Historical railway enthusiasts, those with nostalgic memories of youth, children and the young at heart, and unhurried tourists, for whom the means are as important as the end so that whom the journey is a pleasure in itself: it’s time for you all to climb aboard! A host of old trains have been faithfully restored to their former dignity and glory, so that you can relive all the sounds and emotions of a long-lost era, discovering the original laid-back moods of a long-lost unhurried past.
A new trend is attracting a growing number of enthusiasts who are not just travelling in order to reach their destination, but are discovering another Italy on a whole secondary network of railway lines. In the wake of a trend that is already well-established abroad, slow and romantic vintage trains, driven by historical steam locomotives or original electric engines, are also proving very popular in Italy. So now you can ride through the Italian countryside at 70 km/h, the more relaxed pace of the days of steam, while admiring the scenery as it gradually unfolds. A host of perfectly restored locomotives, historic railcars (such as the so-called littorina) and authentically refurbished carriages suitably enhance the emotion of returning to the ancient rhythms of rail travel. Thus it is the means of transport that makes the journey truly unique, rather than just the destination. Trips organised on vintage locomotives dating back to the ‘30s typically last a full day. They are almost always combined with special events such as local festivals and fairs in provincial towns and villages with excursions by bus to interesting locations near the railway stations. The train allows you to travel to many places where you can experience other activities such as trekking, cycling, or visiting museums or tasting wine and sampling local agricultural produce. Thus an added attraction of this slower way of viewing Italy and its charming landscapes is the enjoyment of typical cuisine, a pleasure which the country’s natives have absolutely no hesitation in indulging!
Here are a series of proposals for trips and itineraries in which our dignified old friend the train takes us back in time. But they are just a handful of the many fascinating opportunities now on offer…
Trains in Italy: a new trend is attracting a growing number of enthusiasts who are not just travelling in order to reach their destination, but are discovering another Italy on a whole secondary network of railway lines
BACK TO THE PAST
For the past ten years, the carriages of the Trenonatura (Nature Train) have been running up and down the province of Sienna. Pulled by old railcars and steam locomotives, they have a circular route crossing the Val d’Orcia valley and passing through the towns of Asciano, Trequanda, Montalcino, Monte Antico and Buonconvento.
Travelers who alight at Chiusi, for example, can visit Sciano, Sant’Angelo Scalo and Monte Antico. They can be sure of a romantic experience on a real steam train running through the Siennese countryside, with the possibility of getting off several times at a number of stations, and then continuing their journey with the same ticket, also on the more frequent ordinary trains of the Sienna Province railway system. This way of travelling favours a direct contact with the environment while discovering many unusual and hidden beauties of this enchanting part of Tuscany. Without a doubt the spectacular scenery in this area is one of the most beautiful sights in Italy.
A day trip that is available in Fall and Winter for lovers of olive oil consists of reaching the town of Torrenieri by train and then taking the bus to the enchanting village of San Quirico. In the afternoon you can visit the stands of the Olive Oil Festival (with the chance to visit an oliviera where the oil is produced). You will be able to taste many kinds of newly pressed oil and other traditional local products such as cheeses and saffron dishes.
The Trenonatura Train allows you to make stops in various places that are part of a circuit of 34 museums in the Province of Sienna. They provide visitors with a unique testimony to the cultural identity of the area, also by illustrating the folk customs related to the local farming traditions and offering visitors the opportunity to go on special nature trails. (further information at www.terresiena.it).
The weekday passenger train that transports commuters and students between Genoa on the coast and Casella further inland is replaced at the weekend by a historical locomotive. In fact the Genova-Casella railway, as well as providing an essential connection for many commuters between the city of Genoa and its immediate hinterland, is a remarkable tourist feature, thanks to its spectacularly scenic route and the panoramic views it provides. It brings weekend visitors to villages like Sant’Olcese or Campi, from where a pathway leads to the evocative Forti di Genova. This is a series of ancient walls and fortifications on the hills around the city, which are the longest city walls in Europe and the second in the world after the Great Wall of China.
