Paris and Venice are two of Europe’s best cities. They’re also not terribly far apart, which makes it possible to visit them both on a single trip. That means covering a lot of ground, however, so I’ve created this Google map that offers a couple of suggested routes.
My preferred route from Paris to Venice (could also be done in reverse of course), goes east to the Route de Vin and charming villages such as Colmar and Ribeauvillé. I’d suggest spending at least one full day in this region to take in the hikes, medieval architecture, and of course the food and drink.
From there, head due south through Switzerland. Lucerne and Bellinzona are fun Swiss stops if you have time, but if you’re in a hurry head straight through to one of the Italian towns on Lake Como. I stayed in and recommend Varenna, though Bellagio is also good (if more expensive).
From there, head southeast toward Venice. With enough time, Milan is a good stop along the way. It has an impressive cathedral, a lot of history, and Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting “The Last Supper.” On a shorter trip, however, it’d be fine to cut Milan out and save it for another visit.
More fun than Milan are Verona and Padua, two smaller cities on the road to Venice. Though they have fewer blockbuster sites, they also have a youthful vibe, aren’t overrun by foreign tourists, and offer opportunities to explore ancient streetscapes that have been evolving for thousands of years. I prefer either of these cities to bigger, more bustling Milan.
And finally, you’ll reach Venice. (I’m framing this as a road trip, but it could easily be done with trains as well.)
The second potential route involves driving south from Paris toward Chamonix in the French Alps. In Chamonix, take the gondolas over Mont Blanc — the border crossing is actually on one of the peaks where you switch gondolas — and into Italy’s picturesque Aosta Valley.
With a car, you’ll need to park on the French or Italian side and either ride the gondola back the way you came, or take a bus. (When I did this I was using trains, but there is a bus that runs between Courmayeur, in Italy, and Chamonix, in France. I believe it’s about an hour ride. Also be sure to check if the gondolas are running during your visit, as they are affected by both weather and season.)
After you’ve made it across the border, you can continue on into Italy. I stayed in Aosta itself, which is a charming, low-key mountain town with some worthwhile Roman ruins.
With enough time, it’s possible to make a detour over to Cinque Terre. Otherwise, continue on toward Venice. The road will lead to Milan, and from there the Lake District is an easy side trip. And at that point, options 1 and 2 merge.
Both of these options have plenty of history and natural beauty, but Option 2 is probably better for people who want stunning vistas of the Alps (it’s hard to beat the gondola over the mountain). It may also be better for people who have a bit more time — the mountain gondolas aren’t the fastest way to travel — and who are traveling light.
Option 1, on the other hand, includes an abundance of charming villages and raises the possibility of visiting more countries (France’s Route de Vin is just across the border from Germany, and the drive from there to Italy requires going through Switzerland).
Either way, if you’re driving I strongly recommend getting off the main freeways. While they feel like generic big highways anywhere, the smaller roads will wind through charming villages and beneath countless castles.
— Jim Dalrymple II