. My grandfather is celebrating his birthday there, and the whole family is sharing a Chateau.

Those are the only “rules” we really need to follow. Here are some other things about our traveling preferences:
-We prefer public transportation (more accurately we both dislike being the person driving the car). If we can avoid renting a car, we will be happy travelers.
-We love to be outdoors. Hiking in nature, and strolling a local street both qualify (standing in a stuffy museum does not). Beautiful coastlines, sitting at the beach, and scenic mountainsides sound great.
-We love to eat good food!
-Sit down before you read this one (I apologize in advance to people who disagree), we think Art and History are a bit dull. Impressive buildings and ruins that can be seen from the outside at our own pace are great, but we don’t want to be stuck indoors for a 2-hour guided tour.
-We like our vacation schedule to have lots of free time. On previous vacations we have allotted 1 day of “relax/do whatever strikes you as interesting/down time” for each day of planned sightseeing. We don’t like feeling like our vacation has a rigid schedule to it that dictates our activities each moment of the trip. So we’d rather see fewer cities than try to “cram things in”.

So we started thinking about what parts of Europe we were most excited to see, and decided that Italy and France seemed fantastic (Italy in particular). Here’s a rough Itinerary that I’m considering (the numbers are the day of the month, starting with May 31):

31: Fly into Naples, stay somewhere near Pompei
1: See Pompei, travel to Positano
2-3: Positano & Surrounding Area
4: Travel to Rome
5: Rome
6: Travel to Cinque Terre
7-9: Cinque Terre
10: Travel to Florence
11-12: Florence
13: Travel to Venice
14: Venice
15: Travel to Paris
16-17: Paris
18: Travel to Cherbourg
19-25: Cherbourg

Places that did not fit into the itinerary include Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, or somewhere in the Alps, Switzerland.

I am assuming that we can fit about a half day of sight seeing into the travel days since the cities in Italy aren’t too far apart. I was planning to reserve hotels in advance through Cinque Terre, then find accommodations in Florence/Venice when we arrive. I have a feeling Florence may not interest us much, so we’d have the choice to leave early, then use the extra time to stay at Lake Como/Lake Maggiore/the Alps after leaving Venice, on the way to Paris.

Here are my main questions:
1. Have I left out any cities that you think we would really enjoy, or included any you think we will not enjoy?
2. Should I shorten/lengthen any of the stays in a particular city?
3. Should I change where I fly into, or change the order of the cities?
4. Any attractions we should make sure to see?
5. Will a Eurorail pass get me everywhere I’m going? Is there a better and/or cheaper public transportation option?

Of course all suggestions are welcome! Thank you so much for taking the time to help.
Aries19 is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 05:24 AM
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Congrats on your trip

www.ricksteves.com might be a nice site for you

Think you are fine with the first part of your

journey but after Venice you can go up to Paris

via the lakes and the alps www.sirmione.com

www.bellagio.info and www.stresa.org on up

into Switzerland Interlaken Zermatt Geneva and Paris probably

what I would do pick up www.beaune.com in france on your way

www.seat61.com good site for training always

cheaper for me to hop regional or intercity trains

Pass lots of surcharges rarely saves.

Happy Journey,
qwovadis is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 05:27 AM
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As you said, you can't see everything so don't try. Your suggested itinerary is ok, already a little crowded I think so I would scale it back rather than add in anything else. Everyone has their favorite places so you'll get lots of suggestions here and be tempted to add them in - don't.

I suggest you fly into Naples as you suggest but go straight to Sorrento the first night - don't stay over in the Pompei area - other than the site it's a boring area and Ssorrento to Pompei by train is cheap and fast (1/2 hour) so you can do it as a halfday trip from Sorrento. Positano gets more press than Sorrento but Sorrento is much easier to get to and then the day trip to Positano and Amalfi is part of the fun rather than drudgery while you have your suitcases, etc. You can get there by bus or boat and I suggest both (one in each direction, or two day trips). Sorrento itself is a lovely town with nice restaurants, lovely views, etc.

