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  • Writer's pictureAmar Dhaliwal

London to Siracusa By Train - Summer 2023

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

A trans-European train journey had always been on the wish list and Summer 2023 finally provided the opportunity to make it happen.


The plan was to take trains all the way from London to the most southerly point of our trip - which happened to be Siracusa, Sicily (approximately 2,900 km or 1,800 miles). This trip would also allow us to take the train across the Straits of Messina to Sicily - It's one of the few places remaining where trains still go onto a ferry, but more about that later.


This is the map of the journey and the major stops (where we spent at least two nights) were Paris, Bologna, Napoli, Lecce, Scilla, and Siracusa.

I have described the trip in a north to south timeline, however (to allow for a family visit in London and a pizza making course in Napoli), we did this in two legs, 1) Napoli to Siracusa and 2) London to Napoli. Also, as described below the leg between Lecce and Scilla was done via rental car.


Hope you enjoy.

 

London St Pancras Int'l to Paris Gare du Nord


Train: Eurostar e320 - #9040 - Departing 16.31. Arriving 19.47

Service: Standard

Coach: 7

Paid: €90.00 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.eurostar.com/ three months in advance)


The lines at St Pancras International are a perfect summation of post Brexit travel to the EU. Winding long lines, two border checks, frustrated travelers, stressed staff, and all for some undefined and ever more elusive Brexit dividend.


The 16.31 train was busy - due entirely to the fact that ticket prices during the day typically drop with this exact departure. We paid $90.00 Euros per person, having booked three months in advance.


We had expected to walk up, present our passports, and stroll into the waiting area. Did not expect the lines and ensuing stress. Make sure to give yourself a minimum of one hour to get through security and passport control.




Having picked up a couple of sandwiches and some drinks we made our way on to the train, found a place for our suitcases, and took our seats for the 2 hour 15 minute dash to Paris.


Our seats were in coach 7 (standard class) and forward facing. Perfectly comfortable.


It's still amazing how quickly one leaves London and is soon in Kent and picking up speed. Entering the Channel Tunnel is still a thrill and a reminder of the best of engineering and international cooperation.


As the green fields of the French countryside welcome you it's a good moment to reflect on the quality and convenience of the Eurostar service - despite the border control issues brought on by Brexit. The e320 series trains are fast, comfortable, and regular. They can reach a maximum speed of 300 km/h (186 mph) but limit their velocity through the Channel Tunnel to 160 km/h (100 mph).




We pulled into Gare du Nord on schedule. Made our way to the RER B line and the two stops to Gare de Lyon and our hotel. Could not be easier.

 

Paris Gare de Lyon to Milan Centrale


Train: Frecciarossa 1000 - #9281 - Departing 0730. Arriving 14.07

Service: Business Allegro

Coach: 3

Paid: €95.00 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.trenitalia.com/ three months in advance)


After a couple of lovely days in Paris we made an early start for the next leg of the trip.


The Trenitalia operated train to Milan leaves from either Hall 1 or Hall 2 of Paris Gare de Lyon. This imposing building oozes the anticipation, excitement, and glamour of trans-European train travel. Our train this morning left from Hall 1.



The Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) 1000, is the top-of-the-line high-speed train from Trenitalia. It is a very comfortable, environmentally-friendly option for travel between European cities. Electric powered, it has 16 powerful engines and can reach speeds of 400km/h (250 mph) although it is operationally limited to 360km/h (225 mph).


For this leg of the journey we opted for coach 3 (business allegro). As well as larger, more comfortable seats, business allegro offers a smaller cabin and generally more room per passenger. We paid €95.00 Euros per ticket (booked three months in advance in April 2023).



The seat and cabin are very comfortable and makes the 6 hour 37 minutes journey to Milan one to be anticipated and not dreaded. You are greeted with a hot drink, a bottle of water, and a snack box with various sweet and savoury treats.


