Spain or Italy?

I am wanting to put together a small family gathering for about two weeks in either Spain or Italy in the month of mid June 2013. Any suggestions will be helpful as we have never been to Europe. We all love the outdoors, are great cooks and fun loving. Thanks, J

Posted by H J
LaGrange, Ga, USA
923 posts

Consider both! Friends just flew to Barcelona, got on the ship, sailed several ports in Spain and Italy and left the boat in Italy, traveling by train back to Spain....might be a good thing. I have not been to Italy, but friends give it high marks in all areas. I do go to Spain a good bit, and would highly recommend it..You would likely want to spend time in more than one area or work out day trips from Madrid or Barcelona or one of the other cities.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

Both are great places to visit although the time you plan to spend there will be barely enough to scratch the surface of either one. Two weeks, once you take out at least 2 days for getting there from LAX, are less than 12 days on the ground. Whichever you choose, therefore, you must carefully decide what you want to see in 10-12 days, because you won't be able to see all of Spain or all of Italy. Limiting your focus on only some regions within a big country like Spain or Italy, you'll minimize the time you spend on the road traveling from place to place. Just to give you an idea, Italy is a peninsula as long as California from Oregon to Mexico. Spain is even bigger.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

Everyone is different, but I would choose one or the other. I would love to go to Spain, but haven't been there yet. A lot of us posters love Italy. On this web site, look at some of Rick Steve's tours to Spain or Italy and look at the iteniraries and see which one appeals to you. Then start reading his guidebooks and look at previous questions to get answers. Many of his locations also have day classes for the " foodies" and Chef wanna-bes.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

As another poster is fond of saying (accurately), in the 2000 characters allotted we cannot write a guidebook for you. Start by reading guidebooks and watching travel videos (Rick Steves videos can be seen on Hulu and YouTube). You can have a great time in either country, and of course some love both, some love one and hate the other, and some hate both. Some things to consider as you plan: What is your budget? How large a group is this? What are the ages? Are there children in the group (they may have very different interests from adults)? Are you willing to rent a car, insisting on having a car, or not wanting a car at all? Remember for a large group, you may need more than one car. Were you thinking of cities, small towns, rural areas, or some mixture? How much "handholding" would you want or need? For instance, if you rent a country villa, will you be OK with not having daily maid service and a front desk to answer questions? Does anyone in your group have a special interest in one country (or part of that country)? As cooks, are you drawn to the food of one country or the other? Or more accurately, to the food of a region (as the cuisines in these countries are VERY regional).
Does anyone in your group speak Spanish or Italian? Etc.

Posted by George
Philadelphia
653 posts

You can't go wrong but based upon your notes, I would suggest Italy. Out of two weeks be sure to spend at least 3 days somewhere in Tuscany or Umbria in the countryside.

Posted by Pam
SF Bay Area, CA, USA
77 posts

I've been to both Spain and Italy, and my vote would be Italy hands down! I love Spain but Italy would be my first choice, especially for your family as a first Europe vacation. I would recommend renting a villa in Tuscany, make days trips to Florence and the famous Tuscany hill towns, and possibly spend 2-3 nights in both Venice and Rome. The Cinque Terre is also wonderful. Pick up the RS Italy book and dream!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

jacklyn, Depending on your budget and other factors, there are a couple of options you could consider. If you'd rather focus on one country, visit a few cities and sights and take some day trips, either country would be a good choice. OTOH, if you'd like to get somewhat of a "sampler" to provide information for future trips and provide some variety for your group, you could perhaps spend a week in each country. One possibility would be to start in Barcelona and end in Rome. As this is your first trip to Europe, I would highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. That provides a lot of good information on "how" to travel in Europe. After you've made a decision on which area to visit, the country-specific Guidebooks have lots of information on sightseeing, hotels, transportation, etc. For example, you could spend 4-5 days in Barcelona and then take a budget flight to Milan. EasyJet currently has flights as low as €22.99 PP (plus a few "fees" of course). From Milan you could travel directly to Rome (2H:55M via Freccia train) or stop in Florence or other location in Tuscany for a few days, and then finish your trip in Rome. There are many possibilities. The members of your "small family gathering" may find it helpful to sit down and watch a few of Rick's videos on Italy and Spain (if there are any being aired on your local PBS stations in the near future). That might provide some consensus on where the group would prefer. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

