Tuscany assistance desperately needed!

Apr 24th, 2004, 11:46 AM
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Tuscany assistance desperately needed!

My husband & I have 7 days - we have 2 kids under age 3, and that's as much time as we could get, so no lamenting not enough time allowed!

Details: flying in/out of Milan. Arrive Tues, May 4th in Milan 9am, so by the time we get out of airport w/ rental car, 10am-ish. Our departure is the following Tuesday out of Milan 11am. (these are freq flyer tix, so no changing).

I'll start by saying my husband has been nowhere in Italy, and I did a whirlwind guided tour to all the majors (Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Pisa ...) back in 1992 upon graduating college.

Our main destination is Tuscany. I have a friend who lives in Milan, but we are not really interested in seeing Milan. It has been suggested to go to Lake Como the morning we arrive and see that area (with our friend) to get over our jetlag, then back to Milan and spend the night in said friends apartment, then up early Weds and head out to Florence. So,

Question #1: I know Lake Como is supposed to be beautiful - is it worth a day of our time or should we skip it and staying w/ friend and had straight to Florence? I'm torn - it would be neat to see that area, but we're not dead set on it.

I am still playing around with the trip and unsure of how to lay it out. (reminder, we will have a rental car) The main spots we hope to catch, grouped by proximity assuming each grouping can be done in one day(?) (exception Florence):

Lucca, Pisa DAY 1 OR DAY 7 (Tuesday or Monday)
Florence - 2 days and 1 or 2 nights DAYS 2 & 3 Weds & Thurs)
Greve, Castellina, Radda (Chianti) DAY 4 (Friday)
Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Siena DAY 5 (Saturday)
Monteriggioni, Volterra, San Gimignano DAY 6 (Sunday)
Arezzo and possibly Cortona if time allows (?????)
DAY 7 (Monday) left to travel back to Milan by bedtime, and fit in a few tourings ???? along the way.

Question 2: Am I leaving anywhere out? (keep in mind the timeframe - really only 3 full days and part of 4th to do the hilltowns)

Question 3: Lucca & Pisa am thinking on the way to Florence OR on the way back to Milan - if we don't do Lake Como then head straight to Pisa, then Lucca, spending the night in Lucca and straight to Florence. Any thoughts?

Question 4: The hilltowns I listed, any suggestion as to a good place to base from that has somewhere neat but not too extravagent? We'd like to settle somewhere - maybe even with a pool even though I'm not sure if they're open early May? Castellina and San Gimignano seem to be popular suggestions - Greve was highly recommended by other friends.

Question 5: Do you think the hilltown groupings are too much, too few, or just right for one days worth - any suggestions welcome?

Question 6: Our flight out on the 11th is at 11am, so we'd have to turn our car in etc., so, we plan on spending the last night in Milan with our friend, but we have all but the driving time on that day to ramble on the way back from Tuscany. Any suggestions?

Question 7: Hotel well located and reasonably priced in Florence (less than $150 per night)

Question 8: Would you move any of the hilltown days around - not a lot of thought put into which day where yet.

Thanks for any help you might offer!
Texas_Chica is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 02:25 PM
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Hi TC,

I like the idea of a visit to Lake Como on arrival. It will give you a chance to adjust to Italy and visit with your friend.

>my husband has been nowhere in Italy,<

Does that mean you will be driving or you will be navigating?

Your motor trip looks rather rushed to me. Lots of time in a car with two infants. Are you sure?

Lucca and Pisa are readily accessible by train from Florence.

