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Please review my itinerary for Northern Italy in May 2025

Please review my itinerary for Northern Italy in May 2025

Old Apr 15th, 2024, 08:36 AM
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Please review my itinerary for Northern Italy in May 2025

Hello everyone!

My husband and I are planning a month long trip to Northern Italy for May 2025. We have visited Italy only once, and that was a lifetime ago in the 1970’s! We spent a week in Rome and a day in Florence.

We are both in our 70’s. This will be our only trip to northern Italy, so we want to visit all the places that interest us. The majority of our stays will be 4-night stays so I hope that will help keep the pace manageable. We love just about everything: big cities, small cities, villages, beautiful countryside, mountains, coastal scenery, art museums, history museums, gorgeous churches, easy walks, and just as important, we enjoy having time to explore neighborhoods, relax at cafes with a drink, shop a little bit, and eat good food!

I’ve been doing lots of research, reading Lonely Planet, travel blogs, planning threads on Fodors, and several awesome trip reports, thanks to coral22, MaiTaiTom, Progol, and leifields.

For transportation, we plan on renting a car for several areas and using trains.

Our home airport is Boston. Right now I think we will fly to/from Milan. Our itinerary is basically a circle, and I want to plan the trip so that we are in the Dolomites in late May when I’ve read that a few lifts/gondolas will be open.

Please let me know what you think of my itinerary. The logistics, number of nights, any glaring mistakes, recommendations, etc.

Milan – 4 nights

Drive to Cinque Terre and leave our car in the public parking lot.

Manarola in CT – 3 nights

Drive to Lucca

Lucca – 4 nights – we will have the rental car in Tuscany. Some towns to visit: San Gimignano, Volterra, Barga, and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.

Return car in Lucca.

Train to Florence.

Florence – 4 nights

Train to Bologna.

Bologna with daytrip to Ravenna – 4 nights

Train to Venice.

Venice – 4 nights

Train to Verona.

Verona – 1 night

Train to Bolzano.

*Dolomites – 4 nights – will have rental car in the Dolomites

I think we will drive to Lake Como and return the car there. There aren’t any direct trains from Bolzano to Varenna so it’s a long journey by train. Any thoughts on this?

Varenna on Lake Como – 4 nights

Train to Milan.

Spend last night in Milan or at Milan Airport hotel for flight home the next day.


*Regarding the Dolomites – where to stay? Should we spend 4 nights in one place, such as Merano or Ortisei or spend 2 nights in Merano and 2 nights in Ortisei?
I know that May is early for the Dolomites but we don’t plan on doing strenuous hiking. This is what we would like to do:

∑ Take lift/gondola to Alpe di Siusi – lift opens mid-May.

∑ Easy walks in the Val di Funes.

∑ We will be happy visiting villages/towns surrounded by beautiful alpine scenery.

∑ Seeing Otzi (the Iceman) in Bolzano is a must.

Regarding Cinque Terre, I know a lot of people don’t like it because the CT has become so popular and crowded. But it’s been on our list for a long time. My philosophy is that I prefer to visit a place I am interested in and risk being disappointed rather than not visit and always regret that I didn’t. Crowds don’t bother us as much as they bother some people. And I hope that by spending 3 nights there we will have time to enjoy CT in the mornings and evenings when hopefully it is quieter and less crowded.

We currently have 33 nights on the ground. If we want to add an extra night somewhere, where should that be? Not sure yet we want to do that. Just thinking. I want to keep the trip length manageable.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my lengthy post!
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 09:25 AM
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Karen, how exciting, another trip in the planning! My husband and I spent two full days in CT, based in Manarola, this was in May 2016. Vernazza was stunning, such a gorgeous little town. Of course it was crowded, the train too, but I donít regret going. Riomaggiore and Corniglia were much more manageable, but the walk between the villages was closed due to rockfall.

Despite several trips to Italy over the years we have never made it to the lakes, Milan too was eons back in the mid eighties! Florence, Lucca, Venice and Bologna arenít to be missed. Do you have any time in Tuscany? I want to spend a week at an agriturismo, perhaps in 2025/26.

Enjoy the planning, IMO itís almost as much fun as the actual trip!
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 09:37 AM
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Siena is one of my favorite places in Europe. It has 17 neighborhoods (contrades) each with their own flag, colors, songs, totem, traditional costumes, etc. Some have their own neighborhood museum open to the public. They compete against each other in the Palio, the bi-annual bareback horse race on the Campo. It's a place I could stay in for days, far more interesting and beautiful than Lucca. Since it is easy to reach San Gimignano and Volterra from there, I think you should consider exchanging Lucca for Siena.

