The Cinque Terre Express
One of the most beautiful train routes in Italy is the coastal route along the Cinque Terre in Liguria. Dubbed the Express, it’s more of a gentle pootle above all five of the Unesco-listed coastal villages in this famous national park. The route starts in La Spezia and ends in Levanto. You can hop on and off to stroll the labyrinthine streets of colorful villages like Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola – or stay put and enjoy the sights of tiny coves and coves with village crowns and pristine little beaches.
The Cinque Terre Train Card allows access to all hiking routes and unlimited train travel between villages. One to three day options from €18.20 on cinqueterre.eu.com
The Circumetnea, Sicily
If you don’t feel like climbing Sicily’s most famous volcano, an exciting alternative is the Ferrovia Circumetnea from Catania, circumnavigating the base of Mount Etna and ending its journey in Riposto. On this dramatic journey, you’ll hurtle over lava beds, past fields of prickly pears and small hamlets, and then enjoy views of the snow-capped, smoking peaks of the Etna foothills. Built in 1898, it is 110 km long and the whole route takes about three and a half hours. Try to get into one of the green or red vintage vehicles that look like shabby vintage school buses – they were made by Fiat in the 1950s.
Tickets cost from €7.25 circumetnea.it
The Bernina Express
Train fans consider the legendary, UNESCO-listed Bernina Express route from Tirano in Italy to St. Moritz to be one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world. The highest railway in Europe has spiral viaducts to get up the mountains. Sometimes the train clings thousands of meters up the mountainside – and you’ll be rewarded with views over the Brusio Viaduct, then onto waterfalls and glaciers and up to the deafening peaks of the Italian and Swiss Alps. Autumn is beautiful when the leaves change color and begin to fall, and winter when the mountains are covered with snow.
The Italian section of the Bernina Express starts in Tirano, which connects to trains from Milan. The four-hour train journey costs from £49. Seats in the panorama car must be booked in advance on rhb.ch
Reggio Calabria to Scilla
It only takes 20 minutes, but if you have time to kill before catching the ferry to Sicily, the train ride from the promenade-side Stazione Lido in Reggio Calabria to the seaside town of Scilla is a treat. Leaving the rather ugly port area you can expect a glimpse of manicured coves and sandy beaches, then small islands and fishing boats and, on approaching the Strait of Messina, Mount Etna itself. When you arrive in Scilla, spend time exploring this charming fishing village to explore on ocher cliffs. Highlights include the sprawling cliff-top castle, wide sandy beach, and excellent seafood restaurants.
Single journey tickets from £2.10 via Rail Europe
Trenino Verde, Sardinia
Sardinia’s cute Trenino Verde (Little Green Trains) trundle through some of the island’s most beautiful regions on narrow-gauge tracks – all the way from the coast to the mountains. Don’t Expect Speed: These dedicated routes are notoriously slow, as reported by DH Lawrence in The sea and Sardinia. But who needs to be in a hurry when you have the chance to discover the wild heart of this extraordinary island? Pulled by a 1956 diesel locomotive, one of the most dazzling routes runs from Arbatax to Villagrande. Across the plains of Tortoli you ascend to the mountainous Gennargentu National Park.
Full day guided Trenino Verde train rides included multiple stops at sights and delicious Food tastings cost from €55 per person, sardegnatreninoverde.com
Small trains of the Dolomites
The elegant Renon narrow-gauge railway is one of the oldest and steepest funicular railways in Europe. It chugs up to Collalbo, past hilly meadows and towering rugged mountain ranges. Take part in a accompanied railway holiday and receive expert guidance on the mountainous railway routes. The trip includes a ride on line 700 between Mezzolombardo and Caldes, with spectacular views of the Dolomite castles and a dramatic climb up one of the steepest routes in Europe, the Mendola Railway.
The nine-day Little Trains of the Dolomites tour runs in September and May from £1,499 per person including B&B accommodation and excursions, arenatravel.com
Rome to Syracuse
Traveling to Sicily by train doesn’t sound easy, but it’s one of the best long-distance direct Italian journeys around. Your train will be shunted across the Strait of Messina by ferry while you sniff the sea air on deck. Depart Rome in your air-conditioned carriage for an 11-hour scenic drive to Naples and Salerno, then on to Taormina, Catania and Syracuse. Once in Sicily, coastal and mountain views give way to seascapes, as well as glimpses of snow-capped Etna.
Book in advance for Super Economy tickets from £66.70 one way, second class with Rail Europe, connections with Trenitalia
Venice to Florence
Ditch the car and join two of Italy’s must-see must-see cities by rail. It takes just over two hours to trade the canals of Venice for Florence’s meandering Arno. Traveling by train makes for a hassle-free journey and some of the country’s most beautiful snapshots along the way. Along the way you’ll pass the exquisite Renaissance cities of Bologna, Prato and Ravenna, then through the mountains of Emilia-Romagna and along the vine-terraced hills of Tuscany. If you’re looking for a more direct route, take the high-speed Frecciarossa – but a more leisurely ride, admittedly with changes, ensures time to take in those dreamy panoramas.
Tickets from £26.50 a way, booked in advance with Rail Europe
Train holidays from Venice to Rome
A small-group train tour is a great way to explore Venice, Florence, and Rome, staying in hotels along the way and learning about local culture. Highlights include leisurely strolls, museum visits and an Aperol spritz at the quieter Venice canalside cafes; then a detour train ride to Pisa. In Bologna, the focus is on the food, with a tasting of DOP meats, cheeses, wine, and tortellini-making at the Quadrilatero district food markets, and there’s plenty of time in Florence and Rome to explore the highlights of both cities.
A seven-day train journey from Venice to Rome costs from £1,498 per person, including return flights, with Responsibletravel.com
Rimini to Lecce
Follow Italy’s sparkling Adriatic Sea by regional train and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous sea views and glimpses of historic towns and small fishing villages. The route from Rimini down to Lecce is an absolute treat – and although it takes around six hours, you’ll capture some unforgettable images. Swaping Rimini’s glitzy beach clubs for everyday Pesaro, the Frecciabianca stops in Ancona, Pescara and Foggia in Puglia. Occasionally the route veers inland beneath the hills of Umbria and Tuscany, finally reaching dazzling Baroque Lecce. Celebrate with a local pasticciotto and spritz – almost as delightful as the trip itself.
Single journey tickets from £55.70, via Rail Europe or Trenitali