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18 days Rome to Paris

Aloha, We’ll appreciate critiques of our draft itinerary. Some influencing factors: trip is next summer, prefer driving over trains and the cost of the drop off fee is not a concern, traveling with 2 teens who claim the driving involved below is worth getting to Zermatt (instead of Chamonix) and Le Mont St. Michel, looking forward to breaking up the cities with 3 full days of nature activities in the Alps.

Rome - 6 nights (12 hour time difference so we need jet lag recuperation time)
Florence - 1 night (We’ll do Florence for real on another trip. We think of this as a day trip to Montepulciano which gets us several hours closer to Zermatt)
Zermatt - 4 nights (long day of driving to get there, yes we know the rental car will sit unused in Tasch but feel it’s worth it for the freedom)
Amboise - 2 nights (long day of driving to get there but gets us half day away from MSM)
MSM - 1 night
Paris - 4 nights

It’s a bit more driving than I’d like but the kids really want both Zermatt and MSM. Any tips to make our 2 full days and 3 half days of driving as easy & enjoyable as possible? Is 2 full days and 3 half days driving time too much?

Mahalo for your wisdom.

Posted by
3203 posts

Before you get too serious in your determination to drive everywhere, I'd recommend you take a good look at the costs involved, not the least of which will be the very large drop off fee for leaving the car in a different country. You may find that taking the trains between you cross border trips, then renting a car for a couple of days when you really need it will save not only a pile of money, but time as well.

Posted by
8408 posts

A quick check found the one way drop fee to be ~$900 . ( Pick up in FLorence and Drop in Paris) That is in additon to the basic rental rate

You may want to explore alternatives

Posted by
808 posts

My first thoughts: The teens won’t be doing the driving! And that sounds like a lot of driving. Yuck.

We also prefer driving for the freedom, but the hefty one way fee (sometimes $1000) may be an issue. And car rental is ridiculously expensive now (3-4 times normal). Plus, you may end up buying a Swiss rail pass anyway to take the lifts in Zermatt. All of that makes travel by train or plane more appealing. Definitely look at the prices, and consider only renting in a single country.

Posted by
5459 posts

I wouldn’t drive so far out of the way to visit MSM, which was the greatest disappointment of a 6 week trip to France. Yes, I was there out of prime season (early June) and yes, I stayed in nearby Pontorson, so visited it before and after the day trippers had gone.

Zermatt to Amboise is a 9 or 12 hour drive depending on whether you take the quicker but expensive toll roads or local roads and MSM is a 4+ hour drive from Amboise. All this for a few hours at MSM? Plus the expensive one way drop fee for a car plus the price of fuel and the toll roads? Sorry, but I think this portion of the trip needs rethinking. Even if I loved MSM, it’s a hassle getting there for so little time there.

In Paris, if you are driving, you need to think about where to return the car then how you are going to get to your accommodation.

As with all trips over the past two years, the recommendation still stands to limit the number of countries you visit to ideally one or at most two due to different Covid regulations.

Posted by
5324 posts

1) What time of the year do you plan this trip? If its during the Winter, forget driving in Switzerland unless you like ice on the roads and perhaps snow.
2) Having a car in any major European city is a huge waste. Traffic and parking fees are the issue.
3) Crossing borders with a rental incur huge drop fees as well as other issues. I lived in Germany over three decades ago and drove all over central Europe, as well as Italy, Switzerland and France. However, today, I would not choose to drive in Italy. Read these boards about some of the outrageous fines from innocent mistakes you can make driving in unfamiliar areas. Also, I understand driving in Switzerland can be problematic, such as having to have a pass to drive on some highways. Do some research on this.
4) Also, Zermatt is impressive, but I wouldn't plan to go to MSM just to see that one site. Normandy deserved a couple of days to visit the D-Day beaches and Bayeux (see the famous Tapestry).
5) If you haven't been to FLorence, why are you ignoring that wonderful city. Also, Venice is great.

Posted by
3024 posts

Since you asked for critiques: Do not plan to drive the entire trip! Have you been to Europe before and driven here? Regarding the itinerary itself, you really should add one more night in Florence, that city deserves more than just a night on the way north. And what are your plans for Zermatt? 4 nights there seems like a bit much.

Is 20% driving time too much?

IMHO yes, it will be a waste of both time and money. If you want to spend your holiday sitting in a car it is cheaper to do it at home.

Posted by
3136 posts

I second the warning about dropping off a car in Paris. We still remember a nightmare experience when it was extremely difficult to find where to drop the car at Gare du Nord.

Remember, Europe has a wonderful train system and trains are much faster than driving.

Posted by
1197 posts

You're trying to do too much IMO; however, if you stick to the plan then take 2 nights from Rome and add them at another interesting place along your journey. This will break up the driving and allow you to experience more. Beaune, France would be a stop worth considering. You should also consider taking 1 night from Zermatt and add it to Florence. For what it's worth I've haven't been to either Beaune or Zermatt but have to all the rest.

Posted by
1767 posts

There are direct trains from Rome’s Termini station to Florence S.M. Novella station (1h 45m). After spending a night in Florence, you can rent a car and drive to Montepulciano (1h 45m) for the day and I would add another night in Florence.
To get from Florence to Zermatt you’ll need to transfer three times that’ll take a minimum of 6h 30m if your trains are on time. If you go to Milan instead of Florence, you’ll have one transfer (3h 45m) to get to Zermatt.
Getting from Zermatt to Amboise is longer and requires three transfers.

Posted by
3586 posts

One thing to rember when finalizing your trip is that it almost always takes longer to change locations than anticipated. It's not just the actual travel time, its the packing up, checking out, and then, upon arrival, you have get to your hotel, check in (if your room is ready), and unpack to some degree.

IMHO, you might be trying to do too much in too little time. Just something to consider.

Posted by
8657 posts

Also consider that you should add 25% to the time mapping shows the drive to be, and don’t forget to factor in the time it takes stopping for fuel, bathroom breaks, getting something to eat, etc. If you take the train you don’t have to deal with those things. With your current plan you won’t have time to see much besides the landscape as you drive by. Every country has their own driving laws and you are expected to know them.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to drive as much as the next person. I only do it when it will enhance my trip and public transportation is less available. You don’t want a car in cities. Especially in Italy you can easily get hit with potentially multiple fines by accidentally driving into a ZTL.

I have to agree with the previous poster who didn’t care for MSM. My husband and I agreed that it was the biggest disappointment in our 6 week trip that took us to 3 countries. I definitely wouldn’t go so far out of my way for it.

I plan trips by how many nights I have to give a real idea of how long I have somewhere. Two nights equals one full day, three nights equals two days, etc. how many nights will you have IN Europe, not counting your arrival and departure days? That will show you how much time you really have. Time goes faster than you think.

You might consider limiting yourself to just Italy and Switzerland. If it was me I would train from Rome to Florence. After spending 2 nights in Florence find an agriturismo to spend a few days exploring Tuscany by car. Pick the car up at the Florence airport to avoid driving in the city. I would suggest you include Venice in your Italy plans. There’s nowhere else like it. You could drop the car in Florence and take the train, or drive to Venice and drop it there. I wouldn’t waste your limited time in Milan, but it is a good place to take the train to Switzerland. Fly home from Switzerland and save France for another time. It’s impossible to see everything in one trip.

Posted by
27422 posts

be careful, be very careful, about renting - and more particularly - driving a car in or out of Florence. These Forums are littered with stories from grumpy travellers who had very expensive tickets arrive after they got home from Florence, sometimes many months later.

If you are driving in Italy you need to know and understand, especially in Florence, but everywhere now, all about ZTLs, bus lanes, one way roads, TUTOR and other automated ticket dispensing facilities, as well as carrying for each driver an IDP.