I think Brad from Gainesville has had a bad experience with toilets in Italy. I'm from Italy but I've traveled to both countries several times since I even had relatives in Barcelona. I'd never bothered to compare toilets in the two countries, maybe because I try to limit my time visiting loos while I travel, but based on my experience I don't remember having problems with toilets in either place. Maybe we can start a thread on toilets and find out what others think on the subject, however I've never made decisions on where to travel based on toilets, otherwise I would have never traveled to Mexico, where, alas, you often have to spend quite a bit of time on them, especially if you drink their water. As to customer service it is true that Europeans in general don't worship the customer as much as Americans do. In Europe the customer isn't always right, especially when the customer has an attitude with the workers who provide the service. But if the customer is nice and respectful, he or she will generally receive courteous customer service. That is true all throughout Europe and not just Italy or Spain. i agree with Brad that Spain is likely to be generally cheaper than Italy.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7209 posts

I'd go to Spain for several reasons. Spain will likely be cheaper, friendlier, more responsive to any needs or concerns that come up plus they have a much higher standard for cleanliness - especially when it comes to toilets. Spain has amazing history, like Italy. The main difference is affordable lodging and clean toilets (even at roadside gas stations). Italy's customer service leaves a lot to be desired. There's a certain attitude in Italy that you get what you get and you shouldn't complain. If you can live with that customer service attitude, it can be funny. If not, it can be maddening.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

On the point of "customer service", I've received less-than-stellar service in many countries in Europe, so that's not limited to Italy. Two particular experiences in recent memory come to mind where I was coming to a "slow boil" due to the lack of service. One was in Paris and one was in Rome. I'll probably never again set foot in the place in Paris, but I might try the one in Rome again. On the question of washroom facilities, I've seen some "grungy" facilities even in Cannes on the French Riviera, so again that's not limited to Italy. Any reasonably clean facilities are good IMO, but I try to avoid the "porcelain footprints" style of Loo. Cheers!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

I have been to both( Italy , Rome, Venice, Florence, three times) and can't wait to return to Spain( where I have only been once), its cheaper, the people are so warm and friendly , the wine is better ( ok thats subjective, lol ) , the beaches are gorgeous along the Costa Brava coast. Americans seem to love Italy , I noticed in the small Spanish town we stayed in the other tourists were mainly Brits, Russians and French, not as many Americans,, but I am not sure why Americans find Italy so wonderful, I wonder is it because it doesn't seem as "foreign " as some destinations,,, is the spagetti/pasta and pizza ? lol Obviously both places have amazing sites and history . If you had asked me before this summers first trip to Spain I would have said Italy, but now that I have been to Spain I don't think you can compare the friendly kind Spanish people , the cheaper food and beverages, and the amazing coastaly cities.. Whatever you do, enjoy it, its not like either place would be bad!!

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

If I was going to get family members to meet up somewhere, I'd be renting a villa in Tuscany, south of Florence in Chianti. All sizes of properties and homes are available in all price ranges. You should stay in one place and do day trips by rental car, as moving groups of people gets too complicated. Let your family members travel independently if they want to get around to different cities. I don't have any problem being a cook. But I refuse to be a tour guide to people with different interests. If you have enough people, see if a local chef can prepare your meals the authentic Italian way.

Posted by David
Sacramento, CA, USA
205 posts

First trip- Italy hands down. To steal a quote: Italy isn't a country, it is an emotion.

