Four of us in our late 20s would like to tour Italy and Greece for three weeks. We'd like to visit a range of places, from the Bridge of Sighs, to the Vatican, to the Oracle at Delphi. We'd also like a quiet beach to sunbathe on. Can you recommend the best time of year to travel? We will be travelling on a low budget and will not qualify for youth or student rates. Are we best to plan our own travel or select a tour group? Do you have any suggestions of picturesque or historic spots to visit that will avoid the crowds?
- Nicola Bond

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

Organising your own trip will give you more flexibility, especially if you want to get off the beaten track. It's often the cheapest option and, with four of you, the challenges of planning and booking can easily be shared.

The best times to visit are the Northern Hemisphere spring and autumn - the weather's fine, temperatures pleasant, beaches less crowded and low-season prices in effect.


Travelling around Italy by train is easy and relatively cheap compared with other European countries. Trenitalia runs almost all services and its website has timetables, tickets and offers - it's in English, too. En route between Rome and Venice, Florence is a good place to soak up more culture and a stepping-stone into la dolce vita of the Tuscan countryside.

It's quick to fly from Italy to Greece (or vice versa), but much more romantic and cheaper to catch a ferry. The Traghettionline website, despite being in Italian, is useful for selecting the right crossing. Once in Greece, hiring a car is a good option - local companies generally have the cheapest rates and they're often willing to bargain, especially out of high season.

Quiet beaches to sunbathe on? You're in the right place. Greece, with its 6000 or so islands, has too many to mention. Favourite island groups include the Cyclades and the Ionians west of the mainland.

Memory-making in Spain
We would like to spend six months somewhere in Spain when our children are aged two and four - still two years away but we want to get planning now. We like the idea of a quaint village with some space near the water, but not too far from the city in case of an emergency. We would like to learn the language and give the kids some great memories.
- Caroline

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

Nearly 50 million foreign tourists visit Spain each year, most arriving in summer to lie on near-perfect stretches of Mediterranean sand. Over-crowding is common, but, by avoiding the holiday hot spots, an idyllic coast experience is still possible. Visit during the "shoulder" seasons of March to May and September/October, and you'll also avoid the masses as well as inflated peak-time prices.

The golden coastlines of Costa Daurada and Costa Brava are studded with pretty-as-a-postcard villages and beaches, and tend to be less crowded than those of the Costa del Sol further south. Both regions are well-served by large towns and cities, including Barcelona and Tarragona.

The lesser-known north-west of Spain is also worth considering. It's home to some of the country's most spectacular coastal scenery and some great food, although winters can be wild and woolly thanks to Atlantic Ocean swells.

Spain has an excellent health system and medical costs are reasonable compared to other European countries. However, travel insurance for the duration is still highly recommended.


If you want to immerse yourself in local culture, learning the lingo is key as this will open doors to the history, culture and customs. Get a head-start before you go by enrolling yourself in an evening class or teaching yourself with a CD. Once you're in Spain, there are a variety of language courses available in most towns and cities, with many offering cultural activities, too. Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, a nationwide language institution, has a list of schools and courses.

Lonely Planet's new-look Spain guide is a mine of information and there are some excellent online resources, such as Tour Spain, Turespana, and, of course,