Hop on Board: From Rome to Sicily by Train

Italy came late to the railway boom of the early 19th century. There had been no appetite or indeed need to connect up the peninsula’s very independent regions, with one exception. Italy’s oldest railway, the 4.5-mile Naples–Portici line, was built in 1839 and today forms part of the Naples–Salerno line. It was established as a vanity project by King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, who desired a train that ran from the city of Naples to his royal palace. The launch was full of pomp, with carriages filled with dignitaries and troops. This small railway line was hugely popular and helped pave the way for more lines to be built.  

During the unification of Italy railway building gained pace, but most lines were concentrated in northern Italy. However, because of Rome’s importance as the new capital of a united Italy under king Victor Emmanuel II, the first railway opened in the Papal States in 1856. Travel had always been a genteel pursuit, but when the railways came to Italy, it opened up leisure travel to the European middle classes too. If you’ve not experienced the Italian railways before, we suggest you join us on the tracks of an epic rail ride from Rome to Sicily.  

Begin in Rome, known for its many Roman antiquities and Baroque attractions, from the great Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which was at the heart of political, commercial and judicial life in 1 AD, to the 18th century Trevi Fountain. We suggest you stay at the elegant Hotel Nazionale, which is teeming with historic grandeur and just moments from the Spanish Steps in an area once known as the English Ghetto.
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Once you’ve had a few days exploring the Eternal City, head to Termini, Rome’s incredible train station. This latest building was opened in 1950 and has a distinctly Italian futuristic style. It’s also one of Europe’s busiest railway stations, with 32 operational platforms and over 800 trains departing from here each day!  

Board one of the many trains heading to Sorrento, where you will travel through the Apennine Mountains via Naples, which takes just over an hour on one of the high-speed trains. You might like to stop off in the city for a few hours of sightseeing and to taste that world famous Neapolitan pizza.  

From Naples, you can then continue on the regional Circumvesuviana train, which will take one hour and 15 minutes to reach the coast. This line also connects with Pompeii and Herculaneum, should you wish to explore either of these ancient sites. Stay a few nights at the Grand Hotel De La Ville right on the Neapolitan Riviera. You can island-hop with a ferry across to the glamorous islands of Capri or Ischia, and explore the Blue Grotto.
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From Sorrento, it’s time to take the most unusual train experience in Italy, as you depart for Sicily. Now, while the maps may suggest this is an enduring train journey, the reality is far more joyful. From Napoli Centrale, the route takes just four and a half hours and is absolutely blissful as you chug along the coast and through some beautifully rugged landscapes. Be sure to do as the locals do and pack a picnic and a bottle of wine for your journey. When you reach the port city of Villa San Giovanni, this is when the real excitement begins! Your train is disconnected from the tracks and split in two and, after a few groans and jolts, your carriage becomes swallowed up by a huge white ferry! Used exclusively for trains, this impressive feat of ferry engineering has operated since 1899. The latest fleet is hybrid powered using batteries and solar panels, so that it has zero emissions in the port. 

You could stay in the carriage, but we suggest you leave your heavy luggage behind and head up to the deck, where you can enjoy a plate of arancini and a cappuccino as you breathe in the salty Mediterranean Sea air.  

After a 25-minute sail across the Strait of Messina, you'll be in Messina, the gateway to Sicily, where the train is reconnected and literally put back on track! Messina is also known as the forgotten place because it was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 1908. All of Sicily’s epic landscapes have been forged by nature, as well as by the many ancient civilisations who ruled the island for so many centuries.  

From Messina, it’s another one-and-a-half-hour train jaunt to the historic city of Taormina, where you can stay in Hotel Villa Belvedere in its secluded hillside location above the Ionian Sea. This is the perfect place to discover the island and all its age-old wonders. 
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If you want to continue your railway ride through Sicily, you can board the regional Minuetto diesel train, which snakes through the island, and, as it does, crosses a whopping seven UNESCO World Heritage sites on the four-hour train trip from Catania to Comiso.  

This historical route passes through spectacular scenery that hasn’t changed much since the line was built 150 years ago. Built by hand, it’s another engineering feat, with six large bridges, 43 small bridges, and 13 tunnels, including an incredible spiral tunnel in which the carriages travel for one mile inside the mountain to avoid a steep slope.  

Should you wish to explore Mount Etna without the great hike, then you can take the ancient Circumetnea Railway that runs right along the mountain slopes through incredible lava fields and the grape growing region of Riposta. 

Sit back, gaze out of the window, and enjoy the delights of slow travel through southern Italy with Citalia.

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Call us today to speak to one of our Italy Experts for further travel advice, hotel recommendations or to begin planning your next Italian holiday.
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