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Starting to get my head around our first trip to Italy (Emlia Romagna and Le Marche)

Starting to get my head around our first trip to Italy (Emlia Romagna and Le Marche)

Feb 24th, 2014, 11:00 AM
  #1  
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Starting to get my head around our first trip to Italy (Emlia Romagna and Le Marche)

My husband and I would very much like to take our first trip to Italy next year. I like thinking about our trips well in advance, and I've been obsessed about this one for a while. At first, our intent was to go to Rome and Florence, but the more I thought about it and the more I read, the more doubts I started to have. After reading A LOT of trip reports and being particularly fascinated by Jamikins and BikerScott's fabulous adventures in Italy, we both found ourselves drawn to Emilia Romagna (likely with a base in Bologna) and Le Marche (likely with a base in Urbino).

We like the idea of traveling by train to the town surrounding Bologna for sevaral day trips and with stopping at Raveena on the drive to Urbino (recognizing that it's a bit of a detour). My thoughts on what to do in Le Marche are a bit fuzzier at this point, but the slower pace and scenery seem like the area would provide a nice counterpoint. Still, I like the idea of still staying in town rather than at an agroturismo (as nice as some of them sound).

I'm struggling to get my head around the logitstics though, as seemingly straightforward as the trip at this point seems to be. Neither of us has ever rented a car in Europe; we've relied solely on public transport. I understand some of the issues we're going to encounter, especially with respect to parking, but I'm not entirely clear on how to budget our time, e.,g should we sandwich our time in Le Marche between several nights on both ends of our trip in Bologna or should we drive straight from the airport to Le March, jet lag be damned? One other thought I had was to fly into Rome and bus straight from there to Ascoli Piceno for a night/morning before picking up a rental to drive to Urbino. I was having trouble finding car hire information, however, for Ascoli. I'm also a bit worried about car rental because neither of us drives a manual (although I suppose there's time to learn). It sounds as I would be well advised to make my car reservation as well in advance as possible.

We will likely have 10 nights to work with. Our original thought was to travel in early spring (when we were focused on Rome and Florence), but now I'm leaning toward early May or maybe even September. I do know I don't want to go in the summer, as I just don't deal with high heat and humidity very well.

Just a bit more backround. We're in our mid 30s/early 40s and are very active. We love food and drink, people watching, historic sites, architecture and social history. We love art, but if we had to choose between wandering a beautiful town on a pleasant day and an art museum, we'd choose the former 9 times out of 10. It took four trips and a rainy February day before I visited the Louvre, just by way of an example. We don't live in a particularly pedestrian friendly area (Indianapolis) so simply wandering around a lively city or town is fantastic fun for us. We're also avid bikers and hikers and while this trip isn't intended to be active in that regard, a hike in Le Marche or day-long bike tour isn't out of the question either.

So, I guess at this point, I'm just eager to hear any thoughts or ideas on how best to structure the logistics of the trip, or any other suggestions that anybody else. Thanks in advance and thanks to all who have written about their past adventures in Italy. Those reports have provided much inspiration.
indyhiker is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 12:47 PM
  #2  
 
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It's possible to rent cars with automatic transmission in Italy, although they do cost more and tend to be on the larger side.

If you want to stay in the Urbino area, you could fly into Ancona (AOI). Both Lufthansa and Alitalia have partner airlines that serve Ancona. There are car rental agencies at the airport, and Urbino is only about an hour from there by car. There are also buses from Rome to Urbino, leaving from Tiburtina bus station, if you prefer to fly into Rome but are not necessarily interested in visiting Ascoli Piceno.

You might even want to consider staying in Ascoli Piceno if your main interest is little towns, scenery, and hiking. Ascoli is in the foothills of the Sibillini mountains, with several national and provincial parks, and lots of good hiking. I could also recommend a scenic route for a drive north to Urbino, if you decide to do that, with several nice towns to stop at along the way, and maybe even an overnight stop.

Ten days ((by which I hope you mean ten nights on the ground) is not very much time for a vacation like this, though. The pace is slower in Le Marche partly because there are very few high-speed roads, especially going north and south, and no high-speed trains, either. You might be able to spend four nights in Ascoli Piceno, visiting small towns and taking hikes (of which I can recommend some of both). Then you could spend two nights in Urbino, and three nights in Bologna. You could stop in Ravenna on your way to Bologna. That would leave you one night to spend on the road en route from Ascoli Piceno to Urbino, which would give you some time to see the beautiful central part of Le Marche.

