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Ideas for 7 days in France before taking train to Italy

We have an upcoming trip end of May 2021. I will be traveling with five 22-23 year olds, 3 of which are my own children. This is their college graduation present from me, a single Mom. We plan to fly into Paris and out of Rome. We plan to travel via train from France to Italy and use train transportation within both countries. I will have a list of possible things they can each do in each city. We will all stay in same hotels but will split up to do different things in each city.

We plan to spend 7 to 8 nights in France and 10 plus nights in Italy. I have Italy planned Venice, Florence and Rome. I need help with where to go in France and how many nights. They prefer to see more areas/cities in France as opposed to staying all 7 nights in Paris. They lean towards quantity in seeing more cities than quality in each city. They are interested in some museums but are also interested in the food, experiences, history, wine, ruins, culture , adventures and hikes.

Ideas and suggestions appreciated:

*3 to 4 nights in Paris then
*2 nights in Avignon or Provence city and one in Nice
*2 nights in Lyons

I am not opposed to stopping and sleeping a night in Milan or another city if that makes sense. Or is it better to take fast train to Venice? Can we stop and get off train and walk around Milan or another city for a few hours on the way to Venice?
I am open to any other city/region that one recommends. I am not interested in renting a car, especially needing one big enough for 6 of us. I think it will be easier and less stressful to take the train.

Thank you for your tips and suggestions. We plan to book within the next few days.
Merci
Grazie

Posted by
3803 posts

To avoid backtracking, I would spend 4-5 nights in Paris (preferably 5 if you want to visit Versailles) and 2-3 in Lyon. Provence is probably best left for another trip, 3 nights there is really not enough.

You can definitely stop in Milan for a few hours, not a problem - you have to change trains there anyway when you go from Lyon to Venice, and there is luggage storage at Milano Centrale. Just book tickets accordingly. This being said, the station is a little bit out of the center so you should allow at least 4 hours to comfortably store luggage, go to the Duomo, walk around a bit, and head back.
Plus, most trains to Venice leave from Porta Garibaldi whereas the train from Lyon Part Dieu arrives at Centrale: the connection is easy, but does add 15-20 minutes to the journey.
An overnight stay would break the journey nicely, in my opinion.

Posted by
21039 posts

I'd agree that having just 3 nights in southern France is not a good plan. I especially wouldn't split that time between two bases. There are many lovely destinations in Provence and along the Riviera, so there's a lot of moving around that doesn't work well for a short trip without a car. One night in Nice would frustrate me madly because of the many interesting side trips I wouldn't be able to take (Antibes, Vence, St-Paul-de-Vence, Cap Ferrat, Menton, etc.)

Lyon is wonderful. It has a great variety of sights, so i think it would really appeal to your crew. However, I have another suggestion: Strasbourg or Colmar in Alsace. That area would give you very different architecture and food experiences. It wouldn't add a great deal of transportation time between Paris and Venice, either. The train routing would take you through Switzerland, which might increase the rail fare. It would definitely be worth asking on the Swiss forum about the most scenic route between Strasbourg and Venice. Some routes spend less time in tunnels; they do take longer, but it would be worth the extra time to me, to get a better look at the Swiss Alps.

Check the rail schedules before making a decision about the Milan stopover. It's doable but will make for a very long travel day and an arrival in Venice after 8 PM. The duomo in Milan is magnificent, but I think I'd rather take a slower train through the Alps if starting from Strasbourg/Colmar or have an earlier arrival/more time in Venice if starting from Lyon.

Posted by
3803 posts

The Strasbourg/Colmar option is indeed quite viable. Strasbourg to Venice takes about 9 hours with 2 connections at best, so it is only marginally longer than Lyon to Venice (less than 1 hour) with just one extra connection.
Since the opening of the Gotthard base tunnel, the Basel-Milan train is a bit less scenic than it used to be, but it is also significantly faster. Still quite picturesque (much more so than Lyon-Milan, which is surprisingly dull despite crossing the Alps), and you would not have time to detour via a more scenic route.

Posted by
7682 posts

Have you compared the cost of flying vs taking trains from France to Italy?

Posted by
4447 posts

What a wonderful experience for your group!