There is also a "bistro" by coach 3 from where you can get sandwiches, snacks, and drinks.



There are power sockets at all seats & free WiFi (although I found it not to be very reliable).


The route takes you south east through the middle of France to Lyon and then through the scenic French Alps on the classic line into Italy.


The run to Lyon is where the train should be travelling at 300km/h (185 mph), however, congestion on the track ahead of us meant that we very rarely hit this mark and when we did it was not for long.



The Frecciarossa stops at Lyon Part Dieu, Chambery, and then at Modane, the last station in France. Here the French crew is replaced by an Italian crew.


The section of the trip through The Alps is endlessly fascinating - beautiful vistas, picture postcard hamlets, deserted buildings, half finished and forgotten construction projects.


Congestion on the track for most of the French side of the trip meant that the Frecciarossa only had the chance to hit her stride on Italian track. Finally hitting the magic 300km/h (185 mph) you appreciate what a fantastic, comfortable, and convenient way to travel this is. The environmental credentials only make it more attractive.


Trenitalia #9281 pulled into Milan's magnificent Centrale station 30 minutes late which meant that the connection to Bologna was missed.



A quick visit to the customer service desk (there are two between platforms 12 and 14) and we were on our way to Bologna.

 

Milan Centrale to Bologna Centrale


Train: Frecciarossa 1000 - #9809 - Departing 15.35. Arriving 16.50

Service: Premium

Coach: 6

Paid: €61.00 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.trenitalia.com/ three months in advance)


Trenitalia #9809 originates in Milan and makes its way across the country, stopping in Bologna Centrale, before making its way down the Adriatic coast to Bari Centrale.


Premium class on the Frecciarossa has the same seat layout as standard class (2+2 and in bays of 4 around a table). The premium fare includes a complimentary welcome drink of coffee or soft drink, and there's free WiFi and power sockets at all seats.


There's plenty of luggage space on overhead racks, which will take anything up to carry-on size, and space between the seat backs, and on the luggage racks for larger items at the end of each car.


The bistro car was in the next coach and sold a variety of snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. It also had nice bar stool seating to enjoy the views of the fertile Italian countryside slipping by at 300km/h (185m/h).


The run to Bologna takes a south easterly route from Lombardy to Emilia-Romagna and in next to no time you are pulling into Bologna Centrale (AV) and one of the four underground platforms built especially for high-speed trains.


A nice, comfortable trip.


 

Bologna Centrale to Napoli Centrale


Train: Italo - #8902 - Departing 11.42. Arriving 15.28

Service: Prima

Coach: 3

Paid: €55.90 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.italotreno.it/ three months in advance)


Italo are the high-speed trains of the private operator NTV (Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori) and compete with the Frecciarossa and Frecciargento services of Trenitalia.


Italo does not have classes of services, but rather three ‘ambiences’ : Smart, Prima and Club Executive. We opted for Prima which offers wider seats and a welcome service with snacks, coffee, and water. All seats have power and free Wifi - like Trenitalia, Italo offers access to films, TV series, books, podcasts and magazines via an on-board portal.


One of the big differentiators of Italo is their pricing. They offer very competitive fares and up to 40% discounts for seniors over 60 years old - this has recently become a very attractive feature! After the discount, we paid a very reasonable €55.90 Euros per ticket (booked three months in advance in April 2023) for the near 600km (370 mile) trip to Napoli.


At Bologna there are two levels of tracks within the station complex: Bologna Centrale and the underground Bologna Centrale (AV) alta velocità (high speed). It is from the underground that the Italo trains operate.


Italo #8902 starts at Trieste Centrale and traverses the country to its final destination in Napoli.