I do find it fascinating that you list Barga and Castelnouvo di Garfagnana. I have been to both places for the purpose of genealogical research. But I am surprised to find them on someone else's list!

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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 12:08 PM
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A few ideas from a Swiss citizen who made uncountable trips (during decades) through Northern Italy.

Direct flights ffrom Boston to Rome and back from Munich might be less stressing.
Tuscany is easier to reach from Rome and the Northern Dolomites are easseir to reacjh from Munich than from MXP.
You could then plan along an itinerary FCO - Tuscany - Liguria - Lombardy - South Tyrol.

You plan to do daytrips ffrom big cities into smaller one's, but the contrary is perfectly possible.
You can perfectly stay at Bresciafor eample and visit Milan, Lake Como, Lake Garda, Parma, Cremona, Mantova, Verona from there.
Parma has similar hub functions and even direct trains to La Spezia (Cinque Terre).

May be you underestimate Genoa which is well worth a visit (asa you will already be in the 5Terre).

Tons of minor sights cannot be found in travel blogs as for example
the prehistoric rock carvings in Val Camonica (Unesco site) North of Brescia (somewhat between Lake Iseo and the Swiss Bernina area;
the numerous sancturaries in the middle of nothing, like Oropa, Varallo, Mandonna del Sasso, Re.........;
medieval castles llike the castelli valdostani, the 3 castles of Bellinzona (Unesco site in Switzerland, a few miles from the border) or the fortress of Mantova;
the endless hiking trail network in Aosta Valley, between the Roman excavations of Aosta and the glaciers of Mont Blanc and Matterhorn;
the cog wheel mountain railway to Monte Generoso, between Lake Como, Lake Lugano and Lake Varese with the top restaurant buiilt by the world famous star architect Mario Botta and with views over the whole alpine area from France up to Austria;
etc. etc.

Only Americans can ask why there are no direct trains from Bolzano/Bozen to the small overtouristy village of Varenna, popular with Americans and Asians only. Europeans prefer rather Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano where is much more to do and to see than around Varenna/Bellagio/Menaggio.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 12:49 PM
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Hmm, sounds fun. Some random feedback:

Looks like you are weighting every place close to equally with numerous four-night stays, but depending on your interests, you might want to mix it up a bit. I'd definitely take a night from Milan and add it to Venice.

Cinque Terre was too crowded and touristy for me seven years ago, and almost too crowded/touristy for me 23 years ago, so I'd skip it and explore other coastal areas of Liguria to get away from Instatravellers and Rick Steves devotees. SML, Portovenere, Camogli...there are other choices.

Why Lucca? Two of your day trips take you well into Tuscany (San Gimignano and Volterra). I'm not as enamored of Lucca as some people, though, so keep that in mind. Tuscany is central Italy FWIW.

I haven't been to any of the lakes, so no comment there.

TL;DR version: If this were my trip, I'd add a night to Venice, replace CT with another Ligurian locale to avoid the hordes, re-think Lucca, add a night to Florence. But it's your trip!

Last edited by Leely2; Apr 15th, 2024 at 01:10 PM.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 04:27 PM
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Wow! Thank you everyone for all of your comments and suggestions.!

Geetika, good to know that you don't regret going to CT despite the crowds. Many beautiful places today are very crowded with tourists. We enjoyed Santorini and Dubrovnik, for example, despite the crowds.

I told my husband what everyone here said about the CT crowds, but he still wants to visit. I am sure the other places on the Ligurian coast are beautiful, too, but unfortunately there just isn't enough time to visit every place we want to see. We still have time to think about it but right now we are still leaning towards the CT.

neckervd, I am sure all the minor sights you suggest are wonderful and interesting but it's just not possible to see everything. We are retired so we do have lots of time but I want to keep this trip at a manageable length for us. I don't want to risk being exhausted towards the end and not enjoying places.

Shelemm and Leely2, Why Lucca? Last year our younger daughter and her husband and 2 young children (ages 3 and 5 at the time) rented an apartment in Lucca for 3 weeks and they loved it. They really enjoyed staying in a walled city, and they loved the evening stroll along the walls with locals. Someone they met in Lucca suggested visiting Barga as a lovely quieter town not filled with tourists. They had a nice peaceful visit there including lunch. My guidebook mentions Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, and it looks very pretty, too. So I think these two places are off the beaten path, which we do look for when traveling, along with the more popular tourist sites.

