Tours Travel

Italy By Train – Holidays That Cost The Earth Nothing

Before the arrival of the Channel Tunnel and after the Eurostar, traveling by train to Italy was quite an undertaking. Once he had negotiated the British Rail part of the journey and the cross-channel ferry, there was the prospect of an uncomfortable night in a sleeping car. Many people can still be intimidated by the prospect of a 600+ mile journey through at least 3 countries and opt to hop on a plane.

These days, thankfully, we can put aside any concerns you may have. Plus, with airports and flying becoming an increasingly dehumanizing experience, there are more reasons than ever to choose a greener, more civilized mode of travel.

I left the beautifully restored St. Pancras International aboard the Eurostar. Although more expensive, I recommend Leisure Select (formerly 1st Class) as it has more space to spread out, tasty food, and free drinks to get you in the vacation mood. You can then sit back and take in the views as the Kent countryside and northern France flash by, before you know it (well 2 hours 15 minutes actually) you’re in Paris!

Arriving at Gare du Nord I took the RER to Gare de Lyon, changing trains at Ch√Ętelet Les Halles. The journey takes about 20 minutes. However, if you don’t feel like lugging your suitcase via the metro, take a taxi. It can be a bit longer by taxi, depending on traffic, though you do get the benefit of seeing some glimpses of Paris and the Seine and not have to worry about taking the wrong train or dealing with your luggage. Better still, give yourself 3 or 4 hours in Paris or stay overnight in a hotel and stroll along the banks of the Seine, through the Jardins des Tuileries or around Notre Dame and Ile St. Louis. Whichever method you choose to cross Paris, I would always allow 1 hour to 90 minutes between the two stations to ensure you have plenty of time and can enjoy the experience.

My destination was Dijon, chosen because it is a good place to take a break on your trip and it is a very attractive medieval city. The TGV from Paris gets you there in about 1 hour 40 minutes, passing through beautiful French countryside. I spent the night at the 4 star Mercure Dijon Clemenceau. The hotel is about a mile from the station, a 5-10 minute taxi ride, and is very convenient. There are 2 and 3 star hotels closer to the station.

Feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep and the classic French breakfast of croissant and coffee, I continued my journey from Dijon to Milan, changing trains in Bern. The benefit of this route is that you enjoy a more scenic route to Italy, through the Swiss Alps and, in this case, the beautiful Bernese Oberland. You can also ride another elegant TGV followed by the Cisalpino tilting train that meanders towards Milan. Traveling on day trains, you get the benefit of all the stunning views from the comfort of your seat.

If you’re in a hurry, you can reach Milan in a day from London or travel overnight on a sleeper train. Although I prefer the more relaxed day trip.