Posted by Claudio
Bergamo, Italy
117 posts

I believe that the friend Brad is doing his unfortunate experiences a national rule. A information on both countries, there are huge regional differences, Lombardy (northern Italy) and Sicily are much more different than California and Mississippi, and Catalonia (which no longer wants to be Spain) is very different from Estremadura (southwest Spain). This makes more difficult almost impossible, any comparison. However, from cultural point of view Italy is the country with the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, 47 followed by Spain (43 sites.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7209 posts

Sorry if it comes off like I don't like Italy. I love Italy. I've had great experiences there. They stand out as the most appreciative of efforts to speak the local language and they love families (very similar to Spain in that regard). But yes, there are certain things about Italy that you either enjoy or hate. I'm pretty easily amused so find myself laughing a lot - but I've seen many Americans with less sense of humor that were absolutely fed up by the Italian "come what may" attitude. You really have to guage yourself. If there are only a handful of threadbare towels in your apartment, and the owner doesn't seem inclined to do anything about it, will you laugh or be infuriated? I'm really not picky (my wife is a little) but toilets were noticibly less clean, as a rule in Italy, than elsewhere in Europe or the US. Spain, on the other hand, was noticibly cleaner (surprises me that it was enough of a difference to make an impression) than what you would expect in the US.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

I'm still trying to figure out all this emphasis on toilets. Some of the worst public toilets I have seen have been around here in San Francisco (especially the BART train stations, but occasionally bars and restaurants as well). Yet it is one of the most visited cities in North America. Since when do people decide where to spend a vacation based on the occasional dirty public restroom? Regarding kindness of people or bad customer service, that can be found anywhere. It would be silly to extrapolate my very few personal travel experiences (good or bad) to define an entire nation. Besides, when you travel to Europe nowadays you are very likely to deal with people who aren't even from that country. When I go to hotels or restaurants in Italy, it's almost always an immigrant worker I'm dealing with. Last summer I went to Italy and none of the hotel receptionists were Italians at any of the places I stayed. Also absolutely none of the baristas or waiters where I went downtown Florence were Italian. They may look and sound Italian to the many Americans who were there, but I could certainly detect that all of them had a slight foreign accent. So, what are you going to do? Say that all Italians are unfriendly because an Albanian waiter or receptionist wasn't friendly to you?

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

Both are great. I have really enjoyed sightseeing, people food, drink, hiking and biking. Suggest reading a few guide books and watch several travel videos to help decide which is best for you and yours. Travel on.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

Having spent a fair amount of time in both places, I'd suggest one other thing you might want to consider: If this is your first trip to Europe, how comfortable are you with language issues? While I really loved Spain (and it is generally cheaper than Italy, I believe), it's probably the most challenging place I've visited when it comes to not knowing the language (more challenging than the parts of the Middle East and Africa that I've visited). I started the trip to Spain on business, at a business-class hotel that was hosting an international English-language writing conference; however, even the front desk staff at that quality hotel had challenges with English. I realize how offensive it is to assume that everyone speaks English, but I admit to being linguistically challenged (despite efforts). It's much easier to get along without the language in Italy.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7209 posts

I agree with Sherry's point. English speakers in Spain are the exception outside the tourist industry. What's worse, no one speaks Spanish. That maybe an exageration but most speak a local dialect similar but not the same as Castilian Spanish and some (most notably the Basque and Catalons) use Spanish as a second language only. In Sevilla, we were invited into several casetas at the fair. Of the 100-200 people in each tent, maybe one spoke English. I grew up in San Diego speaking essentially Baja California Mexican (it's different than Spanish in the same way American is different than English) but studied Castilian through school. We were probably two-thirds of the way through our trip before I actually heard proper Castilian Spanish spoken - by a tour guide at a Bodega in Jerez. If you speak only English, you will survive either way but Italians are more used to tourists and English.

Posted by Claudio
Bergamo, Italy
117 posts

I inform you that problems of language you can find them in both countries, in fact Spain welcomes more foreign tourists than Italy, about 10 millions more,4th Place in the world, and tourism is a component on the economy more important than in Italy. Then with English there should not be too much trouble in Spain. Indeed, by secessionist atmosphere that is breathed in Catalonia, I think they prefer English to Spanish (Castilian).

