The best old-fashioned train rides in Italy


Across the globe, the past pandemic-strewn years have rekindled the allure of train travel, and even more of travel on ancient tracks that force us to disconnect from technology. Italy isn’t exactly a Mecca when it comes to high-speed rail, but if you’re looking for very, very slow travel options, not to mention epic scenery, the country’s beautiful vintage trains are sure to be a must. will not disappoint you.

Grab a ticket and get ready to experience the thrill of discovering undiscovered shepherd trails, sleepy villages, abandoned underground mines, mountains once roamed by outlaws, and lush alpine valleys teeming with fairy tales. Some tracks date back to the late 1800s, traveled by still steam trains and offering the possibility of discovering little-known regions that you will not fail to miss by car.

Until after World War II, when many roads had yet to be built, these railways were the only means of transport for many Italians. Children were queuing for the morning train to go to school in a nearby village, which might have taken them hours to reach. If time is tight and you’re ok with being late, start packing your bags and hop on one of these historic locomotives. Sitting in your vintage seat, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time.

A little corner of Siberia in Italy. | Italian Transiberian

When this famous trail made its debut, travelers thought the wintry panorama from their windows looked like a corner of Siberia, a network of fields covered in fluffy snow and criss-crossed by frozen streams. Hence its curious name: the Trans-Siberian. This steam locomotive connects two of the wildest and most remote central regions of the country – Abruzzo and Molise – crossing the Apennine mountain range and traversing a maze of ghost towns lined with crumbling cathedrals. Departing from the town of Sulmona, renowned for its artisan confetti, it travels to Isernia with stops in various villages, offering stunning views of snow-capped peaks and pristine valleys dotted with sheep and forests. It passes through meadows and canyons once roamed by pilgrims and outlaws who took refuge there in the 1800s, monasteries founded by wandering hermits, and cozy ski resorts. Last but not least? You will also get a glimpse of the sparkling Adriatic coast.

train at sunrise
Discover this hidden Roman gem. | BRN_93/Shutterstock

Every morning, local commuters hop aboard this historic line into central Rome, unaware of the treasures along the way. Built in the early 1900s, only one track remains and a few wooden cars with large benches. It starts from Piazzale Flaminio in Rome and stretches north through the Roman countryside to the magnificent Etruscan city of Viterbo, passing sites of ancient Roman battles, mausoleums, catacombs, chestnut forests , sumptuous walnut farms and medieval castles still held by the heirs of once powerful lords. The ancient village of Civita Castellana, carved out of jagged rock and suspended over a precipice, is one of the most spectacular stops on the route.

car interior
With coaches dating back to the 1930s, it’s a real journey back in time. | FS Italian Foundation

Archeology enthusiasts cannot miss this walk. The Archeo train takes the best of the Campania region. It connects the bustling city of Naples, filled with street vendors and feral drivers, to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum, all buried in ash when the volcano Vesuvius erupted there. almost 2000 years. The train, made up of sports carriages dating back to the 1930s, then travels south through the Cilento National Park with its dream beaches, arriving at the picturesque villages of Ascea and Sapri. Lush lemon groves and fishing villages clinging to the cliffs turn heads along the way.

train driver looking out of the train
Savor the best of Calabria aboard the Sila Railway. | Il Treno della Sila – Ferrovie della Calabria

Get ready to experience the thrill of traveling through what was once Italy’s best lair for runaway illicit bandits. This old steam locomotive crosses the Sila National Park in the heart of Calabria, climbing up to 1,400 meters above sea level. Jagged hills and secluded caves were once the perfect places for kidnappers to hide their victims while awaiting ransom. Today you will come across places where time has stood still, such as the ancient pastoral towns of Moccone, Camigliatello and San Nicola Silvana, places that many Italians have never even heard of, let alone seen. Don’t forget to get some traditional delicacies like the spicy Calabrian ‘Nduja sausage and a bit of Sanguinaccio cake, made with chocolate and pig’s blood.

waterfront train
Get your dose of nature throughout this Tuscan adventure. | FS Italian Foundation

We all know Tuscany is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, but here’s a way to escape the crowds and savor the sights while you’re there. This historic train passes through the most stunning and untouched part of the region: the Orcia Valley, with its fluorescent green plains, olive groves and classic country roads lined with cypress trees and premium vineyards. Renaissance frescoed chapels and medieval hamlets dominate the fertile valley, buttressed by family farms and royal estates. The train departs from the town of Asciano in the province of Siena and arrives near the coast at Monte Antico. If Tuscany is your favorite, this walking tour, which guarantees silence and tranquility, is a must.

wooden train
Buckle up for a steep climb into the mountains. | flickr/Ritten_Renon

The ride may be short, but this option is both very intense and extremely scenic, and probably not the best idea if you suffer from heights. The single-car wooden train from 1907 carries passengers from the northern city of Bolzano in the German-speaking region of Alto Adige to a snowy plateau high in the Dolomite mountains. Shuttle through icy white fields said to be inhabited by hard-working folk creatures that sprinkled crystals to cover the peaks, creating a blanket of snow. Charming Alpine towns are among the few stops, though the best part of this trip is the view of the rocky peaks that emit a rosy glow at sunrise and sunset.

old mining train
An old mine has been transformed into a railway attraction. | Hibiscus81/Shutterstock

Imagine descending into a labyrinth of mines aboard a small train, as the miners did. The Buggerru Mine on the tropical island of Sardinia is a tunnel with scenic slots carved deep into the rock to showcase the sandy beaches and quiet coves below. The old railway line was built to transport mined raw materials to ports for shipment. However, the journey underground could give you the creeps – as with most mines in the area, this was a place where many workers lost their lives, or at the very least were forced to endure harsh conditions. terrible work.

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Silvia Marchetti is a contributor for Thrillist.


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