In 1989 the management of the Genova-Casella railway decided to elaborate a genuine and unique proposal for tourism: a picturesque journey of discovery of the towns around Genova aboard a romantic vehicle of the Belle Epoque. The small Ligurian railroad created this sumptuous and elegant historic train by restoring vintage rolling stock, which was still to be found in its yards and depots.
The train is propelled by a truly veteran piece of machinery: the oldest electric locomotive still operating in Italy, which was built in 1924. Repainted in its original dazzling red/cream livery and enriched with numerous period details (such as the headlights and crenellated light fixtures) it is now experiencing a second youth. The train consists of the locomotive and three carriages, offering a total of 129 seats. Most of its electromechanical components are original and the coaches, dating back to 1929, still conserve their solid wooden furnishings in oak and pitch pine, decorated with bronze and brass fittings, all polished up to their original gleaming lustre.
This vehicle provides a very special warm and cosy old-fashioned atmosphere, which is increasingly sought after by those sensitive souls who have been born and raised in the modern era of soul-deadening functionality and efficiency at all costs. The evocative journey on the narrow gauge railway, with its many spectacular and thrilling panoramic cliff-top views, is ideally complemented by an aperitif or a drink in the buffet area or lunch in a typical restaurant on the route, which conserves the well-kept secrets of genuine Ligurian cuisine. (further information at www.ferroviagenovacasella.it).
Crossing the Italian border with Switzerland the Vigezzina wends its lazy way among picturesque valleys and forests. This railway-line connects Domodossola (Piedmont) to Locarno (in the Swiss canton of Ticino) and thanks to its fantastic scenery it certainly lends itself to tourist trips. On Sundays and holidays, as well as enjoying the train journey, you can take a relaxing boat-ride on Lake Maggiore, or ascend the funicular railway up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, while those with a bit more energy can opt for a bracing bike-ride down the scenic road between the charming Swiss towns of Camedo and Pontebrolla. (further information at: www.vigezzina.com)
Its original route was from Paris to Giurgiu in Romania, via Munich and Vienna. But this has changed many times over the years, and many of its competitors have tried to appropriate its name, which is synonymous with adventurous travel in style and luxury. We are of course talking about the Orient-Express, the five star train/hotel, which provides its passengers with lavish service and envelops them in a sumptuous ambience. The Venice Simplon Orient-Express has various routes, for example between London, Paris, Venice and Rome, but it goes as far afield as Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Krakow and Istanbul. The Venice Simplon Orient Express is an experience unlike any other train journey you are likely to have.
The train consists of 17 blue coaches, with 11 sleeping carriages built between 1926 and 1931, and it travels the length and breadth of Europe for more than 30 weeks a year. In order to give passengers a real flavour of the epoch, the baths have been restored to their former glory, providing hot water produced by small stoves. Every detail has been designed to faithfully represent the roaring 20s and thrilling 30s. (further information at: www.trenidilusso.com).
The concept is part of the philosophy we referred to earlier: enjoying the luxury of not being in any hurry to get to one’s destination. The aim is simply to have the pleasure of the setting and the scenery, which is usually ignored because of our boring daily routine. In fact one suddenly becomes aware that travelling on the same train as a commuter is completely unlike the experience of being a passenger with the pleasant, almost secret, private sensation of having all the time in the world.
This term indicates relatively lightweight railcars operated by diesel, petrol or gas power for any gauge of railway. The term was probably coined in 1932-1933, due to the fact that Mussolini took a trip on one of these trains on a visit to the town of Littoria (now called Latina). In addition the Fascist symbol of the lictor’s axe and rods, the so-called “fascio littorio”, was often exhibited on the front of these vehicles.
Initially the word referred only to certain classes of railcar, but as it entered popular usage it was extended to all lightweight rolling stock, whatever the form of traction. The first littorine were clearly derived from the automobile industry, having an internal combustion engine, a mechanical gearbox-transmission system, and rather Spartan interiors consisting of simple wooden seating and no washing facilities or lavatories. They were one-directional vehicles and therefore had to be turned 180 degrees upon arrival at the terminal in the same way as steam locomotives.