Hi, My husband & I have been to Italy twice and love it. I would like to plan an itinerary for next year and seeking any of your recommendations for towns in northern Italy and eastern France. We enjoy traveling by train in Europe. We loved: Venice, Siena, Verona, Moena, Padova, & Cinque Terre. Lesser favorites: Florence, Lake Como. Least favorites: Bologna & Rome. In France we loved Paris, Caen and Avignon. We like a combination of smaller towns with at least one larger city and variety of also going into the mountains for a few days, if possible. Please reply with the name of town(s) and why they were special to you. Thanks!
The places I liked in northern Italy were on the lakes but if Lake Como didn't excite you, maybe you wouldn't care for them. We stayed in Stresa on Lago Maggiore and I loved it, especially the boat trip out to the Borromean Islands (Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori). I liked the bigger city of Lugano on Lago Lugano too and from there we took the train to Bellinzona to see the three castles, that was a fun side-trip. In eastern France I liked the Annecy/Chamonix area. Annecy was my favorite town in France (outside of Paris that is). The location on the lake is beautiful, a great place to walk or bike along the lake or take a boat around the lake that stops in the small villages. They also had a great market and some of the best gelato in France (especially Glaces des Alps).
Just to show that we all have different perceptions and opinions, Rome is one of my favorite places in Italy, but Bologna is my least favorite (I agree with you there). With that preamble: Turin was very nice, and feels quite different from other Italian cities. It's on a grid plan, for one thing, and was built up around the turn of the last century. There are elegant cafes that look like Scarlett O'Hara (or her Italian cousin) should come sweeping down the stairs in a hoopskirt at any moment. Plus, not only was the food good and distinctive, but the desserts were great (unusual for Italy). Among smaller cities, I love Ferrara, and liked Parma and Cremona at lot. Again, I had good (and different) food in each. A friend of mine liked Pavia, and in another region, Udine (I haven't been to either). Bergamo was also nice, but I have much vaguer memories of it as I was jet-lagged when I saw it. As for the mountains, Bolzano (near the Dolomites) is nice, and the museum with the Iceman is great. It not only has thorough exhibits on him (his multiple layers of clothing were fascinating), but on the various Ages - Stone, Copper, Bronze. Nearby, Bressanone was also very nice, as was Ortisei. Again, the food and the culture in this region are very different, and German really is the first language (when they speak English here, they're thinking in German and translating, not thinking in Italian and translating). In France, I was not as taken with Strasbourg or Colmar as most are. However, I loved the Museum of Alsatian Life in Strasbourg. I loved Nancy, which is easy to see as a daytrip from Strasbourg (I spent the night); Nancy is a particular must if you like Art Nouveau, fancy glassware, or beautiful main squares.
Turin, as said before, is a must-see and can be easily reached by train; however, I have to disagree with the previous poster - the city's much older than the "turn of the last century"! Beside the former royal palaces (the Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Madama and Palazzo Carignano) - which, along with the city's museums and its Duomo, are all well worth a visit - there are other royal estates (such as the palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi or the Reggia di Venaria Reale, just to name a few) nearby which are some of the finest examples of Baroque architecture. Also, there are a few Roman ruins (Turin dates back to that era) if you're into that stuff. P. S.: If you want something different, give Trieste a try! It's so underrated.