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Italy, France, Spain

We have never been to Europe and are planning a 3 wk trip mid-April to May 6th. We are flying from Seattle into ROME? maybe ..
We have friends in Milan and Aix en Provence and want to include 3-5 dys in these areas. Here is a quick itinerary:
Rome - Trevi fountain,
Florence - Statue of David,
Milan/Lake Como - 3-4 dys,
MIlan to Nice via Genoa- Rental car?,
Italian Riviera,
French Riviera,
Aix en Provence -5-6 dys and day trip out from there.
Barcelona, Spain?

We are not into the trendy touristy things but what are the "must sees" along the way? We don't want to miss something that may be AMAZING but we only have so much time, right? We want to experience food, wine & the people of these regions more than what might be "touristy".

Posted by Jazz+Travels
Chicago
3223 posts

You have to get a guide book with pictures and maps so you get an idea of how to organize; guide books also list so called must sees, things, places that you possibly would not agree with; and you can make decisions by reading what is where to see base on your own interests. Also save time and ask your friends. Or watch ricks destination videos on this site.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

How many people are in your group? If there are children, what are their ages?

Exactly how many nights will you have in Europe?

By all means check it out (AutoEurope, Kemwel, Gemut), but I think you'll find it cost-prohibitive to rent a car in Italy and drop it off in France or Spain. The cross-border drop charge has been reported to be well into the hundreds of euros (though of course it varies). Leasing instead of renting sometimes works out for trips of 3 weeks (22 days?) or longer, so that is worth considering.

When covering long distances, express trains are often quite a bit faster than cars, so in many cases it makes sense to rent a car only for use while you're visiting small towns, as you plan to do around Aix-en-Provence and possibly around Lake Como.

Many of us feel there isn't any such thing as a must-see, because it depends so much on the traveler's special interests. Europe is chock-full of incredible sights to match just about anyone's taste. Depending on your preferences (large cities? small towns? calendar sights? art museums? historical sites? wineries? things for kids? natural beauty?), you can as easily spend 3 weeks between Milan and Aix-en-Provence as between Rome and Barcelona. In other words, I think you have proposed to cover a huge amount of ground, given the time you'll be spending with your friends--more than is likely to prove practical when you start taking a look at guidebooks. Seriously, all you mention for Rome is the Trevi Fountain?? You have some homework to do.

Assuming that your time limit is pretty firm at 3 weeks, what I'd do is start with your two must-go destinations, Milan/Lake Como and Aix-en-Provence. Do some research and/or consult your friends to try to firm up the number of days you'll want in each place. There's quite a difference between 3+5 and 4+6, and the time left after those places are accounted for will affect how many other places you can reasonably reach.

I like to use the Deutsche Bahn webpage to check train schedules. We've recently been discussing the shortcomings of ViaMichelin.com for figuring out auto routes, but for a first look at driving times it's probably OK. I think it would take over 8 hours to travel from Milan to Aix by train or over 9 hours from Como to Aix if you made no stops at all.

Next, consider the area between Milan and Aix. You've listed the Italian and French Rivieras. Read about them and decide what are the places you definitely don't want to miss. How many days will it take to see them? Do you still have time left from your 21 days? (Probably yes, at this point. 11-13 days all along the coast would probably be over-kill on a first trip to Europe.) Now look into the possibilities outside the Milan-Aix stretch, but keep in mind that time spent traveling from place to place reduces feet-on-the-ground sightseeing time.

Personally, I don't think it makes any sense to go to Rome for a day (or even two days if the first one is your jetlagged arrival day), then head off to Florence briefly, then to Milan. If you don't have much interest in Rome and Florence after consulting a guide book or two, I'd just start the trip in Milan. Every time you change hotels, it costs you at least half a day, often longer. Too much moving around can turn a 21-day trip into something more like a 16-day trip in terms of what you have time to see.

I also suggest taking a close look at historical weather data for the month of April in Milan, Como, and southern France. It may not be as warm as you are expecting. Best to be prepared.

Edited to add: wunderground.com has historical day-by-day data. I've linked to Milan's data for April 2017, but you can access information going back 20 years.

Posted by darrenblois
Moncton NB
333 posts

On your way from Provence to Spain, try to pass by the Pont du Gard (an gigantic intact Roman aqueduct near Nimes) and stay the night in Carcassonne (a medieval walled city in southwestern France, an easy day's drive from Barcelona.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
6945 posts

I wouldn’t consider getting a car or including Barcelona. If you have 3 weeks ...
• 4 nights for Rome
• 3 nights for Florence
• 4 nights for Milan & Lake Como (with friends)
• 4 nights for Nice & French Riviera
• 6 nights for Aix en Provence (with friends)
• Depart from Marseille

Posted by Laurel
Lincoln City, OR
6914 posts

Good advice from David in Brisbane. Drop Barcelona from this trip and put it on the °next trip° list.

Posted by geovagriffith
1432 posts

For Rome, the Trevi fountain is far down the list of important things to see.

St. Peter's is amazing. It took about a century and a half to build and had several famous architects. The Sistine Chapel is simply the most amazing work of art in the World. St. Peter's sits on the site of the ancient Basilica built by Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. St. Peter's square with is Egyptian obelisk (that was moved from its old place) was formerly Nero's arena, where many Christians were slaughtered.

The Coliseum and Forum are loaded with more history than most people can consume. There is a lot more to see in Rome beyond these sites, and it is all amazing.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
2372 posts

You say that you’re “not into trendy touristy things,” but the only things you mention for your destinations are super trendy and touristy. I advise you to do some serious research on what each place offers.
if you are from Seattle, you must have seen lots of dramatic coastal scenery. The French and Italian rivieras, while different from the Pacific Northwest, are not more beautiful. One or the other should suffice. Also,, don’t expect nice warm water at the time you are traveling. The Med is quite chilly at that time of year.