Is there a reason why you have left out Venice and Siena?
ira is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 03:20 PM
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Your itinerary is indeed hectic, perhaps too hectic, for anyone. But, with two children under the age of 3, you've got to be kidding! Lotsa luck! I think you've really overscheduled yourselves.
Just one example: No way can you do justice to Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino and Siena in one day on Day 4 (or is it Day 5?). I think most Italy veterans would agree that those four deserve two days....at least.
And you want to throw in Lake Como as well?
HowardR is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 03:39 PM
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With such a short time period, I think it would be a big mistake to squeeze in Lake Como to relax. It IS lovely, but so are a lot of other places, and I wouldn't make the lakes a priority on a first or second or third trip to Italy anyway. I also think that unless you have a strong interest in stopping at various places along the way, it would be unnecessary, stressful and a mistake to drive from Milan to Tuscany. You can so easily take a train from Milan to Florence. Re your Tuscany itinerary: I have not been to all of the places on your list, but I've been to quite a few, and unless you just want to zip around fast and check off places on your list, I think it is a mistake to count on squeezing in so many towns. You can always go back; it isn't hard to get to Tuscany. ESPECIALLY if you traveling with children, I would think that a much slower pace would be so much better. You couyld go prepared with a lot of information about various possible towns to visit, but without feeling that you absolutely must see anything in particular. There are many many good choices in Tuscany. You could easily stay the whole time in Florence (not in the high season, though--too crowded), or you could stay two nights in Florence, and then for the other nights, pick an interesting town, possibly in southern Tuscany, as your base and take day trips from there, or you could even stay the entire time in the countryside. If you really don't mind renting a car and driving in a foreign country, rent one in Florence or Siena or elsewhere in Tuscany, rather than in Milan. This could be a very enjoyable trip, but I think you should not try to pack too much in, and you should definitely omit Como.
cmt is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 03:49 PM
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I'm not sure I understand??? Are the children going with you to Italy or do you have a chance to leave them with fond grandparents ?? while you and husband have 7 days to yourself?
1jan1 is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 04:06 PM
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Sorry, quick clarifications: the time is short b/c we are leaving the babies with my parents. And I'm just saying I've seen all the major cities, my husband hasn't seen any. We'll share the driving/navigating (no kids to distract).
Texas_Chica is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 04:20 PM
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Oh, that changes things....a little. Even with just the two of you, your schedule is much to hectic to fully enjoy and appreciate what you'll be seeing. The example for Day 4 that I mentioned on my previous post still stands. It's much too much for one day.
HowardR is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 04:26 PM
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Wow--I am worn out just reading this and I do not have any kids tugging at me. Slow down--you are underestimating the driving time and logistics--especially with young children. You do not want to drive in either Milan or Florence at all. I would stay near Siena for your Tuscan day trips and exclude the Cortona/Arezzo segment.
bobthenavigator is online now  
Apr 24th, 2004, 04:33 PM
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I would definitely drop Pisa, Arezzo & Cortona. Not having the children will help but remember that on driving days - checking out and checking in and driving is about all that you can accomplish. I might think abuot a base in Siena and day trips from there - including a day trip to Florence. Be kind to yourselves...enjoy.
1jan1 is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 04:42 PM
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We rented an agrio-tourism villa for a week last summer with out kids. It was 30 minutes to Florence, 1 hour to Pisa, and within an hour of Sienna & San Gimigiano?. There were 7? apartments there, both 1 and 2 bedrooms. Most of the other families staying there, had small children. It is great for families to have a solid base for the week. Day trips worked well for us, there was no unpacking each day. The kids loved there own bedrooms( and two bathrooms! We had a wonderful Tuscany Kitchen, and the villa had laundry facilities right there! Grocery store was 10 minutes away. We stayed at La Torri, which was 20 miles south west of Florence. The family who ran it was wonderful, very helpful. Our kids meet others from Belgium and Switzerland and England. I think it is a great way to stay if your travelling with small kids. They had a swimming pool, but it may be too cool in May.The web site we stayed at was:http://www.letorri.com/english/res1.htm. Very reasonalbly priced also! Our kids were always happier staying in one place, to call home for a week.
Marbie is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 05:33 PM
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OK, first of all THANK YOU for all your thoughtful responses.

To clarify again - we will NOT have the babies with us. We wouldn't mind an apartment etc. but probably prefer B&B or inn-type atmosphere.

