My goal is to visit Europe once a year when the weather is warm and I can’t wait for this year’s trip especially after the infamous Boston winter where we broke the record of the snowiest winter ever! It’s still two more months to go and I really can’t wait to go. To release some of my pain of waiting – it’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit right now in the end of April so can’t blame me right? – I decided to start blogging about my itinerary so I can pretend I am almost there!
1. Where are we going and how did I chose where to go?
I like to browse travel articles and one time I saw a picture like this one:
A walled city with red roofs stretched out to the crystal clear blue water – that was the first time I heard of Dubrovnik, Croatia and ever since then, it’s on the top of my list to go. I read that Croatia became part of the EU starting July 1st 2013 meaning no visa needed! That was when I decided let’s go soon before it gets expensive! There’s no direct flight from Boston to Croatia and Croatia is not one of those top places to visit in Europe so as I would expect – flight is expensive (see the flight section below on how I route to get there). Two weeks is my minimum stay for my Europe trips because there are so much to see and I often combine multiple countries – it’s fairly inexpensive to travel within Europe once you get there! Over the past years, I had traveled to Europe in end of May (not always sunny and warm) and end of July (too hot) so this time we are going to try end of June.
End of June/early July made me think of lavender fields!!! For someone whose favorite color is pink and purple – it’s always my dream to be surrounded by the endless field of lavenders!
When I looked on Google Maps of Provence, southern France, I noticed Cinque Terre is not too far away either! Cinque Terre the famous 5 villages in Northern Italian coast with colorful houses right on the cliff. I am in love with colorful houses after I visited Burano, Italy (see my post here).
That was how I decided on those 3 must visit places for our Europe 2015 trip 🙂
Not done yet LOL…….as I was working out our itinerary, I learned a place called Alberobello, Italy, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its cute hut houses called trulli. It looked like it’s out of a story book so after multiple debates with myself, I decided it’s a go!!
I spent time to do some homework on the cheapest way to get there, I concluded by airline miles! Airline award charts have a fixed required miles from US to Europe (that means anywhere in Europe as long as the airline or partner flies there). If I have enough miles to redeem a round trip flight to anywhere in Europe, to make the most value out of it, why not to somewhere that’s expensive if pay in cash right? I compared both American Airlines and United but the huge fuel surcharge fee flying with British Airways (AA partner) blew me off. Best choice would be United and also United allows a free stop-over so I can route to Croatia and free-stop over there before making my flight back to southern France – Marseille! Another great thing about award flights is that you can travel in summer time (more expensive than Spring or Fall) with the same amount of miles except for holiday dates and often limited award space availability. But if you are crazy like me who book as soon as the award seats are released = 330 days out, then should have great chance to secure the dates you want 🙂
For those of you who have been following my blog, my last year’s Europe trip was Greece (see post here) and both of us applied the United credit card for the sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after $2000 spent within 3 months. That was pretty easy to met to pay for all our meals and hotels during our trip – the card has no foreign transaction fees another plus for travel! It was like a no-brainer pay for our trip with the card to give us a free flight for our next trip! We had some United miles from our previous flights so the 60,000 miles required for a round trip ticket to Europe – accomplished!
For 60,000 United miles and $140 in taxes and fees per person gave us:
Getting there: Boston -> Zagreb, Croatia (free stop over) -> Marseille, France
Coming back: Milan, Italy (open jaw) -> Boston
From Zagreb to Dubrovnik round trip: around $138 with Croatian Airlines per person
From Marseille to Bari, Italy (the closest airport to Alberobello: around $150 per person
From Bari to Genoa, Italy (then need a train to Cinque Terre): around $150 per person
So the complete itinerary looks like this:
- Dubrovnik, Croatia – 3 nights
- Zagreb, Croatia – 2 nights
- Provence, France – 6 nights
- Alberobello, Italy – 2 nights
- Cinque Terre – 3 nights
- Milan – 1 night
Places that do not have big hotel chains and if you are going to travel in peak season, you need to definitely book well in advanced – advanced as in maybe up to 1 year. Especially in Cinque Terre, mostly are privately owned rooms, apartments, villas, etc. We have 3 nights there but it was easy for us to pick out our favorite locations: Manarola and Vernazza to take their icon photos appeared in various travel magazines. The hard decision was where to spent 2 nights vs 1 night? At the end we chose 2 nights in Manarola and 1 night in Vernazza. I found booking.com has the most choices compared to Expedia or Orbitz. Another good one to look for rooms in Cinque Terre is Airbnb.com.
For Dubrovnik, there’s a Hilton there conveniently located right outside of the Old Town but more expensive. We wanted a good view of Dubrovnik just like the photo above and I found out that the best views are up on the hill in Ploce – up on the hill meaning plenty of steps! After going back and forth again with hubby, we decided to take the exercise for the awesome view! I booked with booking.com once again and another great source is the Dubrovnik Luxury Apartments Source.
Note that most of the private rooms/apartments in Cinque Terre and Dubrovnik only accept cash so remember to bring enough cash!
5. Car Rental
In Europe, most of the places can be reached by train so really no need to rent a car. However, to explore Provence, France at your own pace and visit the beautiful Luberon villages that trains/tours will not get to, the best option is by renting a car. Also note that automatic transmission car cost more in Europe, but since hubby does not know how to drive manual, we are paying the extra. I compared to sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, and so on…..I found Auto Europe has the best prices and great reviews in TripAdvisor.
Stay tuned for my complete trip reports and photos! You can subscribe to my blog so you’ll get notified when I publish the trip reports. I will be posting pictures during the trip so don’t forget to check back often! If you have been to those places, please share with me your “must-sees” and “must-do”!!! If you will be in the same place same time and interested in having a photo session, contact me for details 🙂