Favorite spots between Zurich and Florence?
January 18, 2011 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Help us plan our trip between Zurich and Florence? What are your favorite spots? Should we take the train or rent a car? We have about a week, and it will be mid-February. Unfortunately we don't ski but are open to just about anything else. Thanks in advance, MeFites!
posted by walla to Travel & Transportation around Florence, Italy (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oops. First ? = !, obviously.
posted by walla at 1:14 PM on January 18, 2011

Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, is awesome. Lugano and Locarno are both great tourist towns. The whole lake area there is beautiful and very tourist friendly, lakes Lugano, Como and Maggiore. They're quite warm for the area but I don't know what February is like. Lugano is quite easy by train from Zurich, being on the main line south.

Luzern is pretty much on your way south from Zurich and is a nice town. I wouldn't make a special trip just to be there, but if it's a convenient overnight it's quite pleasant.

I spent two nights in Milano, a grey joyless city. My friends who know Italy well look at me like I was crazy to expect anything else. I also can't recommend Torino.

I'd definitely prefer the train to a car for the Switzerland portion of the trip. Can't say for Italy.
posted by Nelson at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Head down to the Lago Maggiore and drive down its shore. Take a ferry into the Isola Bella.

Drive down into the Eastern part of Piemonte, the Langhe, with its rolling hills and wine country. Go to Asti and Alba and have some of the best food and wine in all of Italy.

Head down to the coast and drive down. Personally, I would drive through the back roads of Liguria and then hit Cinque Terre and stay there in one of the seaside towns hugging the cliffs.

Drive in to Lucca and then to Firenze.

Thats what I would do. And have done.
posted by vacapinta at 2:05 PM on January 18, 2011

I can't recommend Milano either.

Torino has its own rhythm though and is tough for the outsider. I do love it but I have been there many times. The cinema museum is fun. The Egyptian museum is outstanding. And I wrote up a trip report for Chowhound on the food and wine.
posted by vacapinta at 2:10 PM on January 18, 2011

Seconding taking a train in Switzerland if you can. I would move to switzerland in a heartbeat just for their trains. They will change your perception of public transit through jaw droppingly beautiful landscapes. Italy was a little weird to do by train, they are very very big on the personal ID thing on the trains; I got carded twice in a 3hr long journey.

I have no other useful recommendations (all others are skiing related!).
posted by larthegreat at 3:16 PM on January 18, 2011

It's got to be the train - the Gotthard route between Switzerland and Italy is spectacular - both for scenery and for the feat if engineering. Visit this page of the Seat61 site (scroll down to route 4) for trains and times. I don't recognise these descriptions of Milan or Turin! Milan quite industrial on outskirts but has the Duomo, La Scala opera house and the amazing original covered shopping area in the centre - all well worth a visit - also amazing free/cheap buffets at aperitvo hour... Turin is surrounded by mountains, much more compact -easy to walk around, lots of interesting things - the spot where Nietszche went mad and embraced a horse, the home of Tic Tacs and the car factory with the race track on the roof! Sorry link here
posted by janecr at 3:56 PM on January 18, 2011

I studied abroad near Lugano for a semester and can attest to its charm and beauty. If you are starting in Zurich, you might as well take the train. It's not as scenic as the Zurich <> Geneva leg, but it's still worth a view and it'll probably be easier and cheaper than renting a car. At the top of the canton (state) of Ticino, there is city called "Bellinzona." There's a cool fort and some decent restos there, so stop for a night if you can. I would spend around two days and nights in Lugano. It will be cold, but the city is fairly easy to get around (minus the steps up to the train station). Surrounding lake Lugano are about 10-12 towns. On the second day in Lugano, it might be worth buying a round trip pass and going to a few of the smaller towns. The lake is beautiful on clear days in winter.
Milan doesn't have a ton to offer, but if you are not carrying a lot of bags, it might be worth stepping out of the station for a few hours to walk around. One piece of advice - the Milan train station is a madhouse and they often don't announce which track the train is coming on until a few minutes before it arrives. So do NOT book trains that have less than 20 minutes in between and do NOT book trains that are too far apart if you don't plan on leaving the station. It's a mugging hotspot. I like Florence, but there isn't as much to do there as you would think. You could easily fit in all of the important things in less than three days and three nights.
Here are approximate times on the train (at least as of 2005):

Zurich --> Lugano: 3 hours
Lugano --> Milan: 1 hour
Milan --> Florence: 2-3 hours
posted by msk1985 at 4:32 PM on January 18, 2011

Fabrice del Dongo, the protagonist of The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, is born and raised near Lake Como.
posted by ovvl at 8:13 PM on January 18, 2011

Do you prefer urban or countryside activities? Scenery or night life? Eating? Culture/art (and if art, modern or Renaissance/medieval?) Strict budget or money to burn? Do you yearn for Italian food, or want a variety?

For transportation, I would go for trains, especially in mid-February when the roads can get treacherous. Trains, at least in Switzerland, rarely stop for much, unless there is an avalanche (or threat of one) or deluge.
posted by derMax at 8:16 PM on January 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, these are great suggestions and they will make our trip better!
posted by walla at 3:35 PM on January 20, 2011

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