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Schielke's European Vacation


Schielke
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Hey everybody, I am just starting to plan a trip to Italy and France for my honeymoon in mid April. I would love to use the vast knowledge of the well traveled here on eGullet to help make this vacation a success!

Disclaimer: I have been to Germany, but know virtually nothing about France or Italy.

Here are the known details:

Who: Myself and Katie (wife to be)

What: Honeymoon trip

Where: Northern Italy and France with an emphasis on Northern Italy

When: Mid-April

Why: Because Katie has never been to Europe and we have an excuse to go

Duration: Ideally 14 days, depending on budget.

Budget: Not too sure yet, but we are not high rollers :cool::biggrin:

Other Details: I am almost positive that we do not want to do a tour group thing, the idea makes my skin crawl. We like to check out the sights, but are not super crazy about it. A nice hike would be a fun diversion though. We want to find some great food on the trip and plan on having two high end dinners (one in france and one in italy) while we are there.

Katie supposedly has family in northern italy (Villa Minozzo) that we would like to visit for part of the trip.

Preliminary Questions:

1. As far as France goes, I don't have to make it to Paris since it is quite the trip. Are there any great ** or *** restaurants of note in southern france that might make a good 2 day trip?

2. What is the best and most inexpensive way to get around between cities and attractions in northern italy?

3. How much a night should I plan on spending for a hotel room. We don't require very posh surroundings, but something clean and liveable is a must.

4. What are the best resources for preparing for this kind of trip?

5. What are some of the Can't Miss things (food or otherwise) in Northern Italy?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Tanti auguri!

April is lovely in Italy as spring is in full swing and Villa Minozza is a beautiful spot in the mountains of Emilia Romagna. It would seem a shame to not visit Venezia on your honeymoon as it is a special and romantic place that should be included on anyones first visit to Italy. You could start or finish your trip in Venezia. If you start there you go to Emilia Romagna and see the seaside, Ravenna, Villa Minozza and Bologna. Then a quick trip up to Milano, over to Lago Maggiore - through Valle d'Aosta (classic and stunning hiking) and into France. Or from Milano to Cinque Terra and then up the coast to France. It depends if you want mountains or seasides. Restaurants we can worry about when you get your route planned.

Certainly a car is the best way to get around, but you can also plan very successful train tours. The trains in Italy will get you to all the major cities you want to see, but of course don't take you out in the country. Renault has a strange lease instead of rental program which can be very reasonable, but must be done well in advance because of the paperwork. I have done it several times and would do it again. Look here.

I heartily recommend staying at some Agriturismi to get the feel of the Italian countryside and believe you will find 3 star hotels more than comfortable enough in the cities. Three star hotels in April should range from $120 to $160 a night in April which is just before the rates really start to jump. Here is a good site for hotels. Often it seems the only difference between 3 stars and 2 stars are the mini-bars and hairdryers. I find most hotels in Italy clean and comfortable. 2 stars are of course cheaper. I find most 4 star hotels to be efficient business style hotels with little character.

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Not sure when Easter falls next year, but it is a truly magical time ANYWHERE in Italia. Lots of foods not seen any other time of year. Despite the fact that it can be cool in the north then, many Italian and other European tourists travel within and to Italy for Easter. Worth checking out. Let me add Torino (Turin) and Genova to the places that you might want to consider. Santa Margherita/Portofino on the Ligurian coast are really romantic, and not overrun by tourists then. They are also within close driving distance of the Piemonte, where you could sample the best food and wine in Italia! Finally, think about Lake Orta for a night or two. About 40 minutes northwest of Milano, many people think that it is Italy's most beautiful lake. There is a wonderful hotel, Villa Crespi, and one of my favorite restaurants, Al Sorriso, is nearby.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Nero, I can understand the disappointment. :wink::rolleyes:

Thanks Bill! I think we are going to end up there about a week or so after easter so perhaps some festivities will be winding down.

So what is the driving scene like in Italy? I have heard that it is nuts in the busy cities, but what are roadtrips like out on the highways? Should I watch some Mad Max movies before I go to get primed?

