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Traveling in France vs. Italy

Pauline

Forums Admin
This is a topic I have been mulling over for weeks and I would love to hear other traveler's thoughts.

We traveled to Italy most years from 1996 to 2004, but then "fell out of love" and moved on to England. Once firmly committed to England (we moved here in 2010), we started traveling to France and have done several trips in the last few years. We both really enjoy traveling in France, but our recent trips to Italy (Sicily and Tuscany) brought back to me all the things that I love about the country and people.

What I like about traveling in France vs Italy:
- The cafes. The coffee is not as good as Italy, but I like that the cafes have all the outdoor seats and people sit and linger. Plus the price is not more expensive outside (I think).
- The morning ritual of going to the boulangerie and buying croissants and bread for breakfast.
- The walking trails. Not as good as England or Switzerland, but in many areas they are plentiful and well marked, with good local maps. We are always disappointed when doing hikes in Italy - paths not clearly marked or they end at a locked gate and a barking dog. Walking/hiking seems to be popular in France.
- The driving. The roads are not that full (as they are in England) and the driving is not as chaotic as in Italy.
- The language. I am hopeless with the language in both countries, but Steve loves speaking and reading French more than Italian.
- The shorter mid-day break. Shops and businesses take a short mid-day break, maybe two hours, unlike the complete shutdown from 1pm - 5pm in Italy.
- The sense of a well functioning society (mostly).

What I like about traveling in Italy vs France:
- The restaurants. In many parts of Italy (especially Tuscany), I can always find vegetarian items on the menu. In France meat is celebrated and I can only find omelets or pasta on menus. Plus the food in Italy is much better quality (or so it seems to me) and more simply prepared - the way I like it.
- The art. Seeing the frescoes in the church in Orvieto brought it all back to me - the art in Italy is amazing. I don't like to spend much time in museums, but I love seeing frescoes or one good painting.
- The historic towns. Staggeringly beautiful. The historic towns in France are beautiful, but Italy reaches a whole other level.
- The only area that I really love in France, and will probably return to frequently, is Uzes in the Languedoc near Provence. We have traveled to many other areas and nothing has really grabbed me (yet). In Italy, I love every corner of Tuscany, much of Umbria, several parts of Liguria - and I know I will love the other regions when I finally get to them.

What are your feelings about France vs. Italy?
 

Chris

500+ Posts
I haven't been to Italy since 2001, but I loved it then and I expect to love it again next May when I finally go back.

But I will always return to France, especially Paris and Provence (and Uzès, which really isn't very different than Provence). I love the sound of the language, the landscape, the wine and food (the markets!), the layers and layers of history, and the art. Pretty much the same things I loved about Italy. France wins the art contest for me, because I love Cezanne more than Botticelli. France has better bread and pastries, Italy has better pizza and gelato.

I'm glad I don't have to choose just one.
 

Roz

500+ Posts
Interesting topic, Pauline. Like you, we originally started traveling in Italy (Rick Steves called Italy “training wheels for travelers”) and after several years started exploring France. We have studied both French and Italian. Although I’m probably more competent in French since I started learning it when I was younger, I find spoken Italian easier to understand because the language is so much more phonetic.

We hadn’t been to Italy for six years when we spent two weeks this spring in Tuscany and were reminded of all we love about Italy. But before that, over about 12 years, we had visited just about every part of the country, except for the northeast. I didn’t really have a lot of interest in going either to the Lakes region or the Alps, but we’ve been to pretty much every other region. We’ve also now visited most major regions of France, and I have decided that although I do love much about Italy, it is France that really calls me back.

I completely agree with your point about the well-functioning French society, as opposed to Italy, which just has so many insoluble problems. Donna Leon says that the Mafia (and its various iterations) and the Church, which she says is in many ways almost as corrupt and power-hungry, have such a grip on Italian society, that it is just about impossible for Italy to ever really have a functioning government. (Note: This refers to the power structure of the Catholic Church in Italy, and has nothing to do with religion.) This situation is exacerbated by the “campanilismo” which means that Italians always have a much stronger allegiance to their own village than to Italy and the country will always be fragmented.

I do like that in Italy you can see wonderful works of art in the smallest villages and churches, in the places where they were meant to be seen. Probably in large part because of the French Revolution, very little original art exists in French churches or chateaux. But what France does so much better is to preserve and maintain its art and heritage.

I don’t agree that the towns of Italy, in general, are more beautiful. Of course, many of the Italian villages were devastated by bombing in WWII, whereas that didn’t happen in France. Still, I don’t think Italy has anything official like France’s “Plus Beaux Villages”, and I actually think that France has many more beautiful and better-preserved small towns than Italy.

The other thing you didn’t mention is the Italians themselves. I don’t think there could be much argument that on a personal level, Italians tend to be much warmer and friendlier than the French. I find that as long as I follow the basic French rules of politeness (VERY important in France), I have no problems at all with the French. But there is a joke I heard recently — I forget all the details (I’m hopeless at jokes), but it was something along the lines of all the other countries of Europe complaining to God that he had given the best of everything to France. The punchline was that he made up for it by creating the French.

Finally, to me, Paris is the most wonderful city in the world. I could go back there forever, and I am not really a city person.
 

Kevin Widrow

10+ Posts
That's a really interesting question, Pauline. My first thought was that it's impossible to answer in such broad strokes since both countries are really many different countries stuck together. Things I didn't like about the Dordogne (hyper repetitive menus for example) don't apply at all to Alsace. Likewise, I hated the garbage strewn all over Sicily in the summer, but didn't find that to be an issue at all in Umbria.

It's tough to generalize, but I'm going to cogitate this morning while weeding my vegetable garden (it's badly in need) !!

- Kevin

p.s.: you are semi-wrong about vegetarian dishes in Provence. While it is true that those items don't necessarily stand out on the menus, it's equally true that many places will happily prepare something special for you if you ask (nicely). I can think of three restaurants just nearby that take real pride in serving something special for vegetarians. We have guests regularly coming back raving about the fact that they were treated so well. Provence is, afterall , the veggie and fruit capital of France. Any chef worth anything at all will want to show off his or her talents with local products !

Moral of the story, if you are in the right sort of place, don't hesitate to ask (nicely).
 

Dana

100+ Posts
This topic is giving me a serious case of déjà vu! In January I wrote half a long article for the Sunday Times (UK) travel section, in the form of a boxing match, Italy vs France (I was Italy). Italy won the culture and landscape rounds, France won beaches and active holidays, and they tied in food and accommodation.

The thing is, as Kevin says, the regions are sooo different in each country it's impossible to compare. Corsica and Brittany could be separate countries, as could Sardinia and the Veneto. It all depends on what you're after...Italy may have an incomparable pile of art and architecture, but if you love 19th and 20th century art, you'd better go to France. No one does pageantry and opera like the Italians, but French village fêtes are more fun (although here I can only really speak for Umbria vs the Lot!).

Having lived for years in both countries, France is definitely the easier- less bureaucracy, corruption and general hassle, but I miss the crazy, and often hilarious Fellini-esque aspects of Italy. As our neighbour told us, 'You cry twice in Italy: when you arrive, and when you leave.' It's true: the first are tears of total frustration, the second because you are leaving behind so much beauty and kindness.
 

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