The Cinque Terre is great but also a coastal area and since you have somewhat limited time I'd suggest you skip that and stay longer in Sorrento. From Sorrento as a base you can do Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, Capri, Pompeii, Naples. There are some great hikes in the area. Look at my trip report - we did two fairly strenuous ones from Ravello and on Capri. You said you wanted to be fairly relaxed and by skipping the CT you save travel and hotel check-in/out time and you get a very similar experience.

If you skip the CT you have a total of nine days from arrival to Florence. I'd do five in Sorrento and four in Rome. And that's really short changing them both.

Sticking to your original itinerary that leaves you with five days for Florence and Venice. Given your interests I'd do two Florence and three Venice. Another idea would be to skip Florence this trip and spend all the time in Venice and do a day trip to Verona or Padua (or both) - or if money is an issue, stay in Padua and day trip to Verona and Venice (and even Bologna but that's pushing it). Venice and Padua are a 20 minute, 3€ train ride apart with service several times an hour till late at night.

Your time in Paris is barely enough as it is so leave that part of the trip as you planned it. Obviously fly from Venice to Paris.

Don't leave finding hotels until you get there, not in June. The "freedom" to change your itinerary once you get there is not worth the time and expense spent finding hotels once you get there. You save money, a lot of time, and get much better places doing it ahead of time.

Here's my trip report from last summer - Amalfi Coast and Rome (obviously just scroll through the Croatia part). If you click my name though you'll get reports from the other areas I've mentioned. http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...rful-weeks.cfm
isabel is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 06:05 AM
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Isabel has given you excellent suggestions. I agree with all of them, and strongly second the advice to have all of your hotels reserved before you go. You are spending precious little time in each location as it is -- you don't want to spend extra time and money dragging your luggage all over a strange and new town looking for a place to stay. The same is true for restaurants - you indicate that you love good food. Do some searching on this forum for suggestions and keep a list so you will have ideas when you are in each location. Enjoy your planning and your trip!
mamcalice is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 07:00 AM
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I'd travel to Italy many time over the years and alway use public transport which is for me I think it good, cheap and no stress with driving. Mainly I use train for my opinion buy a ticket as you go will cost less than railpass.

I might can give so some idea in some area from Rome upward. It look like you stay only one night in Rome so I suggest stay near the termini which had a lot of hotel around there.

from Rome your next destination should be Florence first, from Rome to Florence with local train will take about 3 hrs and cost around 10-12 euros but if you use intercity or other fast train it will take around 11/2 hrs but cost more.

Florence is very easy to navigate on foot because old town is very compact and it can use as a base to explore beautiful Tuscany also for train to Cinque Terre.

If you not the museum type, you can explore Florence in a day, then you can take a day trip by bus( bus station just next to the train station) to see some part of Tuscany Siena or San Gimignano.

If you have one more day spare I really recommend Pienza a small town in the rolling hill of Tuscany, last time I took a bus from Siena train station it took a little bit more than an hour to get there, the bus drive along area call Val d' Orcia which is so beautiful and it worth your effort ( be aware of bus time table as the last bus come from Montepulciano will stop at Pienza at 18.03 if you miss it they will be no more bus till next day)

If you take train from Florence to Cinque Terre it will take around 21/2-3 hrs and it involved change train at Pisa or Viareggio (you can buy the ticket to you final destination in one go and they will give you details) and you have to get off at La Spezia and connect another train to Cinque Terre depend on where you stay first stop from La Spezia would be Riomaggiore which is so close. Sometime I use La Spezia as a base if I can't find accommodation in Cinque Terre.

another place that you should see is up further along the coast between La Spezia to Genova( about 1 1/2 hrs) the town call Portofino you can take train from La Spezia to Santa Margherita Ligure(SML) then walk down to waterfront next to tourist office sale bus ticket cost 1 euro to Portofino.

From SML to can take train to Srresa ( to see Lake Maggiore) or to Lake Como which is have to change train in Milan or go straight to Venice as you plan.

I hope this information I help you plan a bit.
Ratiphan is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 03:47 PM
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Thank you everyone for your advice! Isabel, I enjoyed reading your trip report tremendously.

qwovadis, thanks for the tips on transit in particular. Seat61 had lots of great information, and made it clear that a Eurail Pass is not the way to go for this trip. Thanks for saving me the money!

I agree that I am trying to fit in a lot of cities, but at the same time, I don't know if/when we'll be back in Europe, and I don't want to miss anything!

