Itinerary feedback - Euro trip for group of 10

Hi, I'm in charge of organizing a trip for a heterogeneous group of 5 couples (age range 32-47) to Europe next winter (in Europe), in January. I've done a similar thing for a much smaller group of 3 couples going to US (no language barrier) so they just appointed me as responsible to organize the whole thing. The group is a mix of good friends related by either work, hobby, sports or volunteering. For organizing the trip for everyone, buying tickets, making reservations I'll get my airfare paid by the other 9, which is fair given the headache it is giving me. Our goal is to mix up architecture with some overload of art, history and special dining experiences. Things that are normally out of our reach here. We have 32 days in Europe. My draft itinerary looks like this Day 1 - arrive in London Days 2-5 - London Days 6-8 - Bruxelles OR Amsterdam Days 9-13 - Berlin Days 14-19 - somewhere on the Swiss Alps Days 20-22 - Milan Days 23-24 - Venice Days 25-28 - Sardinia OR Sicily Days 29-32 - Rome
Day 33 - departure

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2603 posts

Looks like a good place to start, but not sure exactly what the question is.
My only comment would be that just getting your airfare paid is relatively small compensation for the amount of work and responsibility for planning a trip like this. You might want to look to a tour company for some help. A place like GoAhead tours might be able to help you create a private tour for your friends, and you will likely get your whole trip paid for free.

Posted by Catherine
Wellington, New Zealand
4 posts

(sorry, I'm just learning to use this site, I couldn't post all in one single message) Berlin, Milan and Rome are "must be" cities in our itinerary, though not necessarily on that order. The whole idea of this trip started gaining form around activities to be done on this three cities (history / fine dining / contemporary art). Our group has some foodies and some people much into modern art, Berlin and Milan have excellent offers on both. I'm really in doubt about whether Amsterdam is a good pick in the middle of the winter. There are interesting things to do, but many of them are outdoors (canal cruises, windmill parks). Is it still enjoyable to do such activities even in January? We also want to visit one of two major Italian islands for some contrast with our big-city itinerary. We want to find some smaller place to stay 3 or 4 days, some village with great photo opportunities but also relatively quiet for a winding down time. I liked some pictures of Ragusa, Modica and Noto - are they worth visiting during winter? We also need some Alpine location. The idea is find a place that has skiing opportunities for those that ski, but not a ski resort away from everything. Some people don't ski and would like to take scenic trains/gondolas from there or enjoy snowy tiny mountain villages on foot. I'm considering places like Davos, Zermatt or Grindewald. Initially the idea is stay put 6 days in just one place so that some people can take one day-trip out of the area for a place like Luzern, Bern, Montreux or Zurich) and come back later at night. The major reason for we to travel as a group is that many of us have different interest than our spouses so we will be able to do different things during daytime on occasion and reunite later in the day for dinner.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1969 posts

Is there a reason you've chosen Bruxelles or Amsterdam over Paris if you are interested in architecture and modern art? The collections in the Orsay and National Modern Art Museum in the Pompidou Center are incredible. This is where everyone went to paint and sculpt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

You mention Italian islands or towns. I'd check really carefully about whether what will be open in January/February. I've really enjoyed Rome at that time of year, but many smaller towns will be partially shut down. You'll find cathedrals and major museums open, but many shops, small hotels, restaurants, and tourism infrastructure may be closed. Also, with an interest in art and architecture, I'm wondering if you'd like to add Florence to your itinerary.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Catherine: I'm sorry, but I wouldn't want to be taking that itinerary in January. Winter days are very, very short as Europe is very far north. Weather can be also be nothing short of dismal, and it's very cold everywhere. The best months for European travel is the last week of March to the end of May. Or, the third week of September through October. Remember that you lose a day every time you move, and you lose a day upon arrival and the last day of your trip. Your itinerary of eight major destinations will be very physically demanding. If your group are going to specifically ski, I would suggest Munich, Salzburg, Innsbruck area (for skiing), and then taking the train down to Florence and Rome to the historical part of your trip. My wife and I have traveled to Innsbruck to ski, and had a very miserable, freezing day in Venice with the waves lapping up on St. Marks Square.
I regret that planning a trip for 10 people is difficult even at the best times of the year. But with so much food, drink, culture, art and history, Europe is really better taken a little more slowly.

Posted by Catherine
Wellington, New Zealand
4 posts

Well, I realize days are short in January. I've traveled to US on that month already couple times. However, there is no way we can postpone it due to work commitments, so we either travel then, or we don't leave home. So I'm thinking on a mostly-indoor focused trip that can happen regardless of bad weather. I am concerned about the village/island detour though. Maybe we should spread those days among other destinations? Or add Bologna or Florence, which seems easy according to train schedules? As for Paris: 5 people on the group have already visited Paris.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Do not let David's comments discourage you. A winter visit to Europe can be very enjoyable. Crowds are way down and there may be more cultural activities such as symphony, plays,etc. Yes it will be cold, especially in Berlin and the Alps, but you can dress for that. Between Davos, Zermatt and Grindelwald, for what you want, I would suggest Grindelwald for the more central location, and the activities. There is a lot on offer for the non-skier, like winter hiking paths, and it is better situated for visiting other areas of Switzerland. The skiers among you will have a choice of several areas in which to ski.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9108 posts

