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16 replies
Summer 2012 Itinerary - any insights and advice?
anandnesan
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Hi everyone,

This is my first post on the forums and I am very excited to be part of this community!! My wife and I are planning a 5 week backpacking trip to Spain, France and Italy. We are just getting started and below is a tentative itinerary. So far we have come up with 25 days of activities from landing in Madrid on May 22nd to departure from Rome on June 15th. But we are open to extending our stay based on your feedback.

We are both graduate students and this is our dream trip. At the outset I would like to admit that both of us don;t know much about Europe and we are embarking on this journey with no specific goal – other than to eat good food, meet some wonderful people and enjoy some fantastic train rides!! So here I go.

Spain (Touchdown in Madrid on May 22nd)
=
Madrid – 3 days
Barcelona – 3 days
We don’t really know anything about these two cities. Apart from the general site seeing is there anything that we should not miss while we are here?

France
==
transit to mont-de-marsan (just south of Bordeaux – we will be staying with family here) – 1 day
mont-de-marsan – 2 days (We don’t know anything about this place either. We are primarily visiting family but any tips on sites to see in this area?)
transit to paris – 1 day
Paris – 2 days
Transit to Annecy – 1 day
Annecy (We have friends here and are planning day trips to Geneva and northern Italy) – 3 days

Italy

(My wife’s family is half italian and our main purpose here is to enjoy the food. Except for Rome, the other places we have picked out for Italy are completely random. I am open to suggestions here – are there other places that we would rather spend our time than in Milan and Naples? We are also entertaining thoughts of renting a car in Italy. What sites are more enjoyable for driving?)
Transit to Milan – 1 day
Milan – 2 days
Transit to Naples (Florence and Bologna are on the way to Naples/Rome) – 1 day
Naples – 2 days
Transit to Rome
Rome – 3 days
Depart Rome on June 15th

The total number of days in this tentative itinerary is 25 days. We are open to spending additional time depending on your suggestions. Our total budget for this trip is USD10,000 (including international airfare). I understand that my questions are slightly open ended. But I would really appreciate any feedback you have for me!!

Thanks a lot,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
oldlady
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I like your itinerary and your budget will allow some splurges like renting a car for a week or so.

General comments..

Spain is a great place to people watch and enjoy the late night life style. Plan some evenings to “go local” with sleep-in time the next morning.

I would make a serious effort to get to Venice. Try to spend a day or two there.

IMO, tourist Italy is one of the hardest places on the planet to find good Italian food, so spend some time getting off the main streets and away from the other tourists.

clevelandbrown
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anandnesan wrote:
Hi everyone,

This is my first post on the forums and I am very excited to be part of this community!! My wife and I are planning a 5 week backpacking trip to Spain, France and Italy. We are just getting started and below is a tentative itinerary. So far we have come up with 25 days of activities from landing in Madrid on May 22nd to departure from Rome on June 15th. But we are open to extending our stay based on your feedback.

SmileThe biggest cost of a trip is the airfare. So to me it makes eminent sense to stay as long as you can and amortize that cost over more days. Be sure to buy a multiple destination ticket, as that costs far less than two one-way tickets.

We are both graduate students and this is our dream trip. At the outset I would like to admit that both of us don;t know much about Europe and we are embarking on this journey with no specific goal – other than to eat good food, meet some wonderful people and enjoy some fantastic train rides!! So here I go.

Spain (Touchdown in Madrid on May 22nd)
=
Madrid – 3 days
Barcelona – 3 days
We don’t really know anything about these two cities. Apart from the general site seeing is there anything that we should not miss while we are here?

SmileI would stay longer in Madrid. It has many art museums, the Prado and the Sofia are world class. You can add a day trip to any of a number of places, like Toledo or Segovia. I particularly like Segovia for its Roman aqueduct and the food. Barcelona is nice with a great beach, las rambles (a pedestrian street), and the Picasso museum was nice. Some comments are mixed in below.

France
==
transit to mont-de-marsan (just south of Bordeaux – we will be staying with family here) – 1 day
mont-de-marsan – 2 days (We don’t know anything about this place either. We are primarily visiting family but any tips on sites to see in this area?)
transit to paris – 1 day
Paris – 2 days
Transit to Annecy – 1 day
Annecy (We have friends here and are planning day trips to Geneva and northern Italy) – 3 days

SmileYou’ll miss a lot with only two days in Paris.

Italy

(My wife’s family is half italian and our main purpose here is to enjoy the food. Except for Rome, the other places we have picked out for Italy are completely random. I am open to suggestions here – are there other places that we would rather spend our time than in Milan and Naples? We are also entertaining thoughts of renting a car in Italy. What sites are more enjoyable for driving?)
Transit to Milan – 1 day
Milan – 2 days

SmileMany people skip Milan. It is a business and fashion center. It does have Leonardo’s Last Supper (reservations needed), a beautiful cathedral, and the famed opera house.

