Ask Joan: A trip to Venice and learning French in France

 

My wife and I are travelling to a Eurocamp site near Venice with our children and grandchildren. While there, we would like to spend a few days in Florence on our own. We are assuming rail travel from Venice to Florence is easy, but do we need to book in advance? Can you recommend a really good hotel? Do we need to book entry to museums before we go? AH, Cork

Getting from Venice to Florence is quite easy, there are plenty of trains and it takes just under two hours. Search trenitalia.com for timetables. You will probably be leaving from Venezia Mestre station going to Firenze. It will cost under €60 return. Booking on the website is not easy, much easier to book tickets through railshop.ie (or tel: 01-866 5841).

The five-star Four Seasons Hotel in Florence is a former palazzo and convent and has a beautiful 11-acre formal garden. Prices are from €800 per night and the food is highly recommended. See fourseasons.com/florence.

The Bernini Palace Hotel is in a great location, five minutes from most places you will want to see. It is a smaller, boutique-type hotel, with 74 rooms and costs from €550 per night. Its “romantic package” includes a private car tour of the city, champagne and dinner, from €870 for two. See hotelbernini.duetorrihotels.com.

The Lungarno Collection has a number of very fine hotels in Florence, with one on the riverside with views of the Ponte Vecchio and close enough to everything you would like to see. Prices are from around €350 per night. See lungarnocollection.com.

The most famous museum is the Uffizi Gallery and you should probably book that in advance. You can buy tickets, €6.50 each, at uffizi.firenze.it/en. Special exhibitions are an additional fee. A telephone booking service charges a fee of €4, tel: 0039-0552-94883. Or just take a chance and queue on the day. The queues can be long, but are fast-moving. The tour company, florencetown.com has a selection of good tours of Florence including the Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor.

Could you recommend somewhere in the Languedoc/ Provence coastal regions for a short holiday in September? Somewhere I could have morning French classes while my partner could have cultural and retail therapy opportunities – leaving us free après midi to explore. DO, Dublin

There are many language schools in France, and some very good ones around the Côte d’Azur. The best option is to talk to a company that is familiar with them. It is important to find a school that has been inspected and comes up to European standards.

A chat with Mary Grennan of International House, ihgalway.ie, tel: 086-2325335, would be worthwhile because she is an inspector for language schools in France and Spain. Another Irish company to contact is steinstudy.com, tel: 01-4759646. I have been invited to a wedding on Hvar Island, Croatia, on September 3rd. Have you any ideas on the best way to get there from Dublin? CM, Dublin Dubrovnik is the nearest airport for getting to Hvar from Dublin. Aer Lingus has flights four times a week. There are ferries from Dubrovnik and it will take around three to four hours. See croatiaferries.com for timetables, or consult a Croatia specialist, Croatiatours.ie, for help in planning your trip. Send your questions to jscales@irishtimes.com

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