Ask Lonely Planet: Italian hot spots worth the journey

4 comments
Vernazza, one of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre in Italy. Photo / Thinkstock
Vernazza, one of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre in Italy. Photo / Thinkstock

My husband and I (early 60s, fit and active) have planned a week's cruising on the Canal du Midi in France next October with friends. After that we have five days to make our way from Narbonne to Venice to link up with a Mediterranean cruise. We are wondering how best to fill this time. I have always been tempted by the Cinque Terre National Park and would love to walk in this area, and my husband thinks Florence would be a good choice also. We intend to use public transport (buses, trains, flying if absolutely necessary). Would we be able to do justice to the Cinque Terre in this time or should we just move steadily towards Venice via Florence and catch what we can on the way?
- Tom & Louise

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

While five days isn't a long time to explore both of these wonderful destinations, it is possible, especially if you're smart with your transport bookings.

Considering you've already travelled half way round the world, it'd be a shame not to strike both of these off the list while you're there.

We can see why you'd want to explore Cinque Terre National Park, with its preposterously constructed cliffside villages and panoramic vistas along the Ligurian coastline. The 12km Sentiero Azzuro trail sounds amazing.

Unfortunately, getting to Cinque Terre's gateway town, La Spezia, isn't quick or easy from your departure point in France. The journey will take about 16 hours and involve at least three train changes. On the positive, you'll be able to sightsee out the window.

The French and Italian rail networks are among the best in Europe: the SNCF and Trenitalia websites are excellent and show the various options available - just plug in the date, departure point and destination, et voila.

Your air options aren't particularly easy either. Invariably you'll need to get to Montpellier or Perpignan and then fly to Genoa via Paris - a rather circuitous and pricey route.

Even with travelling time you should still manage a couple of days around Cinque Terre. The national park's travel card gives you unlimited travel using the electric buses and trains and access to all the walking trails.

From La Spezia it is just two hours to Florence by train, and it's just another two-hour train journey to Venice. By our calculations, even after a couple of days in Cinque Terre you should still have enough time for at least 36 hours in Florence, cradle of the Renaissance.

If fitting in Cinque Terre seems like a squeeze, you could head straight to Florence. By train the logistics are similar to that described for La Spezia, but flying is a little easier due to better connections to Florence.

Las Vegas packages

My husband and I are stopping over in Hawaii for a few weeks before finally returning to New Zealand. I want to book a package from Hawaii to Las Vegas for a few nights. Is it cheaper/better value to book air tickets and hotel separately? Are there companies that do these sorts of deals and that are inclusive of all fees? Are there any budget airlines that fly from Hawaii to Las Vegas?
- Fale family

Although there aren't any budget carriers as such, fleets of aircraft service this route, including the American giants. This means the competition's pretty keen. Hawaiian Airlines fly to Las Vegas direct, but cheapest flights tend to include a short stopover in LA or San Francisco adding an extra hour or two to your total journey.

Airlines offer flight-plus-hotel with dozens of different resorts to choose from, and similar packages are offered by specialist websites such as vegas.com, lasvegas.com and travelzoo.com. At last count there were almost 150,000 hotel rooms in Vegas, so it's no surprise there are plenty of bargains to be had, whether you book the whole shebang or get your flights and hotel separately.

You shouldn't have any trouble working out price comparisons between package deals and making your own bookings.

It's worth visiting the individual resort websites, as they all have a variety of oft-changing special offers. Our top tips for striking it lucky are to be as flexible as you can and avoid weekends. Last-minute bumper deals are also available, but this is risky if your window of opportunity is limited.

Finally, beware of hidden extras, such as "resort fees" when booking your hotel, and additional baggage fees when organising your flights.

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Not all questions are answered and Lonely Planet cannot correspond directly with readers.

- NZ Herald

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