I live in Le Marche, and consider it one of the most beautiful regions in Italy. I may be biased, but to me it's even more beautiful than Tuscany. It's also cheaper, less crowded, and has better cuisine!
bvlenci is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 12:53 PM
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Hi indyhiker,

It sounds like you have the makings of a great trip! Both Urbino and Ascoli Piceno are wonderful destinations, so if you plan on more than a few days in Le Marche, you might want to split your time between those two cities.

For car rental in Italy, I always use kemwel.com or autoeurope.com. They're U.S.-based brokers who deal with several different car rental companies in Europe. On their websites, you can search for cars at various locations, and see what's available. You will pay a considerable premium for an automatic transmission. If you need an automatic, I would suggest picking up the car at an airport, where there will be a larger and more varied inventory. In a small-city rental car office like Ascoli Piceno, you may have few (if any) choices in automatic vehicles.

I highly recommend either renting or buying a gps device to use when driving in Italy.

My rule when flying from the U.S. to Italy is not to drive more than an hour on the day of arrival, due to fatigue and jet lag. Particularly since you've never driven in Italy before, I wouldn't recommend driving all the way from the Bologna airport to Urbino that first day. Since you want to visit Ravenna, maybe you could drive there on the first day and spend the night, then move on to Urbino the next day.

When you return to Bologna, you can drop the car back at the airport and take a bus or taxi into the city. That way, you don't have to drive into Bologna and deal with the city traffic. That's what I did on a recent trip that ended in Bologna, and it worked fine.

I recommend being in Bologna over a weekend, if possible. From Saturday morning to Sunday evening, two of the main streets in the city center are closed to vehicle traffic, making for a large pedestrian-only area that's very pleasant for exploring the city.
susoir is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 01:19 PM
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Thank you so much for great information and thoughts to chew on! Keep 'em coming.

BVlenci,you touched on the amount of time we have available. To be honest, my original thought was to split our time (and it is 10 nights on the ground by the way) evenly between Bologne and Urbino, precisely because I did not want to feel overly rushed n either area. Admittedly, that still isn't time to do justice to either place, but I thought it might be relatively doable without being frantic.

My previous trips to Europe have all been 10 nights and I've never attempted to go more than two places during those trips (and often just stayed put, e.g., in Paris). Based on what you've shared, I tend to think that's it's better to stick to Bologna + Urbino that trying to add in Ascoli into the mix.

I'm also leaning much more toward Urbino and northern Le Marche because we'd rather see Emilia Romagna than Rome at this point, notwithstanding our love of hiking. We've taken a number of hiking vacations of late (and have one in Northern California coming up in May), and I'd rather it not be the focus of this trip. It was merely something that we could add into the mix if it otherwise fit. Perhaps a future visit could include Rome and southern le Marche.

I also appreciate the suggestions re: rental cars. Honestly, it might make sense for my husband (he drives; I navigate) to learn to drive a manual. The irony is that he's a HUGE car fanatic and works for an international engine compay. The fact that he never learned to drive a stick just strikes me as funny. For this and future trips, it might save us money and stress if he learns. Of course, one could argue that I need to learn, too!

Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts and advice with me!
indyhiker is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 01:22 PM
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Hi indyhiker, so glad you enjoyed our trip reports! Have you read all three about Le Marche?

Some great advice above! We like to take things slowly so I would probably split your time between Bologna and one location in Le Marche. Urbino or Ascoli Piceno, although we haven't been to the latter yet so i will leave that for others.

Flying into Ancona would work and then heading straight to your location of choice. You could also fly into bologna and drive to Ravenna...I think it's about an hour and very easy...very worth the pit stop too! Spend the night like suggested above!

Then head back to bologna for the last half of the trip.

On the way back you could also drop the car at the train station in Bologna, almost a straight shot easy drive off the freeway...would save you the time and expense of getting into town from the airport.

We also use Autoeurope to rent our vehicles. I imagine you would have greater chance of getting an automatic at the Bologna airport rather than Ancona. Don't forget to get your International Driving Permit from AA before you go.

The details of our hotels and restaurants are all in our trip reports but if you need any more info just let me know!
jamikins is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 01:25 PM
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Can your hubby learn to drive a standard before you go? Even if you book an automatic you may not get one...they are fairly uncommon and if there isn't one available you could be given a standard...it is also a lot cheaper!
jamikins is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 01:30 PM
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1) do not do a long drive after a long flight, too dangerous for you and others
2) The Po valley is a great big flat plane, covered with railway lines, rivers & drains and bicycle paths. Not many hills so the views are not great but the wild life is good and bike use is as good as Holland.
3) Some cities (Ferrara for inst) have as many bicyclists as pedestrians and even ban cars. In fact having a car in Ferrara would just be a pain
bilboburgler is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 01:30 PM
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I use Google Navigator, on my Android phone, as my GPS unit. They allow you to download maps in advance, when you have a wifi connection, so that you don't have to use data services when on the road. (GPS doesn't use data services apart from downloading the maps.) My husband has a Garmin, and I find Google Navigator to be just as good, other than the fact that my phone takes a few minutes to find the satellite. Google's maps are continually updated, while the Garmin has to be updated manually, which is a real pain.