I will consider re-thinking Lucca and staying in Siena instead. Siena does look beautiful and interesting. And it would be convenient for visiting San Gimignano and Volterra. We can always stop in Lucca on our way from the CT (if we keep it in our itinerary) to Siena. If we decide to spend the 4 nights in Siena, will there be a problem with parking?

Leely2, yes, I did weigh every place equally because we don't want too many 2 and 3 night stays because we don't want to be constantly moving. While planning this itinerary, I was thinking that 4 nights is a more leisurely pace and we certainly wouldn't be bored any where. With that said, I can certainly decrease Milan to 3 nights instead of 4, and add that night to either Florence or Venice. Right now we have 33 nights. Not sure if we will add an extra night. Although I suppose one extra night shouldn't matter too much, right? I don't think it will kill us. So, if the only extra night I have is the night I take away from Milan, should I add it to Florence or Venice? As I said earlier, we like art museums, history, beautiful churches, and enough time for exploring neighborhoods. And good food!

Another question - Is one area of Tuscany prettier than another area of Tuscany? Such as southern Tuscany compared to northern Tuscany?

Thank you everyone!

Last edited by KarenWoo; Apr 15th, 2024 at 04:34 PM.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 05:11 PM
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Hi,,KarenWoo! The trip sounds wonderful! I think you’ll be very happy wherever you go. Funnily enough, we’re talking about a return to Italy for the spring of 2025, though probably a mix of north and south. But it would be wonderful to meet up if we do overlap!

Leely2 beat me to it, but I highly recommend Portovenere. It’s been many years since we’ve been there but it was a gem of a place. We were there in July and were able to take a ferry to the CT and walked between Monterosso and Vernazza. It was, at the time, mostly touristed by Italian families, and felt very special, a secret kind of place. I recommend it as an alternative to CT, though I hear how much you want to go to the CT.

We enjoyed our stay (again, many years ago) in Bellagio but I don’t think it warrants 4 days. I did find the views prettier there, though, than on Lake Maggiore, so I think staying on Lake Como is fine.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 06:11 PM
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Progol, thank you for your comments. Yes, that would be wonderful if next year our plans do overlap. We would love to meet you and your husband.

We plan on staying in Varenna on Lake Como for 4 nights, so that would be 3 to 3.5 days. Of course, we want to take the ferries to visit Bellagio, Menaggio and other towns; visit the villas and gardens; relax in a beautiful place. We don't want to be rushing around, and I am trying to avoid a lot of short stays. So do you think 4 nights is too much?
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 06:12 PM
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Like Leely2, I think it's a mistake to give (mostly) equal time everywhere. I would definitely make sightseeing lists to figure out how much time you need/want in each destination.

Other random comments:

I like Milan more than most here, but I wouldn't spend 4 nights when there are so many other places on your list. Plus, if you check out of your hotel in Varenna in the morning of the last day, you could have an afternoon and evening in Milan before flying out the next day. (No need to stay at the airport.) I'd probably only spend 2 nights in Milan at the front end. If you want to see the Last Supper, seek tickets as soon as they become available for your dates.

I wouldn't pick up the first rental car until after the Cinque Terre. Personally, I'd choose Siena over Lucca in a heartbeat. That would mean dropping Barga and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana but would keep San Gimignano and Volterra on the list. From Siena, you could also visit one or two towns in the Val d'Orcia and, time permitting, see a bit of Chianti. Only you can choose, but pick up and return the rental car in the same town.

I would give one or two of those Milan nights at the beginning to Florence. If your time in Florence is over a weekend, the planning gets tricky because several of the main sights might not be open both weekend days. Make reservations at any sight that offers them. From Florence you could easily visit Lucca for a day. Other easy day trips: Pisa, Montecatini Terme, Arezzo, Fiesole.

I would rent and return the second car in Bolzano or perhaps Verona. The drive to Varenna wouldn't necessarily be faster than the train, and you'd have to return the car in Lecco (Avis, Hertz) or the town of Como (Hertz, Europcar). There are no rental offices in Varenna.

