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5 (actually 2) weeks in May: best spots where the tourists aren't?

Hi all,

My daughter and I are planning a 5 week trip April 27-May 30. We're planning to fly in to Rome, work our way North, and fly out of Paris.

So all I have planned so far is that: 4ish days at the cities at each end. I've pored over so many articles and books and finally figured I'd ask you lovely people for advice!

About us:

  • We don't love big cities or crowds. We'd like to see Rome for the history, for example, but would spend more time lingering in quieter spots.

  • We plan to take trains for most of it but can certainly rent cars for out of the way places.

  • Backpacking / hostels / hiking / cycling / kayaking / roughing it is more our speed. We'd camp but May is probably rainy and we're packing light - probably just a carry-on each.

  • We'd love to rent bikes for a week somewhere and perhaps do a circular or one-way tour, but my daughter, while fit, is not an avid cyclist so we'd be looking into easier/rec routes. Everywhere I've looked recommends the Loire but we aren't into castles. Ruins / views / villages yes, big fancy houses no.

  • We have friends in Nancy that we will probably aim to visit around the 22nd, as it looks like an easy train ride to Paris.

So after Rome I get stuck at the Tuscan hill towns. Rome 4 days, Florence/hill towns... then one could go left to cinque terre, Provence or Dordogne and up, or go right to Venice, Lake Garda, Dolomites and up. I figure we have about two weeks to play with for 'France where the tourists aren't, with some cycling'.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

Posted by
7344 posts

Hi, I like the less touristy places, too. So, I will share a couple of my trip reports from both northern Italy & France.

Biking is very popular around Mantova. I saw several bikers stopping at Mantova. I’m just a recreational biker and enjoy taking city bike tours in Europe. They’re usually a couple of hours and both entertaining & informational - a great way to learn about cities.

Posted by
8176 posts

After 50 years of European travel, we found London, Rome and Florence last June to just be too busy and they can be too expensive to visit too. There are still many off the beaten path places to stay and day trips to do. We're through with big cities--except to fly through their airports.

If you're going to Rome, there are agriturisimos in the suburbs that will get you out of the crowds mostly. We once stayed at Olive Tree Hill which is outside of Zagarolo. Ivano took us to the train in the mornings for a 20 minute ride to Rome Termini. A number of great travel sights in the area--including Palestrina.

Orvieto is a great hilltown to visit 70 minutes north of Rome. It's a great place to pickup a Hertz rental car--across the parking lot of the train station. It's about a 90 minute ride up to Siena and the Tuscan hillside. There are dozens and dozens of farms in the area renting rooms and apartments as a secondary source of income. We stayed outside of San Gimignano and did day trips to places like Montalcino and Volterra.

We would prefer to fly over to Budapest and tour the area to the east. We loved staying in Bratislava, for example, that was 39 miles from Vienna. And we never tire of Salzburg (during the week.) Other great towns to visit might be Cesky Krumlov--north of Linz, Austria. Two years ago, we finally went to Dresden which is one of the prettiest cities and classiest cities in Europe. The museums there are incredible.

My wife is having mobility issues, and we've mixed cruises into our European travels a few times. They're great travel bargains and have introduced us to places we will again visit in the future--like Turkey, Croatia and Montenegro. We highly suggest the Eastern Med and The Baltics to see Scandinavian cities in the Summer.

We also are big on using the very inexpensive European budget air lines to see new places. They're faster and less expensive than using trains in most situations. Also lets us visit one region of Europe and then visit a completely new city on the way home. For example, you can visit Italy and Greece in the south and take a cheap flight to Copenhagen--spending a few days before flying home on a open jaw ticket.

Posted by
1800 posts

Charybdis I'm your bike guy - many thousands of miles touristing on a bike in Europe on 15+ separate tours, many with my wife and daughter. I'm kicking around the idea of writing a family cycle touring guidebook.

The Loire is an okay bike tour! I've ridden bike tours there twice. But I don't think it's as good as some other destinations for first timers. The riding isn't quite as defined as some other places, there are more roads as opposed to bike paths than some of the better choices, and there are more somewhat ordinary areas between the highlights.

Don't get me wrong - I LOVE riding in the Loire, would do it again no problem. But there's better infrastructure elsewhere.