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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The cities are admittedly tough, but in some cases (not Roma, to be sure), no nastier than many American cities. I LOVE driving in the countryside, and particularly on the Autostrada. On secondary roads, you will notice that the Italians do have a tendency to pass (a tendency you will soon develop if you get caught behind a tractor or a slow-moving truck one time too often), sometimes under what you will view as less than safe conditions. Do not worry-all Italian drivers EXPECT to see a car coming at them head-on, and I find they are very good at giving sufficient ground to avoid accidents. On the Autostrada, you must stay in the right lane except to pass. That, of course, is the law in the U.S., never observed. For some reason, most Americans think that their most important freedom is the freedom to get in the left lane on an Interstate highway and travel at 40 miles an hour, while eating a Big Mac, swigging a beer or gabbing on a cellphone. On the Autostrada, the left lane is reserved for cars (usually Mercedes, BMWs or other high-end motor-driven phallic symbols) travelling in excess of 100 miles an hour who do NOT expect to find anything in their way. Most high-speed drivers drive with their lights on, and flash them repeatedly as they approach you. Do not fail to heed the warning! Also, you will find that you begin to look fore, aft and side to side in sequence when driving on the Autostrada, which is, after all, how you should have been taught to drive in the first place. Driving is a 360-degree experience in Italy, and the highways are the better for it. Since there is little hard alcohol consumed and beer is used to wash down food rather than consumed by the keg, drunk driving is far less of a problem. I see far fewer accidents in Italy than in the U.S., although, admittedly, when they do occur on the Autostrada, they can be doozies.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Here's a link to Andrew Harper's Harper Collection (requires Adobe Acrobat). Since I don't know how long he'll have this issue up, I'd suggest you print it out now. The good news is that the places he lists are virtually the most expensive in Italy. You can clearly find cheaper. His high end food picks are respectable. He overdoes it in terms of comfort and expense on lodgings. What's good is he lists hotels in places you might want to see and he's got rough maps with driving times. I second the recommendation for Venice. Presumably at the end of your trip it would be a little warmer but anytime is good for Venice. Venice is, of course, romantic and you can walk or ride water taxis to your heart's content. And it's not the worst place to buy gold jewelry either. Ciao! http://www.andrewharpertravel.com/show.dll...pdf?area=public

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Ben,

If you can swing more than 2 weeks off, do it...the plane ride is brutal from the west coast and it only makes sense to stay longer if you can (altho' the NW-KLM Seattle-Amsterdam is a little easier...SAS also flies directly to Copenhagen, and we have the Lufthansa PDX-Frankfurt thing here...but it's still a bitch). Once you get to Italy (can't speak for France), things are relatively affordable (or have been when we've been there, last time in 2001 pre-euro).

I'll put in a plug for our vacation rental connection in Tuscany...we stayed here (and eventually became booking agents) because it was the cheapest palce I could find, so if you want to spend a week or so in one spot let me know (details on my site...check out Il Piano or Noverchia, nice little places for two).

I'll second Venezia...you gotta see it. I've used A Guest in Italy to book both hotels and an apartment (my recommendation)...they have a nice choice at the budget end.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Thanks Jim!

So what should I be paying for tickets over? I have seen them for 900 on Expedia and then for about 750 on Orbitz. Is this too high? What is the strategy I should use to find cheap tickets since prices flucuate so much?

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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That seems high to me with all the news about nobody traveling. We paid about $600 RT (PDX-MILAN) in 2001, and my travel agent was tellng me that prices should be going down even more.

And I prefer to let her do the work of finding the lowest fare. I'm not convinced that you find anything really cheap on a regular basis using the online ticketing sites. I call my agent, tell her roughly when we want to travel, and she usually gets us a good deal (on car rental, too...last time we drove an Alfa). Travel agents have been getting screwed by the airlines for a few years, so mine charges a piddling $20/ticket...I think it's worth it.

Email me if you want her number....

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Without playing travel agent...

We are looking at flights from the Northwest to Italy for June. With extensive, and I mean extensive, research, the best fare we have found is $770, booked online. Seattle to London, Heathrow, direct on British Air, then Alitalia to Milan. It is probably even cheaper in June. The only real European sales right now are to or through London.

Oh by the way, the food on British Air and Alitalia beats the food on the American planes. (Obligatory food reference).

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What is the train situation like in northern Italy? Let's say I wanted to take trains between medium-large cities in Italy and then into Paris... How difficult is this system to navigate and how expensive is it? I could see doing the following:

Fly into Venice or other large northern Italian city

Hang out in Venice for a few days

Train to Ravenna- spend a day or two

Train to Bologna- spend a day or two

Rental car to Villa Minnozo

Rental car either to Milan or Back to Bologna to catch train to Milan- spend a day in Milan

Train to Paris- Hang out in Paris the rest of the trip

Fly out of Paris

Would I be better off with a rental car the whole time and leaving Paris out of the picture? Is there a major cost difference?

Thanks!

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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As a general proposition, I think any time you switch horses you expend extra time loading and unloading, waiting, making reservations, etc. I think it would be cheaper and less expensive to stick with the car. OTOH, you can sometimes meet some very interesting people while you are spending your time this way and, of course, on the train. OTOH, you loose the flexibility of being able to stop if you just happen to see something that strikes your fancy.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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The trip you propose would be very easy and reasonably priced by train. The only disadvantage is not really being able to stop and wander the countryside. Don't worry there will still be plenty to see on the trip you propose. The connections would be all easy to make. Be sure to pack light because you will have to deal with stairs in Italian train stations.

Avoid driving in Milano. There is no parking and it is a pain in the ass finding your way around. Use public transportation and cabs.

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Tough decisions!!! I am leaning towards a combination of train and rental car at the moment though. Perhaps get a rental car for about half the trip and then turn it back in and roll on rails for the rest...

More research must be done! :biggrin:

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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You can always check out Bergamo Alta, or Verona, Lake Como. Venice amazing. Shoud see Florence, also amazing. Torino, the mountains there.... So much in the North

I would lean towards renting a car, never entering Milano by car tho, you get lost SO easy. Gas is expensive though, and so is insurance.

And if you're not planning to go back to Europe for a while. See Paris. Its close enough.

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Avoid driving in Milano. There is no parking and it is a pain in the ass finding your way around. Use public transportation and cabs.

Funny you should mention this. The last time I was in Milan (several years back), we were going by cab to the Four Seasons (hey, I had money then). About 5 blocks away traffic comes to a halt due to a strike. Long story short, we ended up schlepping some heavy bags several blocks to the hotel. Not exactly your grand entrance. There is, fortunately, a very nice bar in that hotel.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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  • 1 month later...

For online maps I use Viamichelin.

If you decide to go to Paris by train you should consider booking a sleeping cabin on an overnight train. We did this travelling from Milan to Munich and found it to be quite comfortable, even if the cars are a little bit old they were very well kept: down comforter and pillows, working sink, lots of wood paneling. (The one we had reminded me of the train car in the James bond flick "From Russia With Love"). Be sure of what you're getting though, as there a 2 person cabins as well as 6 (or 8?) person cabins.

Have a great time.

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Thanks for the map links! After looking at them I am still trying to decide on an itenerary. Here is what I am tossing around right now.

Fly into Venice, stay for 3 days

Somehow get Firenze (rent car or train) stay for 4 days

Drive from either city to Villa Minozzo, stay for 2-3 days

Drive to Milan and drop off car, be tourists for a day and head to paris on a night train

Train to Paris stay for 3-4 days

Fly out of Paris

Questions:

Is there a direct train from Venice to Firenze?

Any thoughts on rearranging the schedule? Would the reverse of this trip be better?

Thanks a bunch!

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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There is a train that goes from Venice to Florence. I believe there is also one that goes from Florence to Milan if you decide not to drive.

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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I can't offer a ton of information, but this thread, which I both consulted and made a modest contribution to, has a ton of great stuff about Southern France between Nice and the Italian border.

I will say that when I first traveled to the Cote D'Azure I was expecting something like Gallic Jersey Shore, and I understand that that impression is not far wrong if you head west from Nice, towards Cannes. The area east of Nice is damn near perfect, though, especially off-season. "Second honeymoon" might be a little much to describe it -- though the nature of your trip suggests the phrase -- but the four days I just spent there with my wife were extraordinary.

Practical advice: Nice has an airport you may want to check into on the off chance that you can fly in or out of there, with Milan being the other end.

The TGV also goes through Nice, it may be a simple way to get back to Paris or Milan (or wherever) at the end of the trip.

The whole Cote d'Azure is served by a train that runs regularly and is dirt cheap. If you don't want to drive, you can get from Monaco to Nice for something like five bucks, in about 25 minutes, and have an opportunity to stop at three or four gorgeous towns in between. If you have a car you can leave the coast and be in the Provencal back country practically within minutes.

When I stayed in Beaulieu sur Mer, a small town half-way between Nice and Monaco, I thought I had discovered the perfect hideaway. Since then, three people -- and an eGullt poster -- have, unsolicited, mentioned it as the perfect undiscovered waterfront town. Lodingings there probably run from $50 to well into the four figures a night.

Have a great trip.

Edited to fix link and generally clean the thing up.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Would the reverse of this trip be better?

Sounds like a great trip. As a general proposition, I think it would be easier to ease into Venice than Paris, especially the first time. But, in terms of reversal, since the food is better in Paris than Venice, I'd decide the order of things based on the days decent restaurants are open in the City of Lights--lots are closed weekends.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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