When Should You Travel ?

QUICK ANSWERS

BEST OPPORTUNITIES NOW!

THE TRAVEL SEASONS IN EUROPE

PRICING VERSUS WEATHER & CROWDS ~ ITALY

PRICING VERSUS WEATHER & CROWDS ~ SWITZERLAND

QUICK ANSWERS....

  • Lowest prices and crowds in Italy are during low seasons
  • Italy's winter low season is November through March
  • Italy's summer low season is late July and all of August (this applies to the cities only)
  • Busiest independent travel months in Italy are May, June, first half of July, September, and first half of October
  • Most popular times for Italy weather are May and September
  • Switzerland has two high seasons, one in winter, for skiing, and one in summer
  • Switzerland does not have a practical low season, like Italy does
  • We do not book ski trips in Switzerland (or in Italy)
  • The earliest that any of our Swiss trips can be booked is mid-April, and the latest is the end of October
  • High-mountain trips in Switzerland can be booked from late May through mid-October

BEST OPPORTUNITIES NOW. If lowest pricing is your main objective, and if your Italy trip will include Rome, Florence or Venice, we recommend that you contact us about a trip between the middle of July and the end of August, when city hotels drop their prices. You may be able to save hundreds of dollars per person if you travel in this period.

Winter low season begins in November. Some hotels drop their prices on November 1, others on November 15. From then until Easter, you will find that prices and crowds in Italy will be significantly reduced. If you see that we have not posted prices for this period, it means that we don't yet have pricing from enough hotels. But if you contact us, we may still be able to provide a quote. For more information about the travel seasons in Italy, please see the section below on Pricing Versus Weather & Crowds ~ Italy as it applies to the low season.

THE TRAVEL SEASONS IN EUROPE. This answer is evasive. It depends on the country, or the region, and it can change from year to year. To most travelers, variable pricing defines the travel seasons. And that variation is determined mainly by hotels. Pricing for other services, such as trains, transfers and guides, generally does not change by season.

Low season in Italy. In most parts of Italy, there is a low season in hotel pricing which equates to very late fall, winter, and early spring. This low season runs generally from November 1 through the end of March. But the onset of this low season is starting to change, because some hotels have recognized that early November is getting very popular, and they have extended their high-season prices through November 15, instead of the end of October. So we anticipate the future need to change our definition of low season, to start on November 15, but as of now, there are still some hotels that switch to low-season pricing on November 1.
In Rome, Florence and Venice, there is also a summer low season in hotel pricing in late July and all of August. It happens because many leisure travelers want to avoid the summer heat in the cities, but also because there is very little business travel and hotels need to fill empty rooms. Outside the big cities, in resort areas like the Amalfi Coast, the Riviera, and the lakes, you don't get this summer low season, because those areas are especially popular for tourism in summer.

High season in Italy. The remainder of the year -- consisting of April through mid-July, and September through October -- is high season. This applies just about everywhere in Italy, and hotel pricing is generally consistent during those times. However, in some resort areas, such as at Lake Como, there is typically a reduction in cost for travel at the high-season "shoulders," in April or October.

Note that many people call and tell us we must be wrong about the popularity of September in Italy, because they've read in guidebooks that September is a slower time, compared to July and August. But all we do is tell you what we see every year, in terms of when we sell the most trips and when we run into hotels being fully booked. The huge popularity of September for independent travel in Italy is not conjecture for us but a matter of record.

Low season in Switzerland. It's quite a different matter in Switzerland compared to Italy. Due to the popularity of winter sports, the highest pricing of the year in the high mountain regions of Switzerland is during ski season, from December through March. During the summer, prices are lower, but not much lower. So there are two distinct busy seasons in Switzerland, even though the ski season is still the most dominant time for travel.

The only true low season times in the high mountain areas of Switzerland are the transition periods, including April/early May -- the transition from ski season to the warm season -- and late October/November -- the transition between the warm season and the ski season. However, during those transition times, many hotels are closed, the weather is dicey, and some mountain-top transportation is shut down, so those are not popular times to travel.
High seasons in Switzerland. There are effectively two high seasons for travel in Switzerland, the summer (or "warm") season and the winter season. ItalySource doesn't do the winter season, because we do not offer ski packages in Switzerland (or in Italy). We leave that to the ski specialists. So in Switzerland we offer travel only during the period from the middle of April to the end of October.

And in the high mountains, such as at Zermatt or above Interlaken, we further limit our efforts to the period from late May to the middle of October, when warm-season travel is most practical.

PRICING VERSUS WEATHER & CROWDS ~ ITALY. We are often asked for the best time to go to Italy. There is no simple answer, so for those of you who want to plow through the whole range of possibilities, read on, or scroll down to the month you have in mind, for our extended comments.

There is no best time to travel to Italy, except for what fits your objectives. There are times when the weather is usually the best, times when prices are lowest, and times when crowds are the least. Not surprisingly, the last two conditions -- lowest prices and crowds -- go together, usually during the least desirable weather.

In Italy, if we had to pick two months when the weather is most likely to be agreeable, they would be May and September. But you can stretch those periods into adjoining months. So APRIL is usually a fine month in Italy, warm enough to satisfy most everyone, but early for the big crowds. We used to call April the forgotten month, but that's changed in recent years, You can expect to see April prices in the cities to be fully at high season levels. Go in April to beat the heat and avoid the summer crowds, but not for low-season prices. We think April is an especially good time for Tuscany trips. But note that once in a while, as in 2012, there comes an April that is rainier and colder than average, and that is why May is still the first big month of travel.