The first stop on the journey to Napoli is Florence. A brilliant piece of civil engineering means that the trip from Bologna Centrale (AV) to Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN) takes just 37 minutes. This is made possible because most of the journey place underground as the train rushes through a set of tunnels:

  1. Pianoro tunnel, 10.8 km

  2. Sadurano tunnel, 3.8 km

  3. Monte Bibele tunnel, 9,2 km

  4. Raticosa tunnel, 10,4 km

  5. Scheggianico tunnel, 3,5 km

  6. Firenzuola tunnel, 15,2 km

  7. Borgo Rinzelli tunnel, 0.7 km

  8. Morticine tunnel, 0.6 km

  9. Vaglia tunnel, 18,7 km

It was very strange to stop in Firenze, one of my most favourite places in the world, and not get off the train. La prossima volta!!


The high speed line between Firenze SMN and Rome Termini takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes and gives you a window seat of the Tuscan countryside, arguably the most beautiful landscape in the world. Little islands of cypress trees surrounded by green, rolling hills, medieval hill-top villages with their ancient towers and churches. When people imagine Italy, this is what they dream of.


Napoli is 229 km (142 miles) from Rome and scheduled to be covered in 1 hour and 15 minutes. The train route travels through the countryside of the Lazio and Campania regions and gets close to the coast, roughly halfway between Rome and Naples.


Napoli's main train station is Napoli Centrale, located to the east of the old city, next to Piazza Garibaldi, the main hub for local and regional buses. The station is connected to Napoli Piazza Garibaldi, an underground station from where you can get Napoli's subway line 2. Although we have never had an issue, the area around Napoli Centrale can be a bit sketchy, so best be a bit thoughtful and aware.


Ah Napoli..... amore!!

 

Napoli Centrale to Caserta


Train: Regionale - #5782 - Departing 08.12. Arriving 08.53

Service: 2° Classe (the only class on the train)

Coach: Any

Paid: €3.70 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.trenitalia.com/ three months in advance )


Mezzogiorno is the Italian term for both “midday” and also for Southern Italy and our first foray into this part of the world was to the city of Lecce.


Getting to Lecce from Napoli requires taking a regional Trenitalia train to Caserta where you connect with a high-speed Frecciargento service.


The regional train has no assigned seating and the carriages are similar to the metro or underground carriages you see in many cities around the world. Perfectly comfortable.


We had bought the tickets months in advance but there is really no need to do so, except for convenience. The prices for these services are fixed so there's no cost advantage.


Reminder: If you buy a regional / local / metro ticket at the station or at a tabacchi then remember to validate it by putting it into the small yellow machines at the entrance to every platform - there's a fine if you don't. As a general rule, if you have an online booking with a specified date and train number then you do not need to validate your ticket.

 

Caserta to Lecce Stazione


Train: Frecciargento - #8303 - Departing 09.14. Arriving 13.35

Service: 1° Classe

Coach: 1

Paid: €20.90 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.trenitalia.com/ three months in advance)


The Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) is the middle tier of Trenitalia's high-speed inter city trains. They can reach speeds of up to 250 km/h (155 mph), which unfortunately, because of congestion on the track, we never got to hit for a sustained period. The same congestion resulted in us being 1.5 hours late arriving in Lecce.



Trenitalia #8303 originates at Rome Termini. It then barrels south to Caserta before heading east across the country towards Puglia and Bari Centrale. It then follows the Adriatic coast south to Lecce and the heel of the Italian boot.


We paid a very reasonable €20.90 Euros per ticket (booked three months in advance in April 2023) to travel in first class. To be honest we did not find 1st class worth it for this trip, all you get is a little more leg and elbow room plus a small welcome drink of coffee.


The countryside is beautiful consisting of hilly landscapes, green valleys, meandering rives and streams, mile after mile of olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards, whitewashed towns, and beautiful beaches.


The transition from countryside to urban sprawl is rapid as you arrive into Lecce. The station is modest and you are quickly out into the front courtyard and just a little south of the centro storico.


 

Lecce to Scilla - A2


Difficult train connections prompted us to do this part of the trip in our rental car - which we arranged to return at Reggio Calabria Airport.