Ideally, I'd want more nights in the Dolomites. While there, I'd focus less on towns/villages and more on driving over as many passes and seeing as many lakes as possible. If you have any interest in World War I, there are a couple of interesting museums/sights. The Otzi exhibits are fascinating.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 06:19 PM
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Re the question of 4 nights at Lake Como... I don't think 3 full days are "too much." In 2024, the ferries don't revert to summer frequency until the very end of May (5/27). Even in summer, getting around can take longer than you think.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 06:55 PM
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Karen, this does sound lovely. Given your goals to see and also not be rushed, I'd personally want another night in Venice if you can swing it. Four nights and three days in a very traveled city, you may not end up experiencing the true "La Serenissima" that Venice can be. The city is wonderful just to wander without a goal, imho.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 08:28 PM
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Karen, best wishes for this trip. Just a few things I'd change if it were my trip
- I would rely on trains in and out of the CT (we stayed in Monterosso, on the main line)
- You could pickup the car after, in Lucca or Pisa, and return it in Florence or Chiusi
- I would cut back a day or more in each of your cities of Milan Bologna and Florence, and add more time to Tuscany and the Dolomites (these 2 regions would be my highest priority, they are the crown jewels)
- You are missing the most glorious part of southern Tuscany- Val D'orcia. I would also base in Siena (some hotels offer parking, or you can leave the car at the rail station at 2Äper night and take the bus or escalators to the centre) for the Chianti/northern Tuscany and somewhere like Montalcino/Pienza for the south (maybe an agriturismo) to do this region justice and avoid backtracking.
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Old Apr 15th, 2024, 10:33 PM
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What a wonderful trip! I think you have done a great job with planning the direction you will be traveling in.
I am envious of the Dolomites and Bologna and the mosaics in Ravenna, wow!

You have a great reference from your daughter about Lucca, she would know your tastes the best.
For us, we enjoyed it but maybe not to stay there.It is big. We didn't get to Siena, but so many love it, it might be wonderful. We were absolutely in love with the Val d'Orcia and I think it would be a shame to miss it. After visiting recently, we said our ideal pairing might have been to stay in San Gimignano and Pienza, but we visited very few places, so others would have more suggestions.

I think I would take a day from Milan, and Bologna and maybe stay 3 days in Siena and 3 in Pienza? And maybe return the car in Florence, which is what we did, it was pretty easy.
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 05:21 AM
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KarenWoo, you’ve got so much good information here that I wouldn’t dissuade you from 1 night more or less on Lake Como!

And when we start thinking more seriously about our trip to Italy, I’ll let you know and see if we can overlap. That would be fantastic!

Meantime, I’m busy studying your TR for Greece as we’re going next week!
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 05:50 AM
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Karen, just adding a bit.

Sienna. most definitely and easily reachable from Florence by BUS which works better than a train. The main bus station is just outside the wall and you can also go by bus to hill towns from there easily and cheaply.

Verona - a beautiful small city that deserves more than a day's run through.

Lake Como - We stayed at the residence L'Ulivo apartment on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (sp?) in Bellagio. Perhaps the best choice of our entire trip. It was a marvelous stay with full run of the hotel.

Last edited by basingstoke2; Apr 16th, 2024 at 06:26 AM.
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 06:00 AM
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FYI, Siena gets 3 stars from the Michelin Green Guide, their highest rating. "Worth the Journey." The tradition of the passeggiata (evening stroll) is very strong in Siena. In terms of parking, there are lots of places to put your car but I don't know at what cost. Always good to ask at your lodging. There are at least a dozen very close garages/lots, and many more a little further out. There is an app to find spaces at this website:

https://sigericospa.it/en/

I do know folks who very much enjoyed Lucca. I was not particularly enamored of it. I do not doubt it's a nice place to rent for a while. I just wanted you to realize that you can easily visit two of your destinations more easily from Siena, and that it is a super highlight of Tuscany as well as all of Italy. A first sighting of the Campo is an extraordinary moment, and I am always surprised about how many people visiting the area blithely pass it by. So close , yet.....

So at least go if you don't stay there.

Both Braga and Castelnuovo are very pleasant, and I was happy to see them both, but still surprised to find on a destination list.
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 06:34 AM
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It seems to me that you waste your time by choosing:
a airport 1 hr North of Milan (MXP) with NO direct flights to/from Boston;
a circular trip with much backtracking.

Therefore I suggested
Direct flilght Boston - Rome,
Train from Rome airport to a place of your choice in Tuscany, may be Florence (2 hrs 20 min ride, 5 trains every hr,) Orvieto (2 hrs 15 min by train) or another town.
Rent there a car if you want to visit small villages in Tuscany.,
Go then on by train to Bologna (Florence - Bologna is 40 min by train).
Move by train to La Spezia - Manarola (via Parma - Cisa).
Go by train from Manarola via Genoa (stopover!) to Milan.
Stay 4 nights at Milan and move by train to Varenna, if it must be (1 hr ride),
Go by train to Venice 2 1/2 hrs ride) and stay there.
go by train from Venice to Bolzano/Bozen (3 hrs ride) and stop over at Verona as long as you want, Sleep at Bozen.
Visit Bolzano/Bozen as long as you like and continue bei bus to Seis/Siusi (every 30 min until 20.10). The gondola from Seis/Siusi to Seiseralm/Alpe di Siusi runs this year from May 18th until Nov 3rd.. Take bus 178 (from April 4th until May 17th (last departure from Seis/Siusi at 16.17).
Move then by bus (every hr, 70 min ride) to Vilnoess Valley/Val di Funes as you want to stay there for hikiing.The 3 gondolas in Val di Funes run this year from May 18th until October 20th https://www.plose.org/en/summer-plos...rs-prices.html
Leave finally St. Andrae/Val die Funes by bus at 4pm, change at Brixen to a Munich bound train and arrive there at 20.14 (Muenchen Ost) resp at 20.55 (Munich airport).
Fly home the following day (direct flight, 8 1/2 hrs journey).

