I go to Italy by train every couple of years, as one of my best friends lives in Liguria. It’s a great train destination, as there are so many options, most of them scenic.
The fastest way by train is with the Paris – Venice Sleeper: this tips you out at Milan about 5am, which means you can get to much of Northern or Central Italy by 9am. Recently, we took daytime trains to Milan and realised how scenic the Paris – Milan route is.
A big factor in my train planning is how far you can get in a day, starting from Bridport: I’ve coined the term DJD’s (Day Journey Destinations) for this. A favourite DJD if travelling to Germany or further east is Aachen.
Heading to Italy, the 7am bus from Bridport to Dorchester meant we reached Paris Gare du Nord at 1547. Nipping briskly onto RER Line D, we caught a TGV from Gare de Lyon at 16.45.
TRAVEL TIP: if you book well in advance, First Class on TGV’s is quite cheap. We paid 35 euros each. You get huge comfy seats and more peace and quiet.
Travelling to Italy, I can recommend Chambéry as a DPD. It’s a pretty, small cathedral city on the edge of the French Alps. The old town is car-free, with lots of beautiful old buildings and nice places to eat: we arrived in time for a late dinner.
TRAVEL TIP: The Hotel Ibis Styles is two minutes’ walk from the station, and for an extra few euros you can get a bedroom overlooking the railway!
The next morning, we joined at Chambéry one of the special Paris – Milan TGV’s, which run three times a day. They’re more spacious than most French TGV’s, and in First Class you get at-seat service for food and drink.
TRAVEL TIP: Book well in advance and you can get First Class seats cheaply. We paid £31 for the four-hour trip from Chambéry to Milan. Note that these trains terminate at Milan Porta Garibaldi, so leave time to get over to Milano Centrale where most onward trains depart from.
As the train heads south-east from Chambéry, it’s climbing into the Alps, heading for the long tunnel near Modane which crosses into Italy. The railway follows river valleys which get narrow, tortuous, full of waterfalls. There are frequent small tunnels, with great views of the mountains between them.
The climb each side of the Modane Tunnel is really steep, and there are banking locomotives at Modane and on the Italian side at Bardonecchia. The descent into Italy is equally dramatic. At first the line is at the bottom of a narrow valley in a huge gorge, then the valley widens and drops dramatically, and the railway winds down the hills to catch up with it.
The train stops in Turin, which I can highly recommend as another stopover point. It’s an outstandingly elegant city, with a fresh semi-Alpine climate, and great ice cream (it’s the home of GROM, for starters).