Northern Italy Planner's Block -- Help!

Jan 17th, 2015, 12:18 PM
  #1  
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Northern Italy Planner's Block -- Help!

I have a dilemma. Because of some arrangements made last year, my wife and will find ourselves in Italy for sixteen days in early Spring, arriving and leaving through the Venice airport. Obviously, this is not a terrible dilemma. We had been looking forward to this return visit to Italy for some time. However, we have as yet made no other arrangements for our stay, and I keep "blocking" when trying to do so. We have previously enjoyed wonderful visits to Venice, Florence, Tuscany (Chianti region) and Rome. There are so many places we would still like see, some new to us, some not, but I'm unsure, both time-wise and physically how much we will be able to do. Of course, we want to "see it all!"

A very rough itinerary has come together so far. To limit the number of lodging arrangements needed, as well as packing and unpacking, I picture three nights in the Milan area, four in the Lucca area, six in S. Tuscany/W. Umbria, and two nights in Venice:

Day 1 Arrive in Venice -- Train to Milan area
Day 2 Milan area
Day 3 Milan area -- Lake Como and/or Lake Maggiore, Lugano
Day 4 Train to Lucca area -- Pavia stop off?
Day 5 Lucca area -- Cinque Terre
Day 6 Lucca area -- Florence day trip
Day 7 Lucca area -- Garfagnano, other ?
Day 8 Drive to S. Tuscany/W.Umbria -- via Pisa, Siena
Day 9 Tuscany/Umbria
Day 10 Tuscany/Umbria -- Perugia, Assisi
Day 11 Tuscany/Umbria -- Orvieto?
Day 12 Tuscany/Umbria -- Day trip to Rome to visit friends
Day 13 Tuscany/Umbria
Day 14 Drive or train to Venice -- (from ?)
Day 15 Venice
Day 16 Leave from Venice

Does anybody out there have a rational, fail-safe itinerary to recommend?
Recommendations on where best to base in each of these areas?
How about favorite towns, lodgings, sites, or other specifics in the vicinities?
Something else I should know about?

Thank you! I value and appreciate your experience and advice.
Dave_Ohio is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 12:30 PM
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We took a train from Venice to Milan and then to Varenna on Lake Como. Stayed there for 3 nights and really enjoyed taking the ferries to all the sights on the lake.
Judy is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 02:24 PM
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I think a fail safe itinerary is next to impossible, but more so without knowing your tastes and interests.

Me? I chase art, food, St Francis. One trip covered some of the Piero delle Francesca trail, including Sansepolcro and the Madonna del Parto in Monterchi. On that trip we stayed in the very small Umbrian town of Montone, which is up a long hill and requires a car. A day trip was to the monastery at La Verna in Tuscany, founded by St Francis. That was a pretty fail safe base for me.

Another trip out of Venice including Verona, Lago di Garda, the Alta Badia area of the Dolomites and then Venice. Pretty perfect.

On the other side of Italy we have based in Lucca and then moved on to Santa Margherita Ligure as a second base. Lucca didn't thrill me, despite day trips to Pisa and the mountains, including several villages. SML and the Italian Riviera are wonderful but they are summer resorts.

I think I'm suggesting not trekking all the way over to Lucca and the Cinque Terre in early spring.

Here is one possible itinerary I like:

Train to Lake Como (I guess Varenna is good; I like Bellagio, too) for a base for a few days.

Umbria/N. Tuscany for a base. I loved Montone and we traveled pretty far and wide with the car. Gubbio was a good day trip. La Verna was the best ever.

Southern Tuscany for a base; I'd pick the Val d'Orcia

Venice

++++ Can your friend meet you in Florence rather than Rome? It might save you a very long day trip.

More thoughts: I know people who go to specific places in Italy for specific wines. Are you one of those people? I think I'm saying that if you have very specific things that you enjoy, you may get more help on itineraries. Hiking? Driving? Trains? Shopping? Museums? Churches? Convents? Markets? Food? Antiques?

If you're an antiques person, I suggest Arezzo for the stores, or the antique market which is one weekend a month. I like Arezzo; the art is magnificent.

Do you like budget, moderate or high end accommodations? Some places are hard for budget digs, including Arezzo. Lucca is fairly easy, in my experience.

If you like museums, Perugia's National Gallery is superb. A very nice base is that part of Umbria with easy access to Perugia, Assisi, Spello, Montefalco. Heck, I'd go there tomorrow. That area makes a great base. Really good food, too.

So why am I all over the map here? I guess I'm showing you that I chase certain experiences and that helps me to keep my itineraries from being too liable to fail.

In September, I'm flying to Zurich and heading to the mountains because I want a full-on Heidi experience, then going to Milan for a taste of big city and then on to Venice for the Biennale.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 06:22 PM
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You fail to tell us WHEN---is early spring March?

Why are you RT into Venice?
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 08:55 PM
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>>>Lucca didn't thrill me<<<

Me either. Your visit to Pisa would be easiest by train from Lucca (about 25 minutes and a few euro). Pisa has ZTL so no point driving there when you have such easy access from Lucca.
kybourbon is online now  
Jan 17th, 2015, 10:56 PM
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Judy, thanks for the Varenna suggestion. I will consider it. I'd been reluctant to look for a base among the lakes, fearing inclement weather this early in the season. "Day-tripping" seemed more prudent. What time of year did you stay in Varenna?
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tuscanlifeedit, thanks for all of your suggestions! We do travel on a moderate budget, but must have clean, safe, and comfortable lodging, including an ensuite bathroom. We often look for B&B's. We like to visit museums and churches, especially for their artwork and history, but like to do it sparingly. We definitely want to see il Cenacolo in Milan. We also enjoy discovering the food and wines of a region, taking in the local sights and scenery, some mild hiking, and interacting with (and watching) the people. I try to use my (very limited) grasp of the Italian language in the process. re: Our friends, they live in and around Rome. We thought it more convenient for them to meet up in Rome.
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bob, we're going to be in Italy in early April, including Pasqua and part of Settimana Santa. The airline tickets are a done deal.
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kybourbon, thanks for the reminder about Pisa's ZTL. Is there a better alternative location to Lucca that would allow us to access le Cinque Terre as well as Florence?
Dave_Ohio is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 03:41 AM
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If your friends live around Rome it might be easier to meet well away from Rome. Do they have car? If not, and you want to meet in Rome, are you locked into a certain day to visit your friends? Because if not, then I would stick the meet up at the end of your Tuscany/Umbria stay and depart for Venice from Rome. (Drop off the car in Orvieto, stow your luggage in the Rome train station).

If you are locked into seeing your friends in the middle of your Tuscany/Umbria stay, then I suggest driving to Chiusi and parking there to take the train to Rome rather than drive.

Count me as yet another person bored by Lucca, because there is so little to do indoors if it rains. The same is true of le Cinque Terre. Would you be terribly averse to staying in Pisa? If the weather is fine, you can visit Lucca and/or El Cinque Terre from there, and if it is not fine, you can visit Florence or some of Pisa's smaller museums.

It is not easy to make a stop in Pavia unless you have a car. It is easier to do it as a day trip from Milan. As a place to visit en route from Milan to Lucca or Pisa, consider Bologna. Stow your luggage in the train station.

Although I would not pick Perugia as a base with a car, the National Gallery of Umbrian Art in Perugia is one of Italy's best and most enjoyable museums so if you only have an appetite for one or two on your trip, then I would definitely go for that one. If you like wine, both Montefalco and Orvieto are interesting for that.

As much as you don't like to switch locales, I suggest a Tuscany/Umbria set up more like this:

3 days in Pisa (no car, use trains)
4 days southern Tuscany (car)
4 days Umbria (car)

In March, you can get lots of rain, and if so, you don't want to be driving long distances for day trips. It is hard to find a single base for southern Tuscany/Umbria that means you can see places like Montepulciano and Assisi. Cortona area is about the best, but 2 bases would still be better I think.

Also, bear in mind that Easter holidays will mean loads of tourists in Assisi, and that some important sights will be closed.
sandralist is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 06:31 AM
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I didn't realize how early in spring you're going! We were in Varenna in mid May and it was quite hot. I am not sure I'd plan several days there in March.
Judy is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 08:37 AM
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Is there any way to fly out of Milan? Leave Lake Como for the end of your trip - and stay three days in Varenna?