If I could suggest one bicycle tour to start with, the Danube from Passau to Vienna (or vice versa) is my top choice. It's not head and shoulders above the other choices, but maybe head above.

Before I comment on this route, you should note that because you have five weeks, and because you are starting your trip fairly far east in Italy, this is a workable choice in your itinerary. Travel times north-south in Europe across the Alps are generally much shorter than most Americans imagine. Though the cultural gap is big, you can, for instance, take a train from Venice to Munich in about 6 hours (with a really beautiful Italian Alpine places along the way if you wanted to spend a night or two). Similarly, Vienna is a fairly quick shot from Northern Italy, also with some gorgeous places along the way.

The Danube bike trail has a lot going for it. The infrastructure is top notch, about as safe as it gets, and nearly continuous. Scenery is good to outstanding to UNESCO World Heritage along nearly the entire ride. There is an assortment of cute villages and interesting cities peppered evenly along the way. Passau and Vienna are also awesome starting and ending points.

Because this trail is so good it is popular. But because that doesn't mean crowded - bike tourists string out over the distances so it never feels overrun. Rather just that there's a big and affordable variety of companies that will set you up full-service guided, self-guided and move your luggage, or just rent you a bike and panniers and send you off. Restaurants and cafes that cater to cyclists the moment you think about them. Many hotels that cater to cyclists.

Ebikes are very common for this type of travel, and are regularly rented. In the past few years on the more major European cycle tour pathways I have seen e-bikes out numbering normal bikes at a rate of probably 4 to 1.

Here is a good value well-organized tour operator based in the area. Take a browse.

Note that from (or to) Vienna you can easily and affordably fly if you want a quick hop further west.

Lastly for now, there are many other suitable and convenient touring routes in different locations where you could rent ebike's and have a great time. I'm happy to recommend!

Posted by
1800 posts

If bike part of trip must be in France, and you prefer non-Loire/less touristed, then the far less known by international tourists Canal de Garonne is lovely. Nearly all on traffic free converted railways and canal tow paths, beautiful towns crossing Dordogne region. And probably the safest cycle tour in France.

I'd pass on the Canal du Midi, continuation of the Canal de Garonne. Garonne has a smooth, well-groomed surface; Midi sometimes more like a beat up dirt walking path, tree roots, etc, far more diverting off the path onto the roads.

Another possibility is Provence. I haven't ridden a bicycle here yet, but tours are broadly available and seem to be well liked. A bit hillier, but quite convenient to your routing and ebikes, as always, available. All types of tours available in Provence; here is a link to a pricey/plush fully-guided provider.

Burgundy is a good call for cycling as well - low population density, many canal paths, beautiful little villages, etc.

There is a lot more but in France these would be my tourist-averse first timer recommendations (all behind the Danube for rookies, but if France then ...).

Posted by
2 posts

Sorry guys, got swamped with work and haven't had a chance to reply.

Jean: amazing trip reports! I love your idea of taking classes in different spots. What a great way to get to know an area and learn a skill! I loved the detail in your writing.

David: I hear you on the crowds and the cost... one of our favorite trips was a sea kayak expedition in Northern Vancouver Island. More whales than people! That's obviously not what we're aiming for here but certainly we're hoping there are still ways to find out of the way spots. Great tip on renting a car out of Orvieto, and if I recall, civita di Bagnoregio is near there... and then maybe just head north from there and see what we see.

Hank. Hank! You are simply amazing! What a fantastic wealth of information. I admit that part of my delay in writing was work, and then whatever free time I had was exploring the routes you suggested, and then the rabbit hole of connecting it all together. Honestly we need five months or five years for this trip. 😂

I have been wanting to see Provence, and to be honest the first idea for the trip itself was 'cycle in the south of France' buuuuut, a train through the alps and a bike tour from Vienna to Passau might just trump that, the pictures look beautiful and the route looks extremely well laid out. If we have time at the end I suppose we could catch the high speed from Paris for a couple of days, but this trip is already looking like we'll need a vacation from our vacation. 😂 I'm going to some more google-mapping and web-searching and will post with follow-up questions, if that's okay!

Thanks so much everyone!