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Tuscany/Lake Garda/Venice 15-day honeymoon in March 2014--where to stay?

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Oct 14th, 2013, 06:51 AM
  #1
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Tuscany/Lake Garda/Venice 15-day honeymoon in March 2014--where to stay?

A big THANK YOU to everyone who responded to my previous thread. Thanks to you guys I've hunkered down, researched a lot, and rebooted the itinerary -- I decided to cut Rome for this trip in favour of Lake Garda (love lakes and mountains!)

So we're going to do Tuscany (5 nights) - Lake Garda (5 nights) - Venice (4 nights).

Found that Air France allows us to do an open-jaw trip -- fly from Singapore to Florence, and fly out of Venice instead -- for the same price as a return ticket to Venice. It's around SGD $1,299.

It's Carnivale in Venice until 4 March, which we want to avoid (we are really averse to crowds and noise and chaos), hence we will start in Florence and end in Venice.

We are not into art or museums, so have decided to stay in the Tuscan countryside (we love natural beauty) and make Florence a day-trip.

Here's our revised itinerary:

Day 1 - Arrive at Florence 11.55am
Travel to Tuscany accommodation from Florence

Day 2-5 - Four full days in Tuscany
Include day-trip to Florence and one more town in Tuscany (suggestions please?)

Day 6 - Leave Tuscany for Lake Garda
Leave early and go to Florence main train station, switch train in Bologna. Have lunch at Bologna. From there take the train to Desenzano or Peschiera del Garda, both located along the southern coast of Lake Garda.

Day 7-10 - Four full days to explore Lake Garda including Northern Shore (Riva del Garda) and day-trip to Verona (nearer than from Venice)

Day 11 - Travel from Lake Garda to Venice

Day 12-14 - Three full days in Venice with day trips to Veneto, Murano (any other suggestions?)

Day 15 - Depart Venice

As it stands, we are spending 5 nights in Tuscany, 5 nights in Lake Garda and 4 nights in Venice.


Where we should stay in:
- Tuscany (Siena? San Gimignano?)
- Lake Garda (Garda? Malcesine?)
- Venice?

Our preferences:
Somewhere beautiful, not crowded with tourists, romantic. (Seems to rule out Sirmoine in Lake Garda, from what I've read)

We will not be driving, so need to stay somewhere reasonably well-served by public transport.

Our budget is mid-range -- it is our honeymoon but we can't splash on luxury accommodation for 14 nights.

We like cosy boutique hotels or B&Bs! We actually want to soak up the local atmosphere and not be excessively touristy.

The Tuscany/Lake Garda lodging research has become really muddling -- so would really, really appreciate any advice on where to stay, especially from travelers who have actually visited stayed in Tuscany, Lake Garda and Venice.

Thank you in advance!!
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Oct 14th, 2013, 07:11 AM
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I haven't been to the lakes in Italy but have you checked what the weather is usually like in march there? It's the tail end of winter so could be more rainy and socked in with clouds than you anticipate...
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Oct 14th, 2013, 07:17 AM
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Tuscany without a car is not going to be too easy.
Siena might be the best bet...you can get to San Gimignano, the Chianti country by local bus, and to Lucca and Pisa (if you really must!) by regional train. Siena can be touristy but perhaps not so much in March and anyway it's great in the evening after the day trippers have left.
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Oct 14th, 2013, 09:24 AM
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There is no direct tran from Bologna to Desenzano or Peschiera. Change at Verona.
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Oct 14th, 2013, 01:21 PM
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Given the time of year that you will be travelling, coupled with the fact that you will not be driving yourselves, you would need to look for places to stay that exceed your stated requirement of having a "reasonable" service from public transport.
Getting around with relative ease is an absolute requirement for your trip to be a success.
For the Tuscany leg, I would consider staying in Florence and using the SITA bus service to take day trips to Siena, Greve, San Gimignano. Trenitalia can get you to both Pisa and Lucca in a single day from Florence. On days where weather is a discouragement to venture far, the city itself has endless indoor options.
Lake Garda in early Spring may throw up some problems with weather and how it may affect the ferry schedules. Sirmione should be far from overcrowded in March and has good connections with towns on either side of the lake. With the limited daylight hours, getting to the northern end of the lake may not be feasible but even on a poor weather day, it should be possible to make it to Verona by bus from there.
With three full days in Venice, I would limit travelling beyond the city to perhaps one expedition (Burano and Torcello are interesting in different ways but close together). Venice itself is made for simply wandering aimlessly about so you don't even need a planned walking itinerary to experience the place. A comfortable little place, only a few minutes from the rail station - Ca' dei Polo, worth checking out.
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Oct 14th, 2013, 02:09 PM
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God love you---you are really trying hard to make this a nice honeymoon and have done your homework. I applaud you.

However, you have one major factor against you---you are going a month too early---or maybe 2 months.

Both Garda and Tusany are awesome natural beauty venues, but not in March. Consider seeing rural Tuscany from either Florence or Siena as day trips. And, the lakes are my favorite destinations in all of Italy--just not unti after Easter. I would love to help ---tell me how!
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Oct 14th, 2013, 03:15 PM
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I found Florence to be a beautiful, magical and even romantic city - and I went in August with the hordes of tourists! I can only imagine it would be nicer in March. There's plenty to do besides the museums - stroll the Boboli Gardens, stroll the historic center and the Oltrarno neighborhood, walk along the riverfront.. In fact, you might like staying in the Oltrarno area, just across the river from the historic center as it's less "touristy" and it starts to get hilly. Maybe you could find a hotel on a hillside with a view? I don't know if there are any, I stayed across the river, but I would think there would be.
Otherwise, I'd vote for Siena as your Tuscan base, for the reasons cymraeg gave.
And if you go to Lake Garda after all, please report back how it was in March - March is my preferred month to travel as it's our daughter's spring break and it seems the flights are cheaper then. And I've often thought of going to the Italian lakes, but thought March might be too cold.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a fabulous trip.
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Oct 14th, 2013, 03:39 PM
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As for a hotel in Venice, you might semi-splurge at the Ca' Sagredo (it is the last stop on your honeymoon). When my wife and I stayed there in April 2012, we got a 3-star rate at a 5-star hotel. The additional good news is that we were upgraded upon arrival. This hotel is on the Grand Canal, not far from the Rialto Bridge and right next to a gondola operation. It's a combination palace and museum, and we recommend it highly.

www.casagredohotel.com
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Oct 15th, 2013, 01:25 AM
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Lake Garda in early March will be fairly quiet wherever you stay, but the ferries that run between the Lake towns are on a reduced schedule. However, with planning, it shouldn't be too much of a problem, whereas the shorter days will be for sightseeing.

Sirmione is IMHO the most interesting of the villages and at that time not all the hotels will be open, though the ones that are should be offering good rates. Try www.venere.com for an indication of price and then having chosen a few you like, e-mail them direct to see if you can do a better deal.

Verona is an easy day trip from the Lake and is a nice place to visit.
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Oct 15th, 2013, 05:56 AM
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Thanks for the replies!

Re: Tuscany, I'll explore accommodation options in both Siena and Florence. Thanks for weighing in with your opinions.

@bobthenavigator - we'd like to go for the honeymoon about a week after our wedding in late February, before we get caught up in the daily grind -- so early March it will have to be.

Interestingly, according to WeatherSpark, it seems that rain is LEAST likely around March 1, occurring in 33% of days and MOST likely around March 31, occurring in 41% of days.
http://weatherspark.com/averages/322...a-Veneto-Italy

In the end, it seems Lake Garda weather is notoriously fickle so we'll just have to take our chances!

We have an option to day-trip to the Dolomites if the weather around the lake is not great. The Dolomites, although further north, might give us clearer skies and less rain than southern Lake Garda, according to
http://www.dolomitemountains.com/en/...lomites219.htm

"The Dolomite Mountains offer some of the best weather in all of the Alps – perfect for year-round active adventures. As a mountain range, the Dolomites receive less precipitation on an annual basis than do the majority of the Alps. The southern Dolomites (the Brenta Group and Lake Garda area) tend to be struck with cold spells created by storms that have pushed up from the south, and more fog created when the cold air mixes with the warmer air from nearby Venice. The Northern Dolomites (Sudtirol / Alto Adige) have the least amount of precipitation, as the southern Dolomite groups break up the big storms from the south, leaving the north with more desirable conditions."

I was just researching Riva Del Garda in the north as a possible base instead of Sirmoine. Thoughts? I've heard nothing but good things about Riva and it seems many feel the north side of the lake is more scenic. Malcesine would also be a possible option. Just wondering if Riva or Malcesine would be too crowded (likely less so than Sirmoine).

In terms of logistics:

- The train travel time from Florence to either Sirmoine (Desenzano station) or Riva (Rovereto station) is about the same -- 2.5 hours. It's an extra 50-minute bus ride from Rovereto to Riva.

- We can day-trip to Dolomites from either Sirmoine, Riva or Malcesine. LIkely will do a 11-hour conducted tour that starts/ends in town, and they pick-up from all three places.

