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Tuscany/Rome or Paris/Loire/Spain with kids? need opinions for next trip

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May 1st, 2011, 06:33 AM
  #1
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Tuscany/Rome or Paris/Loire/Spain with kids? need opinions for next trip

Hello all,

I am planning very far ahead here - I am in the beginning stages of planning our 2 week trip to Europe 11 months from now. Yes, I get that it's way ahead, but I need time to budget and save. I like to decide where to go, then watch the Euro and jump when rates are a bit more favorable. So here are the particulars:

1. family of four - 2 daughters who will then be 10 & 15. My kids are troopers when traveling, we take carry-ons only and they are responsible for their own stuff. We live in a rural area and we enjoy seeing cities when traveling, but like natural beauty too.

2. our last big trip was Christmas 2010 - we went to Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Parma and Switzerland. Loved it. their first trip to Europe and the kids did fine. I enjoyed it, but it was rushed and the kids and I would like to stay put in places a bit longer next time. We out voted my husband who likes to be on the move.

3. I would like to rent apartments/spaces with a kitchen so that this time I can do some cooking - i got very, very tired of eating out all the time on our last trip. It was torture to be at the fish market in Venice on Christmas Eve and not take anything home to cook!!

4. My husband and I like most everything about travel - visiting museums, walking around old towns,hanging out, I especially love open air markets. My kids are like us - though my oldest daughter is very interested in archeology and science/mathematics. My youngest goes along for the ride and has a good time no matter where she is.

5. The crux - Spring break for the kids next year is March 31 through April 8 (the week before Easter Sunday). We plan on taking them out of school for an extra week. That could be the week before or after their spring break/Easter week. I have leaned toward taking the week after Easter since the second week of April may have a bit more warm/sunny weather than the 3rd week of March. But am concerned about the Easter crowds, holiday closures and rates for the week after Easter.
here's the scenarios:

In Italy we would fly into Milan and out of Rome. We would train down and visit Florence for a few days, then on to Siena for a week as a base for Tuscany (I love Siena - we would rent a car for a few days to tour the area, but drop off and train the rest of the trip) then on to Rome where we would visit Pompeii and/or Ostia Antica as a side day. In Rome we'll stay in a convent or apartment downtown.

In France/Spain we would fly into Paris/out of Madrid. We would stay in Paris for about 5 days, then do a driving tour of some chateau and eventually make our way down to Spain (by train, probably after dropping off the car in France) where we would visit the Ahlambra then on to Madrid.

We are very blessed to be in a position where we can consider either trip. Each has it's benefits. I must say, it's a real toss up for me and my family says they would like either trip. I am influenced by my familiarity with Italy. I speak no French, but at least a passing bit of Italian. I'd like to make this decision, then investigate housing, touring and other things - when traveling we try to operate on a tight budget and preplanning saves us each time, as does watching the Euro for the most opportune time to buy tickets, etc.

Any things that I should consider in this decision? should we go the last week of March and first week of April or the first two weeks of April? Does it make any difference? Am I naive to think that Easter in Siena would be lovely? Will Rome then be crowded the week after? Perhaps it would be cheaper and less crowded that third week in March - sometimes a week can make a difference....so, where and when to go?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts.
jujubean is offline  
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May 1st, 2011, 07:05 AM
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Can't help you with the big decision, but just wanted to say that I've never experienced "Easter crowds" anywhere in Europe, and I'm there a lot over Easter. I also don't think Easter is particularly "lovely" anywhere in Europe as it mainly seems to be a fairly private family affair, with little overt evidence of the holiday that tourists would notice, other than what's on display in the bakery windows.
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May 1st, 2011, 08:10 AM
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Both trips sound lovely and a wonderful two weeks to share with your family. I think you should do both-just pick one this year and do the other trip next year! We are flying into Madrid next weekend and are doing the reverse of your Paris -Madrid itinerary. We are visiting Madrid, San Sebastian then crossing border and renting a car to tour the Dordogne and then ending up in Paris. Last year we did your other itinerary-Florence, Tuscany (we stayed in Montepulciano) and then rented an apartment in Rome where our two sons met us. We also traveled to the amalfi coast. I think your weather will be pretty similar for both itineraries, the only advice I would offer is that the distances in the Italy trip are less, so you would spend a lot less time traveling between your destinations. You might want to do a search of Easter in Rome- might be a bigger deal there than in France.

Have fun and enjoy this wonderful dilemma. My best memories are traveling with my parents and now getting to show my own children all these wonderful places.
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May 1st, 2011, 08:56 AM
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I think the Italy trip sounds more manageable (although I might just fly into Florence-- if you wanted another city in Italy then you might consider flying into Venice instead of Milan).