I think this is a very sensible trip (my caveat is that I know next to squat about Italy). The short daylight hours have little effect on city touring, where the majority of your trip will take place. I've visited and enjoyed Amsterdam in December. If that's the only time you can visit, then go for it. Now that most of Europe has banned indoor smoking, many cafes will have an outdoor terrace with heating lamps. For the Alps portion, Grindelwald is excellent choice if your group contains a mixture of skiërs and non-skiërs. I found the slopes on this side of the Berner Oberland much more enjoyable than on the Lauterbrunnen side, and there's more winter hiking and sledging options for the non-skiërs. However, I would also look closely at the transportation logistics of this choice. Berlin to Interlaken by train is too long. You would probably need to fly from Berlin to Zürich. Another option might be to use a resort in the Bavarian or Tyrolian Alps. Perhaps break the train trip up with a short stay in Munich (not sure why the other poster thinks this would be a good choice for skiing though), then continue further south to the Alps.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3509 posts

Start in the south and work your way north to have a little more daylight - remember it's backwards, days are getting longer in January. On Jan. 1, here is the time from sunrise to sunset London 7 hrs. 56 min Berlin 7 hrs. 45 min Rome 9 hrs. 11 min On Jan. 31 London 9 hrs. 7 min Berlin 9 hrs
Rome 10 hrs Italy has balmy sunny days often during the winter, even in Milan and Venice. Northern Europe has frequent dark, grey days, and more likelihood of snow or rain. Going to Sardinia or Sicily is likely to eat up too much travel time. The Amalfi coast may be a better option, with trips to Paestum and Pompeii. I don't know if you're taking into account a minimum of 1/2 day for travel time for each destination change. Are you planning to go by train? Have you considered looking for a small bus and driver from Brussels to Rome? While it may be more expensive, it will certainly save travel time and eliminate the stress of keeping a group together getting from hotel to train and then from train to hotel. There are so many other advantages to a private bus, just a few: transportation for day trips, ease of baggage handling, travelling as a group instead of individuals on a train, no need to book and keep track of train tickets.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2688 posts

Hi, Be prepared that Berlin is cold, may seem artic to you, in January. It may turn out to be the city with the coldest temperature on your itinerary.

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
800 posts

Another option is to fly from Berlin straight down to Venice. Then you can go to the Dolomite mountains (skipping Switzerland though). There's plenty of cute towns in the Dolomites where some can ski, some can hang in the village, or go to Bolzano, etc. You don't want to take the train from Berlin to central Switzerland, it would be torture to me--very long. If you do go to Switzerland or Austria for ski/village atmosphere, there's lots of options, Gstaad, Davos, Lucerne, etc. If you all are up for an adventure, I recommend staying in an igloo. We did it in January and it was tons of fun, there's a bar, individual rooms, a hot tub, very fun! http://www.iglu-dorf.com/ The locations are on the website.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2603 posts

I often travel in the winter and while I love the weather in May, it just isn't always possible... so I go when I can...set my expectations low and have many times been pleasantly surprised by nice weather. What you do gain is being able to see the cities and towns without hordes of tourists, and that is always a bonus. You are having a very different experience than most tourists by being there in the winter.

Posted by Bob
Gettysburg, PA
1364 posts

Catherine, you are selling your talent WAY too cheap! Even @ $3K, your time will work out to be under $10.00 per hour.

Posted by Catherine
Wellington, New Zealand
4 posts

Some good hints are the ones you are giving me... As for Paris: 6 of us have visited Paris on past occasions and we will skip it. I was looking into winter destinations in Switzerland. So far I ruled out Zermatt (apparently it is not suitable for any day-trip to/from another city) and I'm looking more into Grindelwald. I'm checking train schedules between Grindelwald and Rome. Apparently, it doesn't take that long, but it requires at least 4 transfers, some of them as tight as 9 min in Interlaken Ost. Is that too short?

Posted by Galen
Dallas, United States
389 posts

Don't know if you've purchased your air tix already, but 10 people qualified for group treatment a few years when we went to Brazil. The air fare was the same as publicized when we made the down payment, but we didn't have to give names and make the final payment until a month or two out. You might investigate this if you haven't already. Good luck.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

9 minutes is ample time to change trains at Interlaken. The trains are times dike clockwork (it is Switzerland, after all) and generally you just stop off the one coming from Grindelwald and then onto the one heading to Spiez (where you will change for the train to Milan). Another place in Switzerland you might consider for your group of skiers and non-skiers would be Luzern and Engleberg. You could base in Luzern and the skiers and outdoor adventur enthusiasts could take the train 45 minutes to Engleberg, at the base of Mt. Titlis, or you could all stay in Engleberg and the non-skiers could daytrip to Luzern, Bern, or other areas. Activities on Titlis include, in addition to fantastic skiing and snowboarding, winter walking, sledging, and snowshoeing. for the off-piste skiers, there is a long glacier run-something like 10 km. http://www.titlis.ch/en/titlis/titlis_info/winter_activities Luzern is a small city with lots of charm and cultural activities. It would be a slightly shorter trip to Rome from here than from Grindelwald. If you wish to avoid lots of train changes, there is one direct train from Luzern to Milano Centrale a day, with an early departure (7:77 am). this gets you to Milan before noon, so you could be in Rome by mid-afternoon. If that train is too early, there are lots more with a single change at Arth-Goldau. So you would have either 1 or 2 changes on the way to Rome, instead of 4.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Hmmmm. I was there my first time on skis, when I was in college. So I didn't do much but ride a T-Bar, but my friends (also college age and female) did the glacier run and many others, and had a great time. Maybe they have built tougher runs since then? From Luzern they could also ski on Rigi, which seems to offer easier terrain.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9108 posts

Engelberg... would only recommend it for VERY experienced skiers. I've been skiing for almost 30 years, and I've never experienced such a high concentration of difficult pistes. And the conditions the day I visited were near-perfect.