If your trip ends in mid-April, you may get lucky with some lovely flowers blooming at the different villas. I've been there four times, three in May (earliest, May 12) and once in July. The May visits seemed to be ever so slightly past peak bloom on the azaleas so perhaps mid-April would be decent for them. Spring is gorgeous to be there. I imagine April will have very cool evenings.

I wouldn't fly into and out of Venice - try to get an open-jaw ticket.
flygirl is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 08:37 AM
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We did the lakes in early April one year and woke up to a snow fall our first morning. We have been back 3 other times since.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 09:32 AM
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flygirl - I think that they already have their ticket, hence the dilemma.

Dave - in true fodors fashion I would make for the place which is furthest away, and work backwards. so in your case I would go strait to Rome from venice [flying if I could get a convenient flight to connect with] and then work back, staying in no more than 5 places - so Rome - Umbria - Milan - Como [which might be warming up by then] and Venice.
annhig is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 09:32 AM
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flygirl - I think that they already have their ticket, hence the dilemma.

Dave - in true fodors fashion I would make for the place which is furthest away, and work backwards. so in your case I would go strait to Rome from venice [flying if I could get a convenient flight to connect with] and then work back, staying in no more than 5 places - so Rome - Umbria - Milan - Como [which might be warming up by then] and Venice.
annhig is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 09:57 AM
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hello again

If that is the case (Venice-Venice), they could still leave Lake Como for last - Venice first, 2-3 nights... rest of trip.. end on Lake Como for 2-3 nights.. train to Venice and stay near Piazzale Roma for last night...
flygirl is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 10:54 AM
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flygirl - I think that they already have their ticket, hence the dilemma.

Dave - in true fodors fashion I would make for the place which is furthest away, and work backwards. so in your case I would go strait to Rome from venice [flying if I could get a convenient flight to connect with] and then work back, staying in no more than 5 places - so Rome - Umbria - Milan - Como [which might be warming up by then] and Venice.
annhig is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 11:19 AM
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I like the idea of staying in Pisa and doing day trips. I have always been adverse to Pisa and finally visited as a day trip from Lucca and found it quite enjoyable. Also consider Bologona as it is a great town and if you are concerned about rain, it's covered in porticos. I know I am in the minority but the lakes did nothing for me. Very pretty, but just not my favorite place in Italy.
yestravel is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 11:33 AM
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i loved staying on Lake Garda and lake Maggiore but late March/early April not really the best time to do it.

IMO Florence is a great base for day tripping, by bus or train, and so much to do there if you want to stay put - but it's not presently on the OP's reader for whatever reason.
annhig is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 11:56 AM
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All of this is good food for thought. Keep on serving!
Dave_Ohio is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 09:00 PM
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Thanks to everyone's input, I'm considering reversing the order of things, and making it a clockwise swing by taking a train from Venice to someplace like Orvieto. We could pick up a car there and put in somewhere in the vicinity. That might give us access to, say, our choices among Perugia, Cortona, Assisi, Spoleto, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Viterbo, etc., etc., and the countryside in between.

Had not previously thought of staying in Pisa, but it may have its merits.
Dave_Ohio is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 09:27 PM
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Before you settle on the idea of a "base" somewhere near Orvieto, take a look at actual drive times to destinations like Montalcino and Assisi. If you get rain in March, driving 90 minutes or more on small country roads, to and from, can feel like a chore and you may end up not doing it. So if there are towns you have named that are personal "must sees" for you, consider giving a priority to staying no more than 40 minute drive away if possible.
sandralist is offline  
Jan 19th, 2015, 04:16 AM
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>>>That might give us access to, say, our choices among Perugia, Cortona, Assisi, Spoleto, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Viterbo, etc., etc., and the countryside in between.<<<

I think you need two bases for those and Orvieto would not be my choice for that list at all. While it seems somewhat between all of them, the roads are curvy and driving is slow (low speed limits and stuck behind other cars with nowhere to pass).

Pienza area would be more central for places like Montalcino, Montepulciano, Siena. Do you want to stay in a town so you can walk to dinner or be out in the countryside?
kybourbon is online now  

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