GPS runs down a phone's battery very quickly, so when I use Google Navigator, I keep the phone plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. The adapter came with the phone, but you can also get lighter adapters cheaply anywhere, with a USB connector.
bvlenci is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 02:30 PM
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Another car rental question before I forget: In the States, you often pay a premium to pick up a car at a different spot than you drop off. Is this true in Europe, too?

Jamie, I have read all of your Italian reports more than once and poured over your photos as well. You and Scott provide much entertainment and information. I love your Paris photos, too! You guys are great to take the time to share!
indyhiker is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 02:33 PM
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I believe there is a premium, but not much if you drop off in the same country. It's a really large premium if you drop off in a different country.
bvlenci is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 02:39 PM
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Thanks so much indyhiker

We haven't been charged a one way fee in Italy...we were with europcar in France once and it was €75.
jamikins is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 02:54 PM
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Oh wanted to add...be sure to drive through Furlo Gorge, the scenery is gorgeous and driving through the roman tunnel us really cool!
jamikins is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 03:02 PM
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Yes, I've read several recommendations for the Gorge. Thanks!

Does anybody have thoughts on the best time of year for this trip? Again, I think my preference would be May or September. It sounds like crowds aren't a huge issue, but that conferences in Bologna could be. Is there a site that provides a calendar for such things? A link provided in another thread on Bologna was dead.
indyhiker is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 03:11 PM
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We went late sept last year and we had to eat inside at night and it was dark fairly early...also the pool was closed. We love travelling early September and the food that time of year is fantastic. We haven't been to Italy in May so I am not sure if early would be too early to have a long dinner outside. I might aim for late May or early September.
jamikins is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 03:12 PM
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My preference would be May. Everything is still green, the poppies are blooming, with any luck the wild broom is also blooming, and it's just a beautiful time of year.
bvlenci is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 03:19 PM
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Pools are likely to be closed in both May and September. The temperature in either month is a bit unpredictable. Some years we never use an air conditioner at all; in fact, some years we hardly ever turn on a fan. In other years, there are heat waves, and it can be pretty miserable unless you're at a high altitude. We've had heat waves in both May and September, but it's not the norm. Early May or late September would be almost guaranteed to have pleasant temperatures. The risk of rain is probably lower in September, though. Last May was pretty wet.

By the way, if it's hot, most of Emilia Romagna is usually much worse than Le Marche, because it's in the Val Padana (Po valley), and far from the sea. Hot winds from the south hit the Alps, and then just curl down over the Val Padana, absorbing humidity from the Po and sitting over the valley like a hot wet blanket.
bvlenci is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 03:46 PM
  #17  
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I just spent some time looking at weather averages for both places. There are pros and cons for both. In the end May might win out because I'd rather miss May at home than September!

Thanks again for all the input!
indyhiker is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 06:26 PM
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We traveled in that area in late May, 2001 and it was lovely. The big benefit is simply how much light you have available. We loved Urbino. However our second day there we were enjoying a lovely picnic lunch slightly above the city and watched the fog roll in and fill up the city. While it was atmospheric, we barely saw another thing!

Bologna is a perfect base. The city itself has a lot to do and there are such great day trips all around. The walk through the porticos to the church on the hill is fun and helps you with all the great food. I was there on a different trip with my daughter and we went on a tour of one of the balsamic houses in Modena. That was a highlight. It was free...but I bought a lovely bottle of vinegar.

As I recall the weather was pleasant (except for fog/rain in Urbino) but not hot until we hit the Po Valley when it was very hot.

I think your trip sounds great and 2 places in 10 days sounds perfect. And one last tip: Kemwel doesn't charge a drop fee if the rental is over a few days (4, I think.) I get the 0 deductible in Italy so that I don't have to worry. We do drive a manual though. I would urge your husband to get working on that skill.
rosetravels is offline  
Feb 24th, 2014, 06:44 PM
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Thanks for the input, rosetravels!

DH is on board to learn how to drive a stick!

Another idea crossed my mind. Would it make any sense to take a train to Ravenna from Bologna upon our arrival and then get the car in Ravenna the following day to head to Urbino?
indyhiker is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2014, 02:40 AM
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Indyhiker, that would work...you could take a taxi to the train station. There are likely less cars available there so a stick shift would likely be your only option...
jamikins is offline  

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