Northern Italy/Switzerland/France - Advice Needed
Replies: 7 - Last Post: Feb 15, 2013 5:41 AM Last Post By: onokara
Feb 7, 2013 1:12 PM
I'm looking for some advice on an upcoming trip.
My husband and I are going backpacking on a year long extended trip leaving in April. We don't have any solid plans other than a one-way ticket to Lisbon, Portugal. For the European part of our journey we hope to visit Portugal, Southern Spain, Southern France, Switzerland, Italy. Again, no flights or hotels booked yet, we're keeping it open for flexibility. My parents want to meet up with us somewhere along the way for 7-10 days. I am trying to find a location that will suit the interests of my parents and me and my husband. I'm having a little trouble, maybe you all have some ideas!
Some info on us:
My parents: They have been to Europe a bunch of times but usually on a packaged tour. They use Gate 1 Travel packages. They did a Danube River Cruise (which they loved). They like having structure, seeing historical sites, and doing guided tours/events. For example, they took a wine tasting class in Paris, ate fresh farm cheese in Tuscany and saw a Mozart performance at one of the cities along the Danube. They loved the river cruise since they had a stable place to eat/sleep each night while exploring many different cities. They didn't have to stress out about finding trains, buses, renting cars, etc. They are very social and enjoyed meeting other travelers on the cruise ship. My Dad has a bad knee and can't walk for too long. For accommodations, they are willing to pay a little more for something nice. They like a king sized bed, location must be clean, etc. They are in their mid-60's.
My husband & I: We really like hiking, nature, exploring towns and cities, eating local food, having a drink, and not having too much structure. We also like renting a car and driving around/exploring. We are pretty open to anything, but definitely want some flexibility and freedom.
My parents are interested in either the France, Switzerland, or Northern Italy leg of the trip. They have been to Florence, Venice, Rome, Paris so are up for something away from the cities. I told them I'd plan them something "Gate 1 Travel" worthy and now I'm a little panicked! I'm not sure if I should opt for staying in one location for the duration of the trip and renting a car to explore or if I should try take them to a few different locations. My mom said it could be their "last big trip" since they are aging (although I think this is ridiculous!). I want to make it something memorable and good.
My ideal location: Somewhere where we can rent a house/apt that has enough breathing room for 2 adult couples where we can split ways if needed. I'd like it to be a location where there is enough to do on foot or by rail so that if one couple takes the car, the other couple can walk around town, see some sites, or possibly sign up for a guided tour that departs from the city/town. For example, I went to Paris with my parents and they took a guided day trip from Paris to Normandy. Something like this would be great. My husband and I like to hike, so it would be great if there is some nature/scenery nearby. If my husband and I go hiking for the day and take the car, I'd want there to be something for my parents to do.
Another note - we will be traveling in June.
Some ideas I've been thinking about:
1.) Lake Como/Bellagio area: views look beautiful here, but it's hard to tell if there is enough to do within walking distance. A lot of the houses I've looked at say it's a drive into town. Also, some reviews say this is super touristy/crowded here?
2.) Berne, Switzerland: stay in Berne and take day trips to Interlaken & Thun, drive around the area. My mom said she heard Lucerne is the place to go, but I've read Berne is nicer?
3.) Caunes-Minervois, France: I've heard this is a really cute town in Southern France that would be good for car rental/exploring nearby areas. But I know it's small and I'm wondering if they will get bored here. Also, it may be too small to have any guided tours that my parents like.
4.) Another possibility is to hit up a bunch of places along the Rhone River. Lyon, Avignon, some smaller places as well?
If anyone has other suggestions, alternate towns to stay in, or advice, I'd love to hear it. Thank you!
Feb 7, 2013 1:38 PM
1Try Lago Maggiore. It's right on the Swiss border, and has beautiful views, nice lake, etc. Within two hours of Lucerne, Milan, and Torino, so you could do day trips to either city, plus there are tons of agriturismi in the area you can go to for good food and such. Within a 3-4 hour drive of the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland, which is gorgeous and a pretty neat trip (we went up there when we were there).
Feb 7, 2013 1:50 PM
Feb 7, 2013 2:14 PM
3Thanks for the tips bigsciota! I will definitely check out Lago Maggoire.
Fwoggie, thanks for this tip. I actually had not heard of this before. We were planning on staying in Europe for 4-5 months, so this is really helpful.
Feb 7, 2013 9:55 PM
4How about 5 nights in Lucca and 5 nights in Siena? They both attract a lot of tourists but for good reason and they are central for exploring each of their areas. Both are accessible by train and bus, both have enough to keep your interest within the town itself and both give access to rural areas for hiking.
And, yes, the Schengen visa rules may impact where you travel for your bigger trip.
Feb 7, 2013 9:57 PM
Feb 8, 2013 6:32 AM
6I second bigsciota:
Lake Maggiore is a gem! Stresa (with a railway station) is the best place for hikes, boat and bus excursions (combine all 3!) around the Lake and for day trips to Turin, Alagna Valsesia, Macugnaga, Milano, Bergamo, Lugano, Bellinzona, Riederalp/Aletsch Glacier, Zermatt/Matterhorn, Loetschental, Berne, etc.
If you want to be a little closer to Switzerland (shorter train rides), check the railway/bus hubs of Domodossola and Brig, both charming small non touristy towns with a medieval center.
Feb 15, 2013 5:41 AM
Thanks for these tips, after talking things through with my parents we are going to stay in Venice + head up to the Dolomites for a bit.
I appreciate your help!
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