Maybe it's my limited imagination or geographical/railroad knowledge but I am having a hard time picturing how you will get from the Loire to the Alhambra. Doing both Paris/Loire and Madrid/Andalusia in one trip seems like a lot (and not necessarily the easiest to combine).
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May 1st, 2011, 11:39 AM
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Your travel style and your family's interests sound similar to ours (our kids are currently 15 and 12yo). I also think that the Paris/Loire/Madrid itinerary, while interesting, sounds a bit spread out. For that reason, I'd lean slightly toward the Italy option.

One thing, however, is that I just don't think that Tuscany is so interesting an area for kids, though I do seem to be in the minority on this. Tuscany, to me, is more a wander-around, people-watch and drink wine kind of place. We did spend a week in Le Marche with our DD (she was 10yo at the time), because I wanted to visit that area, as we hadn't been, and because that part of Italy has quite a few castles. So in between Roman ruins and Renaissance art (primiarily in Urbino), we also visited castles.

Our kids love Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris and all of the museums in all of those places. Haven't been to Madrid yet; that's probably the next trip (though we did visit Barcelona, which was another favorite, especially for our modern-art-loving DS). DS (he was 10yo at the time) enjoyed the Loire Valley very much, but liked even more the older castles in the Dordogne area (which we visited on a subsequent trip). If you want to visit Paris and the Loire, maybe consider the Dordogne area in connection, and to add rural areas to the mix. The Dordogne has great medieval castles; pre-historic caves and cave paintings; is one of the most beautiful areas in France, IMHO; and has fabulous food.
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May 1st, 2011, 02:19 PM
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hmm, good remarks. My husband and I did our 10 year anniversary/second honeymoon wandering Tuscany and it certainly was not a "kid" trip - it was a hanging out drinking wine type of deal. We purposely planned it that way. BUT, I think it could be really fun for the kids, in some of the hill towns and certainly in Siena, running around the Campo, climbing the tower etc. These towns are also so manageable for a kid to wander a bit on their own, it's a good way to build some independent travel skills.

When I think of Siena being lovely for Easter, it is not so much the greening of the landscape as the activity of the city and the many church bells clanging on Easter morning. On our last trip, one of our favorite things was waking up Christmas morning, leaning out our windows in Venice just listening to the sounds of church bells! Interestingly, I thought that the castles in Germany would really capture the kids imaginations, but it was Venice and Parma that they really liked - and my oldest did love the ruins among the Alps on our way through Switzerland.

So, a recommendation would be to cut Spain out of the scenario this trip and perhaps do either Paris/loire/dordogne OR the Rome/Tuscany/Florence trip - interesting ideas.

After thinking a bit, I think that it might be best to go the last week of March and first week of April - if Italy is the destination we could start in Rome and avoid Holy Week entirely. But if France is the place then we could go the first two weeks of April.

more thoughts?
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May 1st, 2011, 02:54 PM
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I think the France Spain trip could be more manageable if you did Paris, then train to the South of France (e.g., Avignon) pick up a car and stay in Uzes for a couple nights (visit Pont du Gard, but do enjoy Uzes itself! a very cool town) then move further west so that you could visit the Cathar castle ruins of Peyrepertuse and Queribus. We've done it twice, while staying on the coast - last fall in a beach-town near Perpignan, several years ago staying in Collioure which is quite picturesque (and totally enjoyable any other time than July-August!)

You could then grab either a flight or a train to Spain...actually I think Barcelona is a very easy train trip, and I'd suggest ending your trip there, saving Madrid for another trip) Of course, if you scored a cheap flight to Madrid, that could be your answer, but Barcelona might be more fun for the kids. I think starting and ending the trip by staying like 4 nights each in Paris and Barcelona-or-Madrid with the middle of the trip a nice "road" trip where you could stay 2 nights in one spot and 3 in another with daytrips exploring the countryside is about as busy as you want to make it.

We once covered the Loire Valley/Dordogne/Pamplona/Leiketo/Bilbao/Zaragosa/Barcelona/Collioure/Provence/Auverne/Paris -- but we had 35 days to do it - and even then we were exhausted!
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May 1st, 2011, 03:11 PM
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I agree about smaller towns being a good opportunity for a kid to wander around on their own. In fact, that's why we stayed in Sarlat (in the Dordogne); we could sit in a cafe in the main place, and our DS could wander in and out of the stores off the place.
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