Please evaluate my route from Italy to Spain by car
August 8, 2008 2:07 AM   Subscribe

I plan to drive from Venice, Italy to Valenica, Spain in April or May 2009 using the following route. I will stay for a few days or weeks in little spots along the way. I should have about six weeks in total. I mostly want to see a little of Spain and Italy, the French Riviera, Montpellier, Marseilles and finish at Valencia. Apart from that anything else I should try to see? Any parts of the chosen route I should avoid? What's driving like along that route? Any rental car companies which will let me pick up in Italy and drop off in Spain?
posted by zaebiz to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd highly recommend Peniscola, located between Valencia and Barcelona. Valencia cathedral is worth seeing, and Valencia as a whole it a great town to spend a day or two exploring on foot.
posted by fire&wings at 2:23 AM on August 8, 2008

I've done this drive but from Genova and in much less time than six, off the top of my head, here's a few spots your route doesn't cover that were some of the highlights of my trip:

- Aix-en-Provence mostly because of the food, spas, Vasarely Foundation and Cézanne's atelier;
- Les Baux, beautiful hilltop village;
- Carcassonne for the fantastic fortress; around that area there's a cathar castles drive you can take up too;
- Cadaques for Dali's house; cute fishing village where it felt great to relax after the long drive.

The drive is pretty easy, the roads in general are in good condition. I personally prefer to take the country roads rather than the highways if I have the time. Especially in France where you bump into farms selling cheese or wineries not marked on your guide books every now and then. I used Via Michelin to plan the sections of the route since it gives you detailed directions and the total cost - tolls and gas.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:16 AM on August 8, 2008

My only comment would be that you can find some nice scenery and beaches 20-30 miles southeast of Genova. Genova's not so nice, and I didn't find the Italian coast between Genova and Ventimiglia to be all that great, either.

I suggest that you take a short detour and spend a day or two around Sestri Levante or Levanto.
posted by syzygy at 3:27 AM on August 8, 2008

Response by poster: Here is the new route based on some of your suggestions above. I can see this is going to be a very useful exercise. So thanks!
posted by zaebiz at 4:03 AM on August 8, 2008

Response by poster: Oops. Forgot to include the interesting Aix-en-Provence. Updated.
posted by zaebiz at 4:11 AM on August 8, 2008

Nice is great fun, and has some bits of it that aren't super glitzy like Monaco, Cannes and St. Tropez. Which isn't to say they aren't worth a look on a day trip. If I had to miss one it would be Cannes. Parking in/near St Tropez is a nightmare unless your in that Super rich category, so you'll need to get a bus or boat. Monaco is accessible easily by train from Nice (30 mins max)

Best train journey you can take from Nice however is the little Train that goes North (not from the main station), into Provence, It goes up into the hill villages - which are just fantastic - and comes back, try not to go on Monday as I did as everything was shut. I forget the route, it's in my Rough Guide, so I'll update when I have it to hand.

The route looks great. My tip for North Italy is when you get there you'll want more time in the lakes than you think, and in that time you'll want to check out Lake Como and Lugano (Switzerland) too.
posted by munchbunch at 4:41 AM on August 8, 2008

Between Mestre and Vicenza take the Riviera del Brenta road, instead of the autostrada: you'll get to see all the venetian summer villas. Most are architectural gems. Just stay on SR11.
posted by francesca too at 5:11 AM on August 8, 2008

Seconding the advice to leave highways in favor of local roads whenever possible; from Venice you could also go to Verona, Padua, then Mantua which is a charming city. From there to Milan, whichever route you choose is pretty much flatland, with nice cities along the way such as Cremona or Pavia. I think the Col di Tenda / Tende pass closes for snow during the winter, and might be still closed in April/May, and it's a serious alpine road, as far as I know the French side is recommended to all terrain vehicles only.

Alternatives: Milan > Piacenza > Parma > La Spezia > Genoa > Ventimiglia (highway from Spezia to Genoa is not nice, it's narrow and a continuous sequence of tunnels and viaducts) or Cuneo (very nice, and try the Cuneesi chocolates with rum - yum!) > Savona > Ventimiglia. Genoa deserves a visit in my opinion.

For the french leg of your trip, the french riviera is not that interesting, IMHO but there's a few gems along the way. I'd make a detour Cagnes > Grasse > Draguignan and join your route again at Roquebrune-sur-Arge. If you're staying in Marseille, take half a day to visit Les Calanques at Cassis. Then I'd go from Marseille thru Salon > Avignon and back south to Arles, then again on your route to Lunel but, after Montpellier take along the coast to Séte > Agde. Carcassone is worth a visit, if a bit too touristy, but the route down to Perpignan is not too easy. From there, you cross the border at La Jonquera; all the Catalunya region from there to the Figueres peninsula is gorgeous. See Banyoles, nice little medieval town, and obviously Figueres - the road to Cadaques crosses some incredible landscape (and it's a bit hair-raising at times, but negotiable). From there to Barcelona the coast is not particularly impressive, so stay in the interior.
posted by _dario at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2008

Bassano del Grappa, northwest of Venice, in the Province of Vincenza, the foothills of the Italian Alps, on the River Brenta. It's the world's capital of where grappa is made, that potent clear aqua vitae. Beautiful place. Best and most affordable hotels.

Eze, just outside Monte Carlo, for a look-see.

Careful driving on the N53, a treacherous descent full of hairpin bends that leads from the Grande Corniche to the Moyenne Corniche" road, between Menton and Nice, especially outside Monte Carlo. It's where locals drive like crazy, scary bends and turns and where Princess Grace died. Details and maps of the different corniches. We do not recommend strangers to the area drive the Grande Corniche after dark. It is a very unforgiving “ledge of rock.”

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume is a commune of southeastern France, 40 km east of Aix-en-Provence. That cathedral, with the relics of Mary Magdalene, is amazing.

Grasse, where all the incredible French perfume comes from.

Of course, Dali's home in Portlligat, Spain and the Dali museum in Figueres.
posted by nickyskye at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2008

I think the Col di Tenda / Tende pass closes for snow during the winter, and might be still closed in April/May

I wasn't thinking about the road tunnel there, which is open year round and is at about 1300m on sea level, compared to the pass which is at 1800.
(slaps himself on the forehead)
posted by _dario at 2:29 PM on August 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. Here is the updated France to Spain leg of the trip. I am still working on the Italy to France leg. Will certainly do a train trip out of Nice.
posted by zaebiz at 6:12 PM on August 8, 2008

I'd check Saint Guilhem le desert right after Montpellier, then go to Sete, go to Pezenas, then go north to Lodeve, continue to take a look at Millau's bridge, then go west, see Albi, Cordes, Gaillac, Toulouse, and THEN I would go to Carcassonne. Enjoy your trip.
posted by nicolin at 1:50 PM on August 9, 2008

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