My proposal to stay at Brescia or Parma instead of Milan and Bologna based on the idea that you wouldn't stay all 4 days within Milan and Bologna, but that you would do some daytrips to gems in the surrondings like Bergamo, Parma, etc. But as that doesn't seem to be the case, it is of course easier to stay all the time within big cities.
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 09:21 AM
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I am so grateful for everyone's comments and advice. I have a lot to think about. I will definitely make some changes to our itinerary.

Because of everyone's comments about Milan, I will definitely drop at least one night from Milan.

Jean, thanks for the suggestion of staying in Milan the last night thus giving us an extra afternoon and evening in Milan. I have made a list of things we would like to see and do in each location. My problem is that sometimes it's hard to know how long we will spend in a museum, church, etc. And I don't like to plan our itineraries by the hour. And we sometimes change our plans when we are actually there. I do agree with you and Leely2 about re-distributing the nights.

Because of everyone's suggestions to visit/stay in Siena and not missing Val D'Orcia, I will take that one night from Milan and add it to Tuscany. Thinking of now spending 2 nights in Lucca and 3 nights in Siena. ANUJ, your comment about missing the most glorious part of southern Tuscany - Val D'Orcia, convinced me! And good to know that some hotels in Siena offer parking. And we can also visit Pienza from Siena. coral22, thanks for the tip about Pienza. I enjoyed reading your day with the guide.

basingstoke2, I will check out the hotel you mention in Bellagio. And I am sure that Verona deserves more time but it's just a question of how long we want this trip to be. Most of our trips have been no longer than 2.5 weeks. The big test will be this fall when we spend 6 weeks in Australia and New Zealand! We've never done anything like this before. I'm a bit nervous about the length of time. So that's why we're thinking our Italy trip should be not much longer than a month. Looks like it could be 2 months long and we wouldn't see everything! My husband is a bit more concerned than I am about keeping Italy to a month. After all, he's 3 years older than me.

shelemm, I just ordered the Michelin Green Guide for Tuscany!

neckervd, We don't mind changing planes because we did that quite frequently when our oldest daughter lived in Provence for 10 years. There are no non-stop flights from Boston to Marseilles so we always had to change planes somewhere in Europe. But I will take a closer look at your routing. BTW, I do have a list of smaller cities/gems, and Brescia, Parma and Bergamo are on that list. I penciled in Bergamo as a daytrip from Milan. If we spend 3 nights in Milan, we might still have time to visit Bergamo for a day. If we decide to do this, is it cheaper to buy train tickets in advance? Or is it ok to wait until the day of? Parma looks beautiful, too! Our plan is to visit Ravenna from Bologna but maybe we can also add Parma as a daytrip from Bologna. Or maybe I can convince my husband to add a few extra nights.

Several people suggested 5 nights is better for Venice than 4 so I will consider that.


Last edited by KarenWoo; Apr 16th, 2024 at 09:26 AM.
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 11:36 AM
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Another question. I notice that several people recommend that we take the train to/from CT. I've been reading coral22's TR, and we've also had "conversations" about whether or not to drive to the CT on a previous thread I started. They drove to Manarola and used the parking lot there. It was only $20 per night to park their car. And they used a luggage service to bring their luggage to their hotel. coral22 mentioned that the CT Express trains are sometimes standing room only. So I was concerned about us two "old folks" carrying our luggage on the train when it's standing room only. I know it's a short ride but still. . .I'm trying to make this as easy as possible for us. Am I worrying too much about carrying our luggage on the CT Express? Thanks once again!
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Old Apr 16th, 2024, 02:27 PM
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I also wondered why you were driving to CT, but your last post explained why you're doing that. Do whatever is best for you. I can understand not wanting to have to stand on a crowded train with luggage.
I enjoyed Siena and loved Pienza (stayed three nights). So many places to decide between!
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