I would suggest looking up the amount of time it will take for transportation to go between locations to give you a better idea of the number of places your group would like to go. For instance, you can decide if you’re spending too much time on a train vs. actually enjoying being there. I love all of the places you have mentioned, but even just doing Paris & Nice would be 1st day - arrival day of jet lag, 3 days to enjoy Paris, take the train to Nice (the 9am train arrives in Nice at 3pm), and have 2 remaining days in Nice. That’s very quick! Flying to Venice may be cheaper than going by train.

Train websites:
France: www.sncf.com
Italy: www.trenitalia.com

Posted by
17 posts

Merci ya'll!

@acraven - I appreciate the suggestions. As I prefer quality over quantity, they prefer quantity and this is their trip. Granted, they do not have a clue nor will they do any of the research. They just picked France and Italy.

@Suki - I did not look into flying as it just seemed like they would enjoy the scenic views and/or sleeping on the train. I was also assuming that flying would not be an option due to security, plane delays... adding more time.

@balso and @acraven- I never thought of Strasbourg and Alsace. It looks delightful and I think they would love the vibe and food in the area as it seems so different from Paris. My daughter would love the scenery going the Swiss Alps! Thanks for the "dull" scenery comment about the Lyon- Milan.

@jean I am looking at train times. It is confusing with the different train websites in France.

What a great forum! I truly appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Posted by
1777 posts

Amy, you can take a direct train from the Paris Gare de Lyon station to Lyon Part Dieu (2h 15m). Have you considered going to IT by gliding over Mont Blanc (French and Italian alps) to Courmayeur, IT? It’s the most scenic border crossing between FR and IT.
To do this from Lyon means you’ll need to depart the Lyon Part Dieu station to Chamonix Mont Blanc (4h 45m that requires a transfer). From Chamonix you’ll take three different cable cars to reach IT, this way you’ll glide over the French alps instead of traveling through a tunnel to get there. Rick Steves France guidebook (19th edition) explains it in full.
From the Courmayeur – Piazzale Monte Bianco bus station you can take a direct bus to the Torino – Porta Susa rail station according to Rome2rio (3h 15m) and catch a train to Venezia S. Lucia station (end of line) that requires a transfer in Milan.
If doing this you might want to spend one night in Chamonix and one night in Courmayeur. This would allow you to spend a full day riding the cableways between FR and IT.

Posted by
4447 posts

Hi Amy, if the train website choice is confusing, you might want to start with www.rome2rio.com. Enter any two locations - even how to reach a hotel, and it will give you the transportation options. From there, go into the specific choice, i.e. train, bus, etc. and it will take you to the company that provides it.

Just one caveat; be sure to check the train times on the actual train company link. Sometimes the initial screen of Rome2rio is misleadingly generous on how short the time would be.

Posted by
3803 posts

The "Panoramic Mont Blanc" gondola only opens mid-June, so the suggested Chamonix-Courmayeur crossing is not possible.

Posted by
17 posts

MaryPat- The Mont Blanc cable car looks AMAZING. I was researching it last night after your suggestion. Thank you Balso, for letting me know that is not possible due to the time of the year. Do you both suggest it with no cable car? Is the train scenic?
Jean, Thanks for Rome2Rio tip, I have looked but did not realize they were not always accurate.

So many decisions. I can't decide which city/region to go for 2 to 3 nights between Paris and Venice that is on a train route. Please keep suggestions coming as I am researching all of the above. THANKS again.

Posted by
3803 posts

Well, in France you basically have Lyon and Alsace (where Strasbourg is located) as previously mentioned. Dijon/Burgundy could work too, but Dijon-Lausanne-Milan-Venice is a really long day by train so I would not recommend it!
Now, if locations outside of France are interesting to you as well, you have quite a few more options without adding unreasonable travel times. In Switzerland, Lausanne/Montreux (then on to Venice on a direct train via Simplon tunnel) and Luzern spring to mind, as well as the Bernese Oberland with longer travel time; in Germany, Munich.

Posted by
17 posts

Balso, you have wonderful ideas and I did not think about traveling through another country. They are all up for any adventure. I will research these options and compare travel times and cost today.

As I mentioned, they prefer to see more places. The majority of us are staying for 3 weeks, but one son just found out he has to leave earlier. The only cities that all want to experience are Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome. My daughter is actually staying for 7 weeks traveling around Europe after leaving us and ending in Egypt for a friend's wedding.

Merci Beaucoup

Posted by
17 posts

I am researching the Alsace region option. Do you recommend Stasbourg or Colmar? Which one makes the most sense for time and money with traveling from Paris and then traveling to Venice?

Posted by
3803 posts

In terms of transportation, they are strictly equivalent. There are direct trains from Paris to Colmar via Strasbourg, and trains from Strasbourg to Basel (for onward connections to Italy) stop in Colmar too.
Colmar is 30 minutes closer to Venice (and further from Paris), and is a relatively small town whereas Strasbourg is a city. Both have their fans. Colmar has the advantage of giving easier access to cute Alsatian villages such as Riquewihr, but Strasbourg has significantly more to do in the city itself.

Posted by
17 posts

Do you recommend staying in Paris a week and then doing fast train, under 5 hours, to Milan?

If they want to travel to Lyon or Alsace, they can do a long day trip, 4 to 5 hour round trip. Thoughts?

THANK YOU!

Posted by
21039 posts

That's too much time on trains for a day-trip to Lyon, especially. Lyon has 3+ days' worth of sights. I think it also takes too much time away from Strasbourg/Colmar (plus maybe a wine village or two).

Since both Lyon and Alsace are more or less on a direct route to Venice, it doesn't make sense to travel to either place, return to Paris, then turn around and travel in the same direction to Venice. You'd be substantially increasing your travel time and your transportation expenses.

Colmar is better located than Strasbourg if you want to see wine villages. Otherwise, I wouldn't know how to choose. The historic centers of both are beautiful but would be full of tourists if not for the pandemic (and even so...). Strasbourg certainly has more museums, but the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar is excellent; its Isenheim Altapiece is an acknowledged masterpiece.

Posted by
7588 posts

There’s no fast train from Paris to Milan that takes less than 5 hours. (I take this route often, as my husband is from Turin, which is the stop before Milan). It takes 5 hours and 40 minutes to get just to Turin — count on about another hour to get to Milan, so that puts you at about 7 hours.

Honestly if the only cities that everyone wants to see are Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome, I hate to say it, but I would fly from Paris to Venice and then pick up the trains again to head to Florence and Rome.

Posted by
3107 posts

Kim’s above suggestion is exactly what we did in 2019 with 4 people but in the opposite direction. We spent 2 weeks in Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome) and then flew to Paris. We only took trains in Italy but flew between Italy and France.

Posted by
3681 posts

Essential information source for train travel -- routes, carriers, services, purchasing -- is www.seat61.com

I can't sleep on trains so for the long haul into Italy I would want a place to stop over. But that plan must wait until you sketch out which rail lines you can ride.

Posted by
1814 posts

I would encourage you to encourage the "Five" to do some research.
You are doing all the work for six adults!
I have planned trips for that many; and now won't go anywhere with more than 3 people, just because there are too many variables in how people travel and what they want to do.
They might enjoy the planning.......

Posted by
8390 posts

I would follow Kim's suggestion with one tweak, take the train between Paris and Venice because the train trip is part of the European experience for them, too. We have planes all over the US, but train travel is rarer. I'd let them choose if they want the fast and direct flight or a long train ride and stick with Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome.

Posted by
4447 posts

“ Honestly if the only cities that everyone wants to see are Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome, I hate to say it, but I would fly from Paris to Venice and then pick up the trains again to head to Florence and Rome.”. Kim’s suggestion makes so much sense. They are young, and if it’s a priority, they will each return and see other locations. This maximizes the time you are all enjoying the sites & each other vs. sitting traveling and people staring at their phones. ; )

Paris-to-Venice flight
Italian names for www.trenitalia.com are in parentheses…
Venice-to-Florence (Venezia) (Firenze) is 2 hours, 15 minutes by train
Florence-to-Rome (Roma) is 1 hour, 30 minutes by train

Some of you could always join a day trip/wine minivan tour while in Florence to swing through some small towns in Tuscany and/or take a 1 hour train from Rome to Orvieto or go see Ostia Antica outside Rome. Just some examples to feel like it’s not all city time.

Posted by
16 posts

If you stay put in Paris you can always do a day trip to several places such as Fountainbleu or Versailles or Monet’s Giverney without having to pack up, haul luggage, herd cats and travel to a different destination.

Posted by
113 posts

Amy just a suggestion. If you do go to the Alsace region, stay in Colmar! And your young traveling partners will love love to rent bikes (get electric assist) and bike the Route du Vin. Magical, storybook villages all along. They and YOU will love it!!