Subject: Re: Southern France, Northern Italy
Hi Jancient:

My wife and I have traveled in southern France, northern Italy, and the Czech Republic and can only respond to these areas. Typically when we travel it will be for three weeks and two of the weeks will be in a car. Here's the way we plan: We book a car while in the US, well in advance to get the best rates.

We fly into a large city (Milan, Rome, or Paris) and tour that city for a few days, but do not pick up the rental car until we are ready to leave that city. Most large European cities have excellent public transportation and a car is a pain.

As a side note: We always have reservations at a hotel or B&B for at least the first and last nights of our trip. Sometimes we will have reservations for all nights of our trip. We tend to have more reservations when we are new to the country or city. Beware of times of big city conventions. Milan has huge fashion shows and every room could be rented.

My favorite experience in Milan is going on the roof of the cathedral.

So we took a car and did northern Italy at our pace. With the car we experience a wonderful freedom. I'm an architect and wanted to see works of the Renaissance (sometimes classified as, Mannerist) architect, Andrea Palladio, who designed many buildings in northern Italy. I recommend the Eyewitness Italy (and France) tour guides. I also recommend the Michelin Red Books which we use primarily for the city maps in them. They also have recommendations of restaurants and hotels. You can also get this information from the Michelin website.

Rick Steves also has excellent recommendations for lodging and restaurants, except for the Grand Hotel LeVec in Paris, a dump. We were on the 6th floor and there was no elevator.

We turned in our car near Venice, toured Venice for a few days, took the train to Milan, and then flew home.

Venice is a wonderful city in many ways. It does not have all the cars and motercycles careening around, making noise. Of course, boats make noise, but the din is far less. Venice is easy to walk around. It has some of the finest architecture in Europe. And a variety of food. We like Italian food, but after two and a half weeks of it, we need a change. (I can just hear all the Travelzine Italians scream at me.) Anyhow we found Indian, Chinese, and Jewish restaurants there. Even a Mexican restaurant, but the service was slow and the music loud, so we walked out.

Some car companies will not let you take a car into Eastern European countries. If they do allow it, make sure you have that in wriltilng. Check that your insurance covers you in those countries or buy additional insurance. I used to not buy collision damage waiver insurance, but now I do. Peace of mind. I can walk away from a pile of junk and let the car company deal with it.

We like France because of the variety: wide differences in towns, countryside, architecture, food, and life styles. Southern France has Provence, Carcassone (get lodgings inside the walls for at least one night), Nimes (see the Roman temple, Maison Carree and the ampitheater), and the Roman acqueduct, the Pont du Gard, outside of Nimes.

Have a great trip.

Bill Wysong Colorado Springs