Site-wise, Arrezo and Cortona were on the "only if there is time leftover list", which I imagine there isn't and it sounds like responses are confirming that. So consider them "off" the list officially.

The Lake Como day seems to be moving off the list as well, although this poses somewhat of a problem because it was a great way to spend a day with our friend who has lived in Milan the past 10 years and get face-to-face his take on the places we are targeting to visit. But, it's starting to fade from the itinerary.

OK, I've been told that depending on your pace and what your interests are, that the hilltowns can take days to go thru or you might be in look around and done in an hour. And I understand that this could take some people a month and still not see it all, and BELIEVE ME I would like that very much, but, we do not have that luxury, and it will be a long time before we do. So we might well have to make sacrifices (either skipping places or not spending as much time as you would in a perfect world). I was worried that we'd be a little bored in the hilltowns from a couple of different friends' comments, but now I am seeing the other end of the spectrum, and I think it must just all depend on the day, what is going on, and what specific interests you have. (art, churches, wine, architecture, etc.)

So, having said that, I don't hear any other towns that should be pulled off the list, and I definitely want input on better ways to either group the towns, or what days to put them on, and possibly even a ranking of sorts as to where to go first so that if we blow a lot of time in one spot, we at least know it ranked and nothing we can do about it thus eliminating that stressed feeling if we want to chill out somewhere.

Oh, and as to driving, we have no plan to drive in Milan or Florence. (I've driven all over Mexico, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Ireland, Chile, Costa Rica and while you couldn't force me behind the wheel in Rome, I don't think I'll have a problem elsewhere. Also, I lived & drove for 15 years in Atlanta until 2003. Am I crazy still after that is known?) Our plan is to pick up the car on our way out of Milan, and we will either drive straight to our hotel in Florence if they have parking arrangements, or we will park in pay lot on the outskirts (any advice on the parking is appreciated). My friend in Milan as well as numerous guidebooks have advised the trip to Florence from Milan being less than 4 hrs and on good roads. Is this wrong? The logistics of trains/schedules/baggage etc. then renting a car anyway, then going thru all that again at the end to return the car where you get it and again trains/schedules/baggage seem to be not worth it. Esp cost-wise, to rent a car by the week vs. by the day vs. paying for train, it just doesn't seem to make sense to us. Are we wrong with this impression?

Thank you again!
Texas_Chica is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 05:49 PM
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Of the Tuscan towns that you listed that I've visited, Cortona was a favorite of mine, and therefore definitely NOT one that I'd choose to drop. It is in Tuscany, but has a lot of the feel of Umbria, it is in a major Etruscan area, the countryside around it is great for hiking on good paths, and the views from the town of the morning mist rising up from the valley below and the evening social routine of the townspeople in the main square all made visiting Cortona a special pleasure. I haven't been to the Chianti towns so I'm not sure whether they are each special enough to keep on your must-see list.
cmt is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 05:59 PM
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Thank you CMT. I have heard mixed reviews of Cortona. I have friends who studied there, so I'm curious. I am just not sure we have time to make it that way in light of our time constraints. I will see what other input comes in, and it will definitely be in the back of my mind during the trip if time allows since it has special meaning to dear friends.
Texas_Chica is offline  
Apr 24th, 2004, 11:54 PM
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Have you considered a few nights in Florence, then maybe a few nights in Southern Tuscany?