Posted by
5374 posts

Please advise whether this is your first trip to Europe. I don't have children, but it seems reasonable to imagine that most middle-class children today are likely to visit Europe on their own before they die. Why do the kids demand Zermatt? Is it rational or capricious? Is there a poster of the Matterhorn involved? (My grandmother did give me one in the 1950's!) Do you live in a very flat state of the US?) Please ask yourself it is essential to cover this much ground in a single trip. This driving is a terrible waste of time and money. I've been to all of these places, but they were all on different trips to Europe.

Driving on limited access roads in Europe is no more scenic than similar roads in the US. And the speed limits are much more strict. And the vehicles rented tend to be much smaller than you are used to. The lanes can be narrower, and trucks much more obstructive on 4-lane ( 2 x 2, I mean) sections. I haven't looked up the actual distances, but would you recommend visiting Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston on the same American vacation?

It's a bad comparison, and a personal choice, but we chose only to see the chateaux west of Tours because one vacation was a clockwise loop through Chinon, MSM, St. Malo, Bayeux & beaches, and back to Paris. But Paris was just a nice incidental for flying. It was at least our eighth time in Paris. Amboise is highly desirable, but it's too far from the coast, even for an all-France drive. Our trip, the drive from Chinon to the hotel in Dinard was too long for us. But we're glad we stopped for lunch and a visit a Fontevraud Abbey, 100% "on the way."

Kids who demand to see MSM should be demanding to see Pèrouges on the way to Amboise. I submit that they have not done their homework. There are plenty of mountains in Italy and France they could enjoy.

Edit: Don't forget you need a windshield Vignette for Switzerland. Check on recent posts here about Italy ZTL tickets and speed camera tickets in various countries. There are also plenty of posts on rental auto insurance, especially in Italy.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for the responses thus far.

This will be our only family trip to Europe. We are definitely hitting Rome, Alps, Paris. We like driving and would only consider a train if it saved significant time. We don’t like long day trips; it is a waste of time to backtrack.

We started with an itinerary with just 2 travel days (Rome, Chamonix, Paris) but The Matterhorn, Loire , & MSM call to us so we’re considering the drive through France. We could use trains to Chamonix and pick up the car on the French side of the Geneva airport to save cost but we really don’t mind cost. Convenience is most important to us.

Thanks again for all of your input.

Posted by
3024 posts

We like driving and would only consider a train if it saved
significant time.

I don't know if you've been to Europe before but a 300 km/h high speed train will save significant time compare to driving. Rome to Florence is 1:30 by train, or 3:30 by car. Amboise to Paris is 1:20 by train, 2:40 by car.

We don’t like long day trips; it is a waste of time to backtrack.

In that case, you should not visit Mont-Saint-Michel from Amboise.

We could use trains to Chamonix and pick up the car on the French side
of the Geneva airport to save cost but we really don’t mind cost.
Convenience is most important to us.

Apart from the cost of dropping off the car in another country you also need to make sure that the car is legal to drive in every country you pass through. E.g. in France the car need to have high visibility vests for all passengers and (assuming you plan to drive near any towns/cities) a crit'air sticker. A car rented in France will be equipped with that, an Italian rental car will probably not be equipped.

Posted by
3136 posts

I like your new plan. We drove to Loire from Paris and it was easy-we did need lots of coins for the polls on the highway.

Posted by
1043 posts

Good luck on your trip. It sounds like, based on your original post and your follow up, your mind was already made up. There is more combined European travel experience on this forum than Rick Steves has encountered. Traveling in Europe is so much different from car trips in the US. Cost is only one factor. It is time, driving fatigue, frustration of tolls, getting lost, missing a turn, missing an exit, car trouble, parking, languages, weather and the list goes on and on.

If in the end you still wish to make it a multi country driving trip, I hope it all works out for you and your family. I would hope you would dwell on it awhile before making the final decision. Again, Good luck.

