Even the most travel-hardened backpackers have been known to quake at the prospect of Italy’s rail system. With trains reliably late and frequently cancelled, you might well ask: ‘Why bother at all?’ But the answer is simple.
Italy’s stunning beauty looks pretty good from the window of a train, the fresh wind whipping your face as you whizz past ancient farmhouses and rolling hills. And with an Interrail pass, you can hop on and hop off where you choose. This guide presents an exciting route for your Italian odyssey. It comes courtesy of Oh-Florence, for holiday apartments in Florence and Rome.
Start your voyage of discovery in the seafaring city that gave birth to Christopher Columbus himself. After exploring the intriguing town, continue your journey along the breathtaking coast of Liguria, and the Cinque Terre. The views of colourful cliffside villages overlooking glittering turquoise seas will no doubt tempt you to make a few extra stops.
Pisa’s most obvious attraction is, of course, the Leaning Tower. Surely the world’s most celebrated construction disaster, you can find it at the Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles. If you want to take the classic ‘leaning on the tower’ trick photo, you’ll probably have to get in line!
Finally, you arrive in Italy’s hectic, hot and captivating capital. This is one for the history buffs, the Gladiator fanatics, and the food-lovers. Whichever you are, you should find plenty to please you in Rome. The shopping is great, too.
Once you leave Rome for Napoli, you’re in the South proper. Expect higher temperatures and more train delays – it’s all part of the fun! A gritty Southern city, Naples is renowned for its beautiful bay. You can use it as a base to visit the volcanically-preserved Roman town of Pompeii, then indulge in some sunbathing on the beautiful Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri.
Sicily – Palermo & Messina
Wanted to visit Sicily ever since you saw The Godfather? It’s just a short ferry ride from Salerno on the mainland to Palermo, the capital of the island. Immerse yourself in the unique Arab-Norman architecture and the laid-back lifestyle, but keep your wits about you – petty crime is rife here. Take the train towards Messina, travelling along the beautifully rugged north coast of Sicily.
Once you’re back on the mainland, you’ll find yourself in the ‘foot’ of Italy. The largely undiscovered regions of Calabria, Basilicata and Apulia together make up the distinctive toe and heel of the peninsula. The time-frozen villages and sweeping vistas are not to be missed as you travel back north towards Tuscany.
For lovers of art and history, Florence is the most important stop on the route. Generally considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, the city is home to Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Venus and the stunning but neck-craning cathedral dome by Brunelleschi.
Don’t fall asleep on the train when it pulls out of Florence – otherwise you’ll miss those postcard images of Tuscan stone villas flanked by tall cypress trees. When you get to Bologna you’ll discover a city with a lively student vibe – appropriate for the home of Europe’s first university. The city also gave the world Bolognese sauce, and continues to pride itself on its local cuisine.
Even though you’ve seen the pictures, nothing can prepare you for the jolt of seeing Venice before you. A city with canals instead of roads and boats instead of cars, it can seem incredibly surreal. Not everyone falls in love with it, but you’ll give yourself more of a chance if you avoid it in high summer, when there are more tourists than water-rats.
Couples or those seeking romance may wish to visit ‘Juliet’s House,’ where Shakespeare’s tragic heroine is supposed to have lived. The city also boasts an impressive Roman amphitheatre and gorgeous medieval buildings, and a relaxed pace of life.
The last stop on this itinerary is Milan. A relatively expensive city, Milan is style-conscious and self-confident. Visitors often surprised by how un-Italian it is – this northern metropolis is a world away from the terracotta roofs and sunny siestas of the South. But give it a chance. If the fashion and industry don’t impress you, the elaborate Gothic cathedral should do the trick.
By Ahmed Ahmed