MAY is the first really big month for travel, so if you think it's a slow time with small crowds, think again. But it is still a good compromise. Weatherwise, May is overall about as good as it gets in Italy, but May can have its hot spells. Sometimes you encounter the problem that hotels are not ready with their air conditioning when the temperature suddenly changes from spring cool to summer heat.

On the other side of May, early JUNE can also have great weather. June is extremely popular, and it gets more so as the month progresses, especially after mid-month when most students are free to travel. Temperatures also go up day by day so that June can sometimes be as hot as July. For June, the earlier you go, the better.

June popularity usually pushes into the middle of JULY. And in 2007, July was very busy through the end of the third week.
Hotel pricing does not change in Italy's big cities from April 1 until July, when summer low season pricing kicks in at many hotels. The last of July and all of AUGUST are slow times in the cities, and there are good deals to be found in hotel rooms. If you don't mind the heat, this can be a great time to go. And when you think of it, the heat in Italy will be no higher in July and August than it is at home for many residents of the USA.

Right at the end of August, Italy travel shifts back into high gear. This surprises many of the people who contact us, who think that September will be slower. It is quite the reverse. Travel numbers explode at the end of August, so that SEPTEMBER is usually our biggest month for booking independent travel in Italy. Popular destinations in Italy will be booked up from the lakes to the Amalfi Coast, from the first to last of September. Tuscany travel, in particular, is bursting at the seams in September. There is good reason for all this, and it is mainly the weather. By all means go in September, but do not wait until the middle of summer to plan your trip. Book as early as you can for September.

September's popularity now pushes right into OCTOBER with Tuscany again in the lead. Not until the middle of October do we see it really slow down. In 2006, October was our single biggest month for travel sales, so do not assume that you can relax about planning an October trip, especially in the early part of October. Do note that weather becomes a factor in October. You are more likely to see rain in October, and in Venice, more likely to encounter high-water flooding in St. Mark's Square.

It's hard to characterize NOVEMBER, it is such a swing month for weather. Early November can be much like October, so given the promise of lower hotel prices, there is high popularity to the first 10 days or so of November. Book early for this period. Our experience over the years with travel in November has been very good, but just when we get too encouraging about it, there comes a particularly rainy and cool November to put us on guard and temper our enthusiasm a little.
DECEMBER, JANUARY and FEBRUARY are true winter months, not because of snow, which is rare in the most popular parts of Italy, but due to temperatures that require packing coats and gloves, and getting mentally prepared for the possibility of some cold and rainy days. These are the high-risk but high-reward times. You can really avoid the crowds, get the best pricing of the year -- not only in hotels but from the airlines -- and you might get lucky with pretty good weather.

And finally there's MARCH. Like November, March is the other big swing month, starting out in wintertime and ending in the springtime. We think it's a pretty good choice, with weather that is not so cool and prices, importantly, still in low season. As with early November, late March is a very popular choice, so don't wait until the last minute to book.

PRICING VERSUS WEATHER & CROWDS ~ SWITZERLAND. This is a much simpler picture than for Italy. Switzerland travel popularity has two peaks, the middle of winter (for skiing) and the middle of summer. ItalySource sells travel packages only in the warm months in Switzerland -- late spring, summer, and early fall.

For warm season travel in Switzerland, temperatures and tourism popularity grow from a shaky start in the middle of April, hitting a peak in the middle of summer, and falling to a practical stopping point by the end of October. If you go to Switzerland on a limited basis -- for example, just to Lucerne -- then you may be able to travel at those edges in April and late October and still have suitable weather.
But if you go to Switzerland for the high mountains, such as in the Bernese Oberland above Interlaken, or to the Matterhorn at Zermatt, then weather in those mountains dominates as a decision factor for travel. If you go too early or too late, you can run into lower temperatures than you want or even encounter winter weather. Weather favors going in the middle of summer. But there is another big factor for choosing when to travel to the high mountains of Switzerland, and it's the number of people squeezing into Switzerland for the short summer season.

So while you can expect the best weather in Switzerland in July and August, the times our clients favor most are the ones just before and just after the middle of summer, when crowds are smaller, because families with children are out of the picture, but the weather is still favorable. So late May, early June, and all of September are especially attractive times if you don't have students traveling with you.

At the warm season edges for the high mountain areas of Switzerland, you can go as early as the middle of May and as late as the first half of October and have fair expectations about good weather. We have done a lot of travel in Switzerland in October, to as late as October 15, and have had outstanding weather, though it's always the luck of the draw when traveling in the mountains. However, if your travel dates for the mountains in Switzerland will press those seasonal edges, it is not just a matter of risky weather but the problem of hotels and transportation systems being shut down during the seasonal transition times. Many hotels at Zermatt and in the Bernese Oberland above Interlaken close in April after the ski season and do not open for the summer season until the end of May. Those same hotels typically close for the summer season by October 15 and re-open in December for ski season. Also some key mountain transportation systems, mainly gondolas and cable cars, shut down during those transition times between high winter season and summer season, when maintenance is done. Train schedules also change at season-end, such as for the Glacier Express, so that fewer train options are available.


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