Posted by
1820 posts

When Rome2Rio says it takes 6-1/2 hours to drive from Florence to Zermatt, don't believe it. That doesn't include stopping for gas, food, tolls, weather AND most importantly traffic! It's not easy getting between those three countries and it's the reason they all speak different languages. I think Switzerland is it's own trip (or at least a really expensive weeks worth). I've spent one day (12 hours) on four trains to go from Florence to Beaune and I still think it was easier than driving those mountains would have been. I've driven Rome to Siena and it's easy without traffic but took way longer than expected. Leave early in the morning to beat traffic and arrive early while you can still see the mountains.
You've got a lot of big scenic sites on the itinerary but I can pretty much guarantee the highlights of the trip will be from interactions with others and experiencing different cultures plus the things that went wrong. Rome is hectic and not where I like to get over jet lag. I'd start with what direct flights are available from where you live to Europe. For me it's always Amsterdam or Paris to get to the Continent.

Posted by
217 posts

I enjoy European road trips. I've done separate road trips in England; Belgium/France; Germany/Austria and several throughout Romania and Moldova. I've done an epic drive from Frankfurt to Bucuresti that included stops in Rothenburg, Neuschwantstein, Munich, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Budapest and more. This is the most similar to what you have in mind.

I prefer train travel in Italy and Switzerland, but you can make do with driving.

My suggestions are:
- break up the driving a bit more with some well-appointed stops. A travel day turns into a great sight-seeing day if you add a stop or two to break up the driving and something to anticipate within the next hour or two.
- if you're not really visiting Florence, stay away. Go further than Florence after the Montepulciano day-trip; between Florence and Milan...perhaps Bologna or Parma?
- stop in Stresa/Lago Maggiore on the way to Zermatt
- too much time in Zermatt; replace some time with Bernese Oberland/Lauterbrunnen. Bernese Oberland >> Zermatt.
- add an en-route sleep-over stop in France, after Switzerland; Beaune is a great suggestion. Take a night from Rome to add this
- stop in Bern on the way to Beaune
- visit Orleans, Chambord and Blois or Cheverny on the way to Amboise from Beaune...fills the day and avoids back-tracking
- consider D-Day beaches, Bayeux and Honfleur en route from Mont Saint-Michel to Paris

So,
Rome - 5 nights
- pick up car near Rome, Montepulciano day trip
Bologna/Parma - 1 night
- lunch in Stresa and a stroll along Lago Maggiore
Zermatt - 2 nights
Bernese Oberland/Lauterbrunnen - 2 nights
- stroll through medieval old town and lunch in Bern
Beaune - 1 night
- early lunch in Orleans
- afternoon tours of Chambord and Cheverny
Amboise - 2 nights
Mont Saint-Michel - 1 nights
- late morning at D-Day sights, lunch in Bayeux
- early dinner in Honfleur, return car near Paris
Paris - 4 nights

Voila, you eliminate the too-long 9-10 hour drive and convert your travel days to sightseeing days.

Posted by
937 posts

I like BradFrumos reply and itinerary.

In Switzerland you will need to get a vignette for you rental car and if you rent in Italy they won't be available from the rental agency but you can order them online.

Not always is the train faster or cheaper or convenient but the one way drop off cost for a car rental can be very expensive.

Posted by
145 posts

Also consider that, if you leave your luggage in the car while you take in a tourist site en route, you will be a mark for thieves in many areas. It has happened to two friends of ours in Spain and Italy,

Renting in Italy has always been a headache for me but necessary for some of the smaller towns. However, I would not have wanted to leave my luggage exposed at all as the cars I have rented were nearly always hatchbacks and the Italian rental agencies (even Hertz) had no idea want happened to the luggage compartment covers on their rentals.

You have heard the advice of many seasoned European travelers here whose advice is guaranteed to enhance the enjoyment of your trip. Take it to heart.

Posted by
3565 posts

Counter to frequent advice here, I think involving children in trip planning IS A TERRIBLE IDEA! Even older teens are capricious with requests, just months before rejiggering a trip to include a night in Innsbruck (which disappointed everyone) to one child’s request, he asked when we were there why we came! Just plan a logical trip and they will be distracted and not mind missing some must see.

Posted by
5374 posts

Tom_MN, thanks for your comment. But don't forget that some children grow up today without ever hearing the word ... ... "No!" In between the trophies for Participation. (Don't get me wrong, I hate team sports.)