- The down side of Malcesine/Riva is that the travel time to Verona will be twice as long (2.5 hours instead 1h 15min from Sirmoine).

Any thoughts/advice?

Also, the ferry schedule in March on Lake Garda is indeed limited. What other leisure travel options on the lake that won't be excessively pricey?
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Oct 15th, 2013, 06:50 AM
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In my experience that time of year should not be "mobbed with sightseers" in either Florence of Siena and am certain you know that there is more to see and do in Florence than Siena. But if you want a place that is "quiet" then Siena would be my choice and the duomo alone is worth being there if nothing else.

Re Verona. Somehow I suspect you'll end up changing trains there at some point. Depending on your interests you could see several sights in the city within a few hours and would not need an entire day. But you'd probably want to pick those sights in advance to make your time there more efficient.

At that time of year there is no doubt the city will not be crowded since the busiest time is during the opera season which kicks off later in the year.
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Oct 15th, 2013, 06:53 AM
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I wouldn't count on clear weather in the Dolomites if it is cloudy and rainy in the lakes...I think their weather patterns can be very similar....
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Oct 15th, 2013, 07:04 AM
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As I said upthread, nowhere will be that busy around Lake Garda in early March, so a choice of village is dependent on where you can find a hotel that suits your budget that is open. Lots of hotels close in the winter and re-open around Easter. You have a better chance of finding restaurants and hotels open in the more popular places and I'd go for somewhere where I'm not going to be sat in an empty restaurant.

Opinions on weather are just that, opinions and you can't rely on previous years to be indicative of 2014. You'll get what you get and as you say, weather is fickle.

Riva is a great little village and has a good choice of hotels and eateries, but again, time of year will dictate what's open. I've always found that northern Garda has wetter weather than the southern end, but who knows what you'll get!

Most of the smaller places, like Malcesine, Limone etc. will virtually be closed and if the clouds are low, the cable car in Malcesine won't be worth the ride (if it's open).
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Oct 15th, 2013, 08:00 AM
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Thanks Rubicund, you make a good point about chosing the more popular places. I just struck out with the best reviewed hotels in Malcesine -- all closed until late March.

I think I'll just focus my search on Riva, Sirmoine or Garda for now and pop back when I have done more searching.

If accommodation options are better farther north in the Dolomites (it seems that March is still high season there and low season in the Lake), I might consider going there as well. I love alpine towns. Rick Steve's advice: "The Alpe di Siusi is my recommended one-stop look at the Dolomites because of its easy accessibility to those with or without cars, the variety of walks and hikes, the quintessential Dolomite mountain views, and the charm of neighboring Castelrotto as a home base."

(Quotes/suggestions from around the web are all I have to go on right now, since one week ago I knew next to nothing about northern Italy!)

If anyone has been to the Dolomites, do share experiences. Thanks!
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Oct 15th, 2013, 08:05 AM
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We just got back from the Alpe di Suisi area - you can click my name to view our trip report and pics...we had a lively time.
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Oct 15th, 2013, 08:07 AM
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Be sure you check the lift and gondola schedule before you commit as they don't open for hiking until end of May or mid- June in Val Gardena
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Oct 15th, 2013, 08:07 AM
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It will still be ski season in the Dolomites.
If you do go, I suggest Ortisei as a better base location. Castelrotto is cute, but more isolated. You can bus via Bolzano.
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Oct 15th, 2013, 08:26 AM
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Thanks Jamikins, I'll definitely check out your trip report!

Thanks Bob, will take note of that.

Sounds like basing in Dolomites might be a good alternative to Lake Garda in March. I guess we could day-trip from Dolomites to Riva Del Garda, the other way around, on a day that the weather is good.

I've never skied before, not sure if there's anything for beginners there, but for me, just soaking in alpine beauty is good enough. Went to Zermatt five years ago and absolutely loved it there. We are not serious hikers as well, hopefully there are some scenic walks that are open year round.

Molte grazie!
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Oct 15th, 2013, 09:20 AM
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Aaaaand... if you would believe, it seems from tripadvisor and booking.com that Ortisei is FULL (at least in our price range). Six months in advance... wow.

Guess I'll check out Castelrotto and Santa Cristina in Val Gardena (both about 8km from Ortisei) which still have some vacancies in well-reviewed hotels/B&Bs. I'm still sorting out the flights... hopefully there's something left when I'm ready to book.
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Oct 15th, 2013, 09:29 AM
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Check out Avita Suites in Ortisei...we had a lovely apartment for a very reasonable price!
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