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Help us fine-tune Italy details & hotels

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Hi Fodorites... we'll be in Italy in September for 3 weeks. The overall plan is...
fly to Venice, 3 nights BB Venezia
train to Florence, 2 nights Giglio Bianco, Hotel Alessandra or ll Marzocco. Is staying across the river too far for walking from the train?? Our full day in FL is my husbands birthday - plan to do a cycle tour of the city. Would love other ideas to make it special...
train to Cinque Terre area 3 nights... where to stay?? Santa Marguerita, Sestri Levante, beach or atop cliffs? hike and cycle, ferry and beach.
After CT - we plan 6 nights in Tuscany. here's our main questions... should we train or bus to Lucca or Siena for 1 or 2 nights, then rent a car for 4 days, stay more southern Tuscany, such as Montepulciano. Return the car after 4 or 6 days...
Train to Rome, 3 nights. Where to stay, mid price, convenient to train.
Train or bus to Sorrento, 4 nights. Convenient hotel recs welcome... mid price with pool on or near beach, transportation.
Train or bus back to Rome for last day shopping, dinner.

I know many have recommended saving Rome for last. It makes sense... but we like to spend time near the water since we rarely see coastline and beaches. We live near mountains.

We are unsure where to pick up and return the rental car in Tuscany.
Is it best to stay in a few diff places as I mentioned above... or base in one place and drive all over the area. It looks easier on maps... coming from Cinque Terre to visit Lucca and/or Sienna, then move south. Before booking hotels and cars... would appreciate hearing from those in the know. This is our first Italy trip.
Thanks in advance...
changemaven

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