Mild weather, fewer tourists and cheaper prices - a few good reasons to visit Italy by train this winter.
Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. And for good reason, thanks to cities bursting with culture, pristine beaches, rugged mountains and mouth-watering food. But popularity comes at a price - lots and lots of tourists!
Going in winter is an easy way to avoid the queues and enjoy the Mediterranean weather in its milder months. Low season runs from November to March when you can benefit from cheaper prices and fewer crowds. And in December, hotel occupancy rates drop so it’s possible to find deals on accommodation as well as on trains. We’ve picked a few of our favourite places to visit in Italy by train this winter.
Winter on the Italian Riviera
Exploring the Italian Riviera in low season offers a different experience of the towns and villages that dot the coastline. Almost deserted by tourists, you’ll find everyday life in full swing but without the crowds.
Low sun and northerly winds bring clear skies, and average December temperatures of 10°C create good walking conditions. If you travel in December, make sure to sample the newly-pressed olive oil that makes the area famous.
In May 2015, it became possible to board a direct train from London to Marseille and arrive in just 6 hrs 30 mins. At Marseille, it’s a same-station change onto to the Thello EuroCity service which travels from Marseille to Genoa and Milan, stopping at picturesque towns and villages en route, making a visit to the Italian Riviera by train easier.
There are many nice spots on the strip of coastline between the south of France and Tuscany so there is plenty of choice. And tickets booked for Italy’s Regionale trains are now available to collect from self-service machines so it’s easier to plan ahead and use local services to hop between towns (including Bogliasco, pictured) on Italy's railways.
Winter city break in Venice
Visiting Venice in winter means you’ll be able to enjoy popular sights at your own pace. From November to Easter visitor numbers fall significantly, leaving you (practically) alone to enjoy its beautiful canals and squares. Though it can be cold and wet, your reward is a misty, atmospheric city and a chance to experience Venice as the locals do.
You’ll find that lots of hotels are refreshingly quiet and cheaper than usual during the off season, making this normally expensive city break better value. Just steer clear of Carnevale (January), Biennale (usually finishes mid-November) and important religious festivities including Christmas and Easter.
There are several options for taking the train from London to Venice, including Eurostar and onward high-speed connections or an overnight train from Paris. Both routes have their merits, though if you opt to travel overnight don't expect Orient Express luxury - this is a budget service due a much-needed refresh. Once in Venice, you can take advantage of special offers and cheap tickets on Italian trains to go further afield - consider a day trip to Verona (1 hr 10 mins), Padua (25 mins) or Bologna (1 hr 15 mins).
Rome in the off-season
In winter, you can have Rome all to yourself. As the temperature drops in Italy’s capital, so too do the number of tourists and the prices. From December to February hotel rates are lower and restaurants uncrowded.
During this time, most major tourist attractions reduce their opening hours, but are open nevertheless. And it’s a good time for culture too with the opera season kicking off in November and many of the city’s churches playing host to classical music concerts throughout winter.
There’s more than one way to travel by train from London to Rome. One option is to travel entirely by day from London to Rome with Eurostar, TGV and Frecciarossa trains. It’s a long journey, but with an early start you can make it. If this doesn’t appeal, break your journey in Milan or Turin before continuing a day or two later.
Alternatively, consider the Thello night train from Paris to Milan and board a connecting Frecciarossa service the following morning. With either option, you’ll have a chance to travel on one of the plush new Frecciarossa 1000 - the newest addition to Trenitalia’s high-speed fleet - on the final leg of your journey.
Turin in winter by rail
The perfect winter getaway, Turin is a fantastic choice for a city break by rail since it's easily accessible from the UK. Overlooked by the snow-capped Alps, the city is bursting with baroque and neoclassical architecture, exquisite cafes and fascinating museums - plenty to entertain for a short break.
Throughout winter, Luci d'Artista, an event dedicated to the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene, lights up the whole city with beautiful installations that add a touch of magic to winter evenings. Or if you're there during Autumn, check if your trip coincides with the bi-annual Slow Food festival. 2016 will be the 20th anniversary of the first edition of Salone del Gusto and Slow Food Italy’s 30th birthday, and the event will take over the most beautiful and prestigious sites in the city - foodies take note!
It's also well-connected by Trenitalia's excellent rail network. High-speed Frecciarossa to Milan take just one hour, or head south for a couple of hour a slow train to the Ligurian coast - Savona, Genoa and many more are on the Regionale network.
Travelling from London to Turin by train takes 10 hours by Eurostar and TGV with a quick change in Paris. It is also possible to travel overnight by Eurostar and Thello night train to Milan, then high-speed Frecciarossa. The 12-hour journey isn't the most luxurious (we look forward to the completion of Thello's renovation, expected in 2016) but it is an effective way to save on accommodation costs.
Take a look at our country guide for more information on trains to Italy and inspiration for your next winter rail trip.