Subject: Re:Italy trip
Hi Ken, I'm an italian member of the list and I'd like to be of help in planning your trip. You're going to visit really beautiful places,but I would put some small correction to your schedule.

Portovenere is a splendid place,but I wouldn't choose it as a base for sightseeing since it's a dead end on a small road.I would rather do it as a day trip,and I would stay somewhere else on the ligurian coast,either in Cinque terre if you like to hike the famous track,or in the levante riviera if you want to be more centrally located. Riviera(not reviera..)di Levante stays for the coast east of Genovaand west of Cinque Terre,while Riviera di Ponente is the coast west of Genova and to the french border.

I wouldn't rent a car from Firenze to the ligurian coast,since the best way to move from one place to another in Liguria is by train.Driving the coastal road via Aurelia,state road n1 is very tiring since it goes through every village and the traffic is heavy,even local people for short transfers prefer to take the autostrada(toll road),that runs on a higher level with lots of tunnels that make it not really interesting and very dangerous because of the high speed most of the drivers keep. Portovenere is not reachable by train,but it's a short bus ride from La Spezia(not a very interesting town).All the villages and towns in Cinque Terre and Riviera di Levante have train stations,and you hop from the train to the seaside in half a minute,with no parking hassle,and parking is difficult in most places,especially on weekends. I would suggest not to miss the cinque terre,and also the boat ride from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino,San Fruttuoso,and Camogli,four terrific places. If you limit yourself to these two attractions,you can reduce the number of nights in Liguria to 3;if you stick to four nights,add Genova which is a beautiful town,often underestimated even by italians,with interesting museums and a first class aquarium.

Bellagio is charming(I live 25 miles from there),but it only makes sense to spend 3 nights there if you use it as a base for sightseeing, since the village itself is very small and it deserves half a day.It's a good base if you drive,though(you could pick up a car in Genova and release it in Venice),since it is the middle station of a ferry boat that links Varenna on the east shore of the lake(from there drive north 4-5 miles and you can drive into a fast freeway(mostly tunnels) that takes you in short time to Milan,or north to Colico where you take the road to St.Moritz,I agree with another member that this is a must,especially the villages you will find before reaching St.Moritz),Bellagio on the middle finger,and Cadenabbia on the west coast,near Villa Carlotta(I also agree,it's beautiful),ad from Menaggio you can reach Lugano or from Cadenabbia south to some charming villages on the lake and to the namesake city Como.I wouldn't try to reach the other lakes(Maggiore and Garda) from Bellagio,they're too far away.

If you spare one or two nights(in Liguria and in Florence),you should put in a stop in the area at the base of Garda lake,though.You can visit some beautiful places,first of all Sirmione,and also stop in Verona on your way to Venice(you can leave the Garda in the morning,spend most of the day in Verona,and leave Verona for Venice at,let's say,4 p.m.

Hope you find my two cents useful,and enjoy your italian vacation!