It would give me more time in the other cities if I eliminated one, but I'm not sure I can give up Cinque Terre. Coastal cities are generally our favorites. I suppose if Cinque Terre and Positano areas are very similar then perhaps one of the two would be enough. Thoughts?

Thanks again for all the help!
Aries19 is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 04:14 PM
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ditto what isabel said.

or as you are keener on the outdoors than museums etc, go to the CT, but then make for one of the lakes rather than Florence or Venice. if you go to Garda, you can do a day trip to Venice or Verona or Padua...as well as enjoying the boat trips, a trip up to the top of Monte Baldo on the cable car, possibly some wind-surfing up at Riga.

have a great trip!
annhig is online now  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 12:00 AM
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Per your rules-Try this:
31. Fly into Milan, Train to LAKE COMO
2.Train to La Spezia, small train to CINQUE TERRE
5.Train to La Spezia, to Pisa(optional stop) to FLORENCE
7.Train/bus or bus to San Gimignano, on to SIENA
8.Bus to PIENZA
10.Bus to Orvieto, train to ROME
13.Train to Naples to SORRENTO
15.Sorrento, NIGHT TRAIN to Venice
17. Travel to PARIS

OK, you need to cut out 2 nights(but I luv Pienza)
dugi_otok is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 07:47 AM
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Everyone has their own style of travel but in my opinion the schedule outlined by dugi_otok would have you seeing a whole lot of buses and trains and hotel reception check-in rooms and not much else. Nine different lodgings in 16 days (just looking at Italy, not even the Paris part) is not at all relaxing. Way too many buses and trains. I do like to be pretty busy on trips ( some people love to park themselves in one spot for a week - or longer - and get to "know" a place) but that schedule would drive me crazy. If you stay in one place for four or five days with day trip options then you can go someplace new each day, or if you are getting travel weary you still have plenty to see in the town in which you are sleeping.
isabel is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 08:39 AM
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A couple of thoughts to add:

- While I do feel that Sorrento (on the Bay of Naples) isn't as picturesque as the towns on the Amalfi Coast side of the peninsula, it's good you have chosen it because it will give you the most flexibility to do other things in the area. And the views of Vesuvius and the tiny lights of Naples in the distance are wonderful!
- Our biggest "requirement" in the area was to do the Sentieri Degli Dei (Walk of the Gods) from Nocelle (above Positano) to Praiano, and it more than lived up to our expectations. While not for anyone prone to vertigo or with bad knees, most of the walk wasn't complicated (nothing like isabel's 4000 steps!!). We even were lapped by a grandmother in sandals with a small child on her back-! You can always go out a ways and turn around back towards Positano, rather than spend a full day of it like we did.
- Choose either Pompeii or Herculaneum, but do go see one of them. IMO, even though the latter is more intact, there's something about the scale of Pompeii that makes the ancient stuff come alive.
- I am firmly in the pro-Naples camp, and even without venturing inside its ornate churches or the important-but-yes-very-stuffy archeological museum, I find it an enjoyable place to wander or hang out in a cafe watching the world go by.
- I agree that you shouldn't shortchange Rome. More ruins I know, but the main section of them IMO is nice to wander for the better part of a day. The Palantine Hill, especially, feels more like a park and none of it feels particularly museum-like. If you get a chance to venture farther afield, the Protestant Cemetery (where poets Keats and Shelley are buried, among others) is very pretty in its own right.
- In addition to these forums, we found the dining section in the Fodor's Rome guide to be a great resource.

I hope this helps!
ggreen is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 12:48 PM
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I'm in the camp that says spend more than one day in Rome, which has so much to see, even if you never go indoors but just walk. It is great at night when the fountains are lit and people are out strolling. Take a day from Florence, which (although I love it) is not much of a walking-around-sightseeing town.

You should try to arrange the trip so you are not moving so much. And although you don't know when you will get back to Europe, chances are you will go back, sooner than you think. So don't try to cram everything in this time.
charnees is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 02:20 PM
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I'm guessing that you won't like Florence. I like it, but spend all my time there visiting museums and churches. Or most of my time, anyway.

I think isabel has given you very good advice.
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