Posted by John
Charlotte, NC, USA
27 posts

In defense of Italy: London, Paris, Rome, Florence and Venice are Europe's most classical cities. 3 of them are located in Italy. Go figure... But in response to your question. I would try to visit both Spain and Italy. I'm dying to see Barcelona and Seville. Perhaps 4 days in Rome(day trip to Orvieto), 3 days in Venice. a budget flight to Barcelona
then 4 days in Barcelona and 3 in Seville. Good Luck

Posted by Claudio
Bergamo, Italy
117 posts

I agree with John, the wisest response is to visit both countries. Our Spanish cousins have a wonderful country, the second most beautiful in Europe!

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

I think that after all the confusion we must have caused with our comments you might decide to go to France instead.

Posted by Claudio
Bergamo, Italy
117 posts

to a complex question such as this is difficult to give simple answers

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Claudio, I expressed the same sentiment - that it was easier and I got a better reception using English in Barcelona than I did using (Castillian) Spanish - and people on the helpline acted like I was crazy! Glad to see I'm not the only person who had this experience.

Posted by John
Charlotte, NC, USA
27 posts

It's no secret to anyone that Barcelonians hate being associated with anything "Spanish".

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

'It's no secret to anyone that Barcelonian hate being associated with anything "Spanish".' Hate is a pretty strong word. Plus the statement is untrue.

Posted by John
Charlotte, NC, USA
27 posts

Well according to a recent poll, 44.3% of Catalans want independence.
25.5% want a confederal state. Only 19% want to keep it as it is. Maybe "hate" is a strong word, but on the other hand, people do not seek independence from a country they "love".

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

"It's no secret to anyone that Barcelonians hate being associated with anything "Spanish"." I disagree. They are certainly proud of being "Catalan", however when Spain won the Soccer World Cup in 2010 and the Euro Cup in July 2012, thousands and thousands of "Barceloni" people were celebrating in the streets proudly displaying Spanish flags. My relatives in Barcelona can attest to that fact and I have pictures to prove it.

Posted by John
Charlotte, NC, USA
27 posts

That's because most players in the Spanish national team belong to FC Barcelona.
I'm sorry that reality clashes with your romantic view of Europe.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I could have also been getting a bad reception because my Spanish isn't great, the ultimate point was in Barcelona, I had an easier time just speaking English than attempting to use Castillian Spanish, which is a practical tip that may be useful to some.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

I have no problem speaking Spanish in Barcelona nor are the members of my wife's family who are native Spanish speakers. Could it be that those who have problems and have better reception speaking English is because their Spanish sucks? Just wondering.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

Regarding John's poll figures. Similar figures apply to Texas.

Posted by Claudio
Bergamo, Italy
117 posts

The Catalans reluctantly speak Spanish, in fact, the majority of them do not consider themselves Spanish. The slogan of the governor of Catalonia, Artur Mas is: "Catalunya, nou estat d'Europa", Catalonia, new state of Europe. The 9/11, 2012, one million and a half of Catalans demonstrated in Barcelona for independence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNBG9GckaEs

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

But Roberto, how was your reception speaking Spanish in Barcelona to the guy making your coffee or the lady you're buying a ticket from? That's the question. But yes, thanks for repeating what I just said about it could stem from the fact that my Spanish sucks. However I have no problem communicating in Mexico, so it made me wonder if something else was going on in Barcelona.

Posted by jacklyn
Los Angeles, ca, usa
2 posts

My Dear Seasoned Travelers, Thank you, so very much, for your input you have certainly given me important issues to contemplate. Thank God there is some, time for homework, lots of homework. We are a small family, 10 of us going, between the ages of 35 - 60. We are from the farm belt of Northern California. Some of us have traveled outside the US and some of us have not been outside. We are compassionate, kind and respectful. With that, being able to visit Rome then finishing off in the wine countryside in a small village seems to be along the line what I am thinking. I don't want to try and squeeze in too much but rather take in the experience in the hopes of returning again. I like the idea of hiring a cook for the local experience and learning. As you have suggested, knowing the regions will help narrow the search. Merry Christmas Everyone,
J

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Then I think Italy is the perfect choice for you. There are lots of villas large enough for your whole family to rent; you will have trouble deciding between all the good ones.