Hotels I considered in your price range in Florence:
Tourist House Ghiberti http://www.touristhouseghiberti.com/eng/01-home.html
Residence Johlea I http://www.johanna.it/
Il Bargellino http://www.ilbargellino.com/rates.htm

Hotels in Siena or southern Tuscany:
Palazzo Ravissa http://www.palazzoravizza.it/aboutas.htm
Hotel Santa Caterina http://www.hscsiena.it/
Piccola Olieveta http://www.oliveta.com/attivita.htm
Palazzo del Capitano http://www.palazzodelcapitano.com/foto_gallery.htm
Il Giglio http://tuscany.net/gigliotuscan/index.html
Apr 25th, 2004, 04:02 AM
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To help in your decision making, I strongly recommend buying a copy of Top 10 Tuscany, one of the Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides. You'll find it an invaluable aid in finalizing your trip.
HowardR is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 04:31 AM
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Texas Chica - I think you've made a lot of sense in several of your comments. First about the car, I definity agree to just rent it at the airport and return it when you leave. I love trains but since you need the car for part of your trip it makes no sense to not just have it the whole time. I have found it less of a hassel to find parking on the edge of cites than to pick-up/return rentals and combine it with trains. I've never parked in Florence but it doesn't sound as bad as some places to find parking. So I agree with you on the car.

Regarding how many towns you can squeeze into a day - I also agree with your assessment that while some people can spend weeks in a hill town, it can also be possible to pop in and out of one for a few hours. I like to explore lots of places when I travel and do find it worth it to visit somewhere for just a few hours sometimes. When we were doing a similiar trip through Tuscany a couple years ago we basically planned aeach day with about three towns close together and then played it by ear. Sometimes we saw them all, sometimes we just did one. We overnighted in the most touristy ones (like San Gimi) so as to be there in the late afternoon, evening and early morning when the tour buses were gone. That worked out well. The little tiny ones that the tour buses don't go to we visited in the middle of the days. So manybe plan each day with one town you really want and a couple of others for "if time".

I also wouldn't necessarily scrap your first day plan with your friend and the lakes. I also haven't been there so can't speak from experience regarding the lake itself, but the plan doesn't sound particularly tiring.
isabel is online now  
Apr 25th, 2004, 07:07 PM
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I know you don't seem open to this suggestion, but if I only had seven days in Italy, I would NOT bother with a car, though I don't doubt your driving skills. There are so many wonderful places in Italy to see by train--relaxed, with bread, cheese and a bottle of wine, concentrating on each other. Do you REALLLY need a car?
Lady is offline  
Apr 26th, 2004, 05:01 AM
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Howard you'll be glad to know I bought the Top 10 Tuscany book last night.

Bob and awbaker, thank you again for the hotel recs.

Isabel, Thanks for your comments. I am keeping the first day with our friend at Como - besides visiting, we will get invaluable input on our honed down itinerary from a veteran.

OK, as to the last post and other comments re: driving, I cannot imagine not having a car in Tuscany. So, I can't imagine how the coordination and lost time in trains and still renting a car would make it lose it's appeal. It does appeal to relax and not have to drive, but help me see how would you see all the hilltown areas without spending more time figuring out public transportation and waiting on or rushing to bus stops or train stations? I'm open to being convinced - just seems more than the majority says have a car, avoid driving in the big cities.
Texas_Chica is offline  
Apr 26th, 2004, 06:53 AM
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Texas_Chica, you made a wise decision to buy the book.
I'm with you all the way on the car rental issue. There's no question that it's the best way to see Tuscany.
HowardR is offline  
Apr 26th, 2004, 10:56 AM
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Just got back 4 days ago. Having a car in Tuscany is smart, and the book is a great start.
Don't think you will do 4 towns in a day. Distances are short, but there's always traffic and road construction, finding parking, etc to slow you down. And what can you possibly see and enjoy in an hour? Better to stop for a wine or a gelato and not return exausted. They'll all start looking the same to you if you are dashing in and out.
We landed in Pisa and went straight to Lucca, spent the next day seeing Lucca and drove out the third day. On way to Siena, we stopped in Volterra and San Gimignano. We were in Siena 4 nights, making one excursion to Pienza and Montepulciano. Even with this lean schedule, we felt we ran out of time.
From there we went to Amalfi coast for 6 days.
I really want you to post your actual trip when you return, as I don't think half of what you plan will be your actual trip.
from another Texan
Aleta is offline  

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