My daughter is going to Caen in France next year to watch the World Equestrian Games. She wants to go on to Italy, taking in Tuscany, Rome and Venice in about a week. She's a little nervous about train travel in Europe at the moment. What would you suggest? - C. Bullen, Whakatane
Taahia Hurihanganui from Flight Centre Panama Street in Wellington has lived in Italy. She shares her top tips for a great Italian holiday.
What an amazing experience for your daughter - it's great to hear she will be making the most of her trip with a visit to my favourite country.
I lived in Italy for a few years and although I have never travelled cross-country in Europe by rail, I have travelled on many trains domestically and regionally within Italy. It's a very cheap and practical way to see the main centres in a short time, especially now with high-speed trains on offer. Travelling by train means your daughter will not have to worry about strict check-in times or luggage and liquid restrictions that apply to flying. Trains are very easy to navigate, making for a stress-free holiday.
The most important thing is to research and book tickets in advance. I suggest talking to an expert about the different passes and tickets available for travel between France and Italy, and within Italy, because there are plenty of combinations to choose from.
I would advise catching a night train from Paris to Venice in a sleeper cabin, complete with washing facilities and breakfast, so she can arrive feeling refreshed and prepared for the day of sightseeing ahead. The top attractions in Venice include Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and, of course, a ride through the canals. A word of warning: watch out for the pigeons.
From Venice, it's only a couple of hours to Florence on a high-speed train. This is the capital of the Tuscan region and an artist's dream with its array of museums, historic buildings and street artists. There are plenty of accommodation options within walking distance from the train station and the beauty of Florence is that the main streets are generally closed to cars, so it's easy to stroll or bike around the city centre. She can't leave without trying one of the region's specialty lentil soups and a glass of Chianti.
As they say, all roads lead to Rome and another two-hour journey will get her to the capital with ease. As she will be travelling in summer, the Camping Village in the Aurelia district is a great place to stay with a range of options available.
If she's travelling alone, it's also very important to have safety measures in place, including travel insurance and a clear itinerary. It's also a great idea to leave a copy with someone at home, as well as contact details from a reference in each destination. Last, but not least, make sure she packs a phrasebook.
I hope this has been helpful and I wish her the best of luck - in bocca al lupo!
Footloose across Europe
I'll be in Western Europe for work in September and want to catch up with some old London mates for about four days of activity. The catch is I don't want to go to London. I'm pretty confident I can get them to fly to meet me on the continent. A bit of walking or cycling would appeal. I've already done cycling in France and Belgium so somewhere new would be great. Any tips? - P. Hore
Claire Wallace from Flight Centre Hamilton East loves travelling through Europe and she shares her top tips for hiking in Italy.
It's great to add a bit of variety to your holiday and try something new. For a holiday with a difference, I recommend visiting the Unesco World Heritage-listed Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast of north-western Italy. It's arguably the best hiking trail in Europe and only a short flight from London to Pisa, Italy, where you can all meet, with the option to return to London from Genoa airport at the end of the trip to avoid backtracking.
Firstly, spend a couple of hours in Pisa, giving you just enough time to visit the famous Leaning Tower. From here, take the train to La Spezia, then continue on the train to the Cinque Terre or "The Five Lands" of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Depending on your fitness levels, you can choose how far to walk and the level of difficulty you would like. You can also use coastal trains and ferries to shorten or extend routes as you prefer.
When I did this, I based myself in Vernazza village, which is located only a few minutes' walk from the train station. I found the hike to Corniglia amazing with plenty of beautiful views. Make sure you stop to buy limoncello liqueur when you pass through the lemon groves - it's locally made and delicious.
If you're looking for more of an adrenaline rush, cycling is another way to experience Cinque Terre.
There's a great route from La Spezia to Sestri Levante that will take you out of the traffic and on to the open road, winding high above each of the Five Lands.
This will take you through very steep terrain with awesome panoramic views and quiet coastal forests. The halfway point of Levanto is a great place to stop for lunch, rest on the beach or have a swim to cool down.
Food is extremely important in Italy and even in these little villages, there are plenty of trattorias and gelaterias to choose from. Fresh seafood is also in abundance and I highly recommend finishing your meal with some locally made wine - perfetto!