I would add some days in Florence, birthplace of the rennaisance with great art and great food. A day trip to Pisa might be nice.

My wife didn’t like Naples; I did. Its a very busy city, but has a good museum where all the artifacts from Pompeii are kept, a famed opera house, great food, and a commuter train to Pompeii and Herculaneum (another city that was entombed by the volcano. That train also goes farther down the coast to, I think, Sorento, a lovely small city. We spent a day on Capri, which was very nice.

Transit to Naples (Florence and Bologna are on the way to Naples/Rome) – 1 day
Naples – 2 days
Transit to Rome
Rome – 3 days
Depart Rome on June 15th

The total number of days in this tentative itinerary is 25 days. We are open to spending additional time depending on your suggestions. Our total budget for this trip is USD10,000 (including international airfare). I understand that my questions are slightly open ended. But I would really appreciate any feedback you have for me!!

Thanks a lot,
Nesan

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anandnesan
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Thanks for your comments oldlady!!

The budget I mentioned earlier is for 2 people including airfare. It really comes down to $3500 per person. I am hoping this is still enough money for a 5 week trip in May-June.

Thanks for your suggestion regarding Venice. I will definitely include that in my itinerary.

Do you have any specific suggestions regarding scenic highways we can take in Italy if we rent a car? Generally speaking is Italy an easier place to drive compared to France or Spain? Pls advice.

One other dilemma I have is to decide on sticking with 3 countries (Spain, France & Italy) or adding two more countries (Belgium and Switzerland) to my list So far I have allocated time for 25 days of activities – I still have 12 more days at my disposal. I am not sure if I should spread that out among the cities I have already listed above or add more cities in Belgium/Switzerland? I guess it is a good dilemma to have – can you think of a location in Spain, France or Italy that is worth spending an entire week in (just lounging around, eating and drinking)?

Thanks again,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
anandnesan
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Thanks clevelandbrown!! I will certainly consider the options you have suggested. I did have some additional questions that I posted as a reply to oldlady’s response. If you have any suggestions on those pls let me know.

Thanks,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
oldlady
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I think budget is adequate:

Airfare: $1,000 to $1,400 each = roughly $2,500
City to city transportation, $150 each per week = $1,500. If you rent a car, figure total cost of $250 each or $500 per week
Daily living: $100 each per day or $ 7,000. This is based on the two of you sharing a $130 hotel room. Your stays with friends help significantly and staying in hostels will cut further. You should be able to get a nice double room in a hostel for around $80 ($40 each). Dorm rooms will be cheaper yet. This won’t cover nice restaurants, so you’ll have to do some hunting for good food.

Driving: I don’t think it will matter which country you drive in. You might want to check rental rates for some sections of your trip and pick the cheapest country. IMO, you want to avoid driving in any big city. Further, direct city to city transportation will be faster and cheaper by train, so only drive if you want to wander the countryside between. Unfortunately picking a car up in one city and dropping it off in another adds significantly to the cost, especially if different countries are involved.

anandnesan
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Thanks a lot oldlady! This is great stuff.

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
Ravidel
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Hi anandnesan,

I’m also a graduate student and I did a backpacking trip to Europe 2 years ago (and going again this summer!) — it was also my dream trip, and I still describe it as the best time of my life (so far). I’d be happy to give you some advice/ideas, but it would be really helpful to have some sense of what you (and your wife) are interested in. Museums? Art? Activities (i.e. “doing” instead of “seeing”)? Partying? Romance?

And while I know it’s tempting to say “all of the above!”, it’s really helpful to figure out what YOUR interests are. For instance, museums and food were two things very low on my priority list — I generally lived off of bland pasta I cooked myself in hostels and only ate out once per country (really saves the budget!); I also only went to the most famous museums/art gallery exhibits (Louvre, British Museum, etc.). I’m fascinated by medieval stuff, however, so I made sure to get to Carcassonne and Mont St-Michel in France (Google them if you’re not familiar). I also love amazing train rides, so I made sure I scheduled/budgeted in some of the famous scenic Swiss train rides (open top train Bernina Pass is incredible). I actually did go to Milan, but I got tickets to a ballet at Teatro alla Scala (the famous opera house in Milan) because “experiences” were important to me.

I’m happy to give you my 2 cents, but it’ll really help to have some sense of who you two are and what you’re looking for in Europe.

anandnesan
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Hi Ravidel,

Thanks for offering to help. What kind of people are we? Let me think for a second.