The drive from Lecce to Scilla crosses Puglia and takes you down the entire length of Calabria - basically taking you from the heel to the toe of the Italian boot.


As there was a deadline to return the car we did not, except for fuel, stop on this journey. The drive is relatively easy - give or take the odd moment of confusion caused by detours in places where construction is underway.



The route takes you along the pretty coast of the Ionian Sea and then inland to connect with Autostrada A2, otherwise known as the Autostrada del Mediterraneo ("Mediterranean Motorway").



You pretty much drive the length of Calabria, passing through the city of Cosenza, and then hugging the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.


The rental car return was just by the regional airport of Reggio Calabria. We got a taxi to take us to our destination, the beautiful fishing village of Scilla.



 

Scilla to Villa San Giovanni


Train: Regionale - #RE 94957 - Departing 13.40. Arriving 13.47

Service: 2° Classe (the only class on the train)

Coach: Any

Paid: €2.80 Euros per ticket (paid at station in June 2023)


Scilla to Villa San Giovanni is a 10 minute ride on a regional train. No need to book.

 

Villa San Giovanni to Siracusa


Train: Intercity - #723 - Departing 14.30. Arriving 18.33

Service: 1° Classe

Coach: 1

Paid: €23.90 Euros per ticket (booked at https://www.trenitalia.com/ three months in advance)


This was a leg of the journey that I was really looking forward to.


There are only a few remaining routes where a the train gets shunted onto a ferry to then cross a body of water - traversing the Strait of Messina from Calabria on mainland Italy to Sicily is one of them.


Our booking was for Trenitalia #723 heading to Siracusa, however, the train that arrived at Villa San Giovanni station with the exact same departure time was Trenitalia #721 heading to Palermo. No mention of #723 on any notice board - cue much confusion!!


It turned out that train #721 splits into two as it boards the ferry. The front four carriages remain as #721 and head to Palermo. The last four carriages become #723 and head to Siracusa.


We did not figure this out until the train was actually boarding the ferry but it was easy enough to move to the correct carriage when the train was split and secure on the ferry.


I just checked the Trenitalia schedule recently (August 21, 2023) and it is different again. Intercity #721 now goes to Siracusa and Intercity #723 to Palermo!!


Moral of the story - there is likely to be one train at Villa San Giovanni that will split into two as it boards the ferry. Make sure you are on the right train when you disembark!



The journey across the Strait takes about 30 minutes. Just enough time to grab a glass of wine, walk around the ferry, and get some sea air.



10 minutes before arrival into the port of Messina you are requested to take your seat (on the right train!) and get ready for your onward journey.


The journey from Messina to Siracusa takes 2 hours and 30 minutes and has six stops along the way, including Taormina-Giardini and Catania Centrale. At least half the passengers onboard disembarked at Taormina - the White Lotus effect.



Arriving into Syracuse by train is quite underwhelming.


The eastern coast of Sicily between Catania and Syracuse is unexpectedly industrial with refineries, energy plants, and factories hugging the coast and the railway line. One minute you're looking at business parks and the next you are pulling into the non descript station of a 2,700-year-old city that played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.


€23.90 Euros per ticket for this adventure was a bargain!!



 

Reflections


The trip described above covered approximately 2,900 km (1,800 miles) and all but 470km (290 miles) was by train (most of it on the European high-speed network).


The railway system is Europe's greatest travel infrastructure asset and will play a crucial role as one part of the strategy to transition away from the Internal Combustion Engine.


The convenience of a city centre departure, no check in lines, no luggage limits, and plenty room to stretch is a winning combination for many classes of travelers. Train travel may not be so attractive for parents with small children or those with mobility challenges.


With the luxury of having some time on our hands, travelling by train added an enormous sense of adventure, glamour and perspective to our trip. We found all the trains we took to be easy to book, comfortable, reliable, rapid, and economical.


We will, where possible, use trains for our future travels in Europe.











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