We enjoy pretty much anything but to get really specific – our main focus of this trip is food and high speed trains. The secondary focus is history. When I say history it is not just museums (we have lived in DC before and I have done my share of museums) – it is more the setting. The Inca ruins in Peru is the type of history that appeals to me a lot. That is one of the reasons I have added Pompeii and Herculaneum to my itinerary. We also enjoy the rustic lifestyle a LOT. Hence an extended stay in Provence has been added to our itinerary.

Traditional museums like the Louvre generally put me to sleep (no offence to anyone on this forum Smile) and one of the reasons I am thinking of completely skipping Paris. I am pasting my revised itinerary below to show where I am going with this.

Spain (7 days)
=
Madrid – 3 days
Transit to Barcelona – 1 day
Barcelona – 3 days

France(12 days – May 29th)
==
transit to mont-de-marsan – 1 day
mont-de-marsan – 2 days
Transit to Annecy – 1 day
Annecy – 3 days
Transit to Marseille – 1 day
Marseille-Provence – 5 days

Open question: Should we visit Mont St. Michel or Carcassonne?

Italy (18)
=
Transit to Venice – 1 day
Venice – 3 days
Transit to Florence – 1 day
Florence and Pisa – 3 days
Transit to Naples – 1 day
Naples, Pompeii – 3 days
Transit to Rome – 1 day
Rome & Vatican – 5 days

What do you think?

Thanks,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
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About Mont St Michel or Carcassonne—I wonder if, considering that you prefer rustic ruins, you might prefer the Pont du Gard to both of those. It’s an amazing structure and well worth a visit, plus it would work with your itinerary.

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  • Pont du Gard is awesome, worth seeing, but it’s not a substitute for Carcassonne or Mont St Michel, because there’s very little to “explore”. I’d recommend Carcassonne. Stay in the youth hostel (I think it’s HI) inside the old city… it’s a terrific experience. Given your revised itinerary, Carcassonne is definitely the way to go.
  • I’m not sure about the state of Cinque Terre right now (maybe someone else is more up to date), but it sounds like it would be a place you’d really enjoy. Stay anywhere but Monterosso and it’s a very authentic feel.
  • Rome is awesome, I think you’ll be happy you gave it so long.
  • That said, keep in mind that Rome and Naples are about 1 hour apart by high speed train. Allocating a day as a “transit day” is always a great way to start planning a trip (too many people underestimate how much time the travel takes), but travel within northern Italy is fast on the fast trains, so you’ll have most of your day in those.
  • I’m not sure what you have in mind when you say you’re excited for “high speed trains”. If you’re a train lover, then you’ll probably enjoy them. But if you have some vision/stereotype of “high speed trains”, you might be a little disappointed. If you want an amazing train experience, consider adding a couple of days starting in Lugano. From there, you can do a round trip through Switzerland consisting of three scenic train rides: the William Tell Express, the Glacier Express (a leg of it anyway) and the Bernina Pass Express (this one you might even be able to do by open to train). They’re not high speed trains, but they really show off some amazing engineering and some amazing scenery. See: http://www.wilhelmte…
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Mont St Michel or Carcassonne? Carcassonne would be an easier option as it is southeast of france and is closer to the area you will be travelling across. Whereas Mont. St. Michel is more northwestern France which isn’t bad if you you still plan on visiting Paris.

Last I read about Cinque Terre is that most of it is open. Right now only approved relief workers can leave the train in Vernazza

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anandnesan
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Thanks Cil! Since this is so close to Avignon, I will add it to my itinerary.

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anandnesan
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Thanks again Ravidel!

Cinque Terre does look stunning. It looks like its on the way from Provence to Venice (or can be done on the way from Venice to Florence).

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anandnesan
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Thanks vanogtrop!

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Conditions in Cinque Terre at present are still poor after the October flood, but hopefully will be much improved by May/June. Vernazza is closed to tourists at this time. rebuild Monterosso
Hiking Paths
If you are taking the time to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum (bring your own water!), you could easily also enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful Amalfi coast.

More ruins to consider: Hadrian’s Villa, an easy day trip outside of Rome. It’s a nice shady walk on a hot day, and the actual ruins are quite interesting. Hadrian had a little island in his compound.

Of course I would not consider the Pont du Gard a “substitute” for Mont St Michel or the restored Cité de Carcassonne. However, the ancient history and engineering is amazing, it is a wonderful hike, plus it fits into the OP’s itinerary/ interests in ruins. The way we visited Carcassonne was by taking the very first morning train from Toulouse (well worth a visit in itself); the Cité was completely empty. We drove to Mont St Michel (but we were coming from the west, not Paris.)

We’ve driven city to city, but I still agree with Oldlady about using a rental car more for the countryside. And the fees are indeed huge for picking up a car in one country, then dropping it off in another.

anandnesan
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Thanks Cil! The Amafi Coast sounds like a great idea. And the more I read about about Carcassone the more I want to visit the place.

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome