Italy is using part of its multi-billion euro Covid recovery fund to speed up transport services. While most of that will be on high-speed lines, nearly half a billion euros will be spent reopening train lines to more remote villages, including bringing steam engines back to tourist lines. It all adds up to a significant boost for those looking for a new life, or a holiday home in Italy, whether in the cities or the countryside. 

Already famous for its historic buildings and culture, Italy’s excellent rail network connects all of the top destinations. But did you know that it’s possible to enjoy views of the countryside and villages at a leisurely pace from a steam train too?

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As part of Italy’s recovery plan, €6.7 billion is to be invested in Italian cultural attractions. €435 million of that is earmarked for historic trains and paths. “Culture will guide the restart of the country” said Minister Dario Franceschini, recognising that “the strengthening of historic railway lines, paths and cultural itineraries will be fundamental for the development and enhancement of internal areas”.

This comes on top of President Macron’s promise to reopen dozens of sleeper services through France, offering the tantalising prospect of travelling to your Italian home in considerably more style than a budget airline flight!

Discover historic villages

By developing the tourist offering on historic railway lines, visitors will be transported to lesser-known destinations in the Italian countryside. Here they will discover the extraordinary beauty of cultural events, local cuisine and beautiful landscapes. Property owners in these villages will benefit from the increase in tourism that the historic train journeys will bring.

Themed train journeys

The “F.T.I. – Ferrovie Turistiche Italiane” association organizes special trips on steam trains, to local events and festivals. One of these events is the Treno del Torrone (Train of the Torrone) that takes passengers to the famous Torrone Festival in Cremona. There are many themed trips to enjoy, often showcasing local produce.

Milan Central Station (Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com)

Train and cycle tourism

To widen the tourist potential and encourage sustainable travel, historic trains also offer luggage compartments for the transport of bicycles. A slow train journey combined with road cycling will offer special holiday experiences at a slower pace. Allowing time to fully appreciate the scenery.

Reopening the steam train journeys

Fondazione FS Italiane looks after and manages the Italian State Railways’ vast historic heritage. Founded in 2013, it oversees a fleet of over 400 pieces of historic rolling stock, around 150 of which are in full working order. It also oversees the archives and libraries at Pietrarsa and Trieste Campo Marzio Museums.

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They have been involved in reopening many tourist routes along lines, that were once abandoned. You can find suggested steam train journeys on the FS Italiane website along with times and booking information for those lines that are currently open. In the coming years they hope to increase the train journeys on offer.

Railway museums

The Italian railway museums are also to receive funding to continue their good work. The National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa is home to one of the most important railway museums in Europe. It is located between Naples and the towns of Portici and San Giorgio a Cremano. The complex is in a superb location between the sea and the Pietrarsa-San Giorgio a Cremano railway station. You can travel there from Naples central station on the “The Pietrarsa Express”.

In north east Italy, The Trieste Campo Marzio Railway Museum is located in Trieste. Specialising in rail and tram transportation, the museum is housed in Trieste Campo Marzio railway station.

Train journeys by steam locomotive

Watching a large steam locomotive puffing into the station and connecting the carriages is like stepping back in time. The sound, the smells, the atmosphere, once enjoyed by our grandparents, is brought to life. Some platforms even have a band playing. As you open one of the many doors, all down the side of the carriage, you will feel the same excitement your ancestors felt when taking their first train journey on holiday.

As the train chugs and rocks through the countryside, you can fully relax and gaze dreamily out of the window. The breath-taking scenery will flow by at a leisurely pace, allowing time to spot animals in the fields, birds in flight, rivers and hill top villages.

Popular routes

Italian tourism websites have very little information about where you can see steam locomotives. As historic railway lines tend to be run by volunteers, they are often only open in the summer, at weekends or just for themed trips. With the extra government funding, however, they will become more well known and more historic railway lines will open.

However, I have discovered six wonderful historic railway lines to look out for on your next trip to Italy. Maybe one of them will transport you to your dream home. Many historic railway lines use steam trains, and some use historic trains from other time periods.

Lombardy – Camuna Tourist Railway

The Camuna Tourist Railway offers splendid views along 103 km (64 miles) of track. The train departs from the city of Brescia and arrives at the foot of the Adamello peak and Lake Iseo. Travelling along the Camonica Valley it reaches the village of Edolo.

Aviolo Lake, near Edolo, Lombardy

 

Edolo is the gateway to the upper valley and the mountains. It is a pretty village with less than 5,000 inhabitants. Despite the small population the village offers good services such as a hospital, restaurants, a cinema , an indoor swimming pool , a climbing wall and clay tennis courts. Walks along the Oglio river and the Ogliolo stream are just some of the attractions offered by the town.

The streets of the historic centre have medieval buildings and fine houses with heavy wooden doors and stone surrounds. You will see wooden loggias and Romanesque decorations. During the winter there is a ski bus service that allows skiers to comfortably reach the slopes of the Pontedilegno-Tonale area. Two-bedroom apartments cost from €58,000, and you can find houses needing renovation.

Lombardy to Sebino Express

Starting at Milano Centrale the Sebino Express steam train takes you between green countryside and the blue of Lake Iseo. Heading towards the vineyards of Franciacorta, it passes through Treviglio and Bergamo. After arriving at Paratico railway station it’s just a short walk cross the bridge to Sarnico.

Paratico is located in the province of Brescia at the southern end of Lake Iseo. It is part of the hilly area called Franciacorta and is home to less than 5,000 people. One-bedroom apartments start at €60,000. Two-bedroom town houses from €137,000.

The area attracts many tourists, thanks mainly to the watersports available on Lake Iseo. It’s also a great base to set off on walking trails through the hills, along the lakeside and through the town. For those who prefer pedal power there there are various cycle-touristic itineraries that cross Franciacorta reaching the gates of the city of Brescia, along Lake Iseo or the Oglio Park.

Lombardy to Laveno Express

Starting from Milano Centrale, the steam locomotive heads towards the cities of Laveno and Mombello on the shores of Lake Maggiore. The locomotive, pulls 1930s “Centoporte” carriages, a style of carriage with a high number of doors distributed along the entire length of the sides. Once at their destination, the cities of Laveno – Mombello offer amazing views of Lake Maggiore.

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Laveno-Monbello located about 75 kilometres northwest of Milan and about 25 kilometres northwest of Varese, has a population of 8,991. In the area you can enjoy boat trips, cycling and hiking. Next to the small boat mooring you catch a car ferry across to Intra. Highlight include the bucket like cable ride up the mountain to see spectacular views of Lake Maggiore and strolls along the waters edge. Lake view apartments cost from €260,000. Houses nearby start at €220,000.

Abruzzo to Molise

The wild landscape of mountains, gorges and forests, along with tastings of local products will take you on a journey back in time. This route, known as the Trans-Siberian of Italy, starts from Sulmona station at 328 metres and climbs up to mountain villages such as Peligna, Campo di Giove, Roccaraso, Carovilli and finally Carpinone, crossing the Majella National Park.

Majella National Park

The Rivisondoli-Pescocostanzo station is the highest at 1,268 metres above sea level. Although the original steam locomotive has been replaced by a diesel engine, the magic of the journey remains unchanged in the beautiful antique carriages.

Carpinone is a hill top village with an 11th century castle. It has narrow cobbled alleyways that retain their medieval appearance, with some buildings in need of restoration. Capinone is located in the region of Molise and has a little over one thousand inhabitants. The area boasts a beautiful waterfall and stunning scenery. An apartment in Carpinone can cost as little as €33,000 and houses from €52,000.

Tuscany – Val D’Orcia steam train

The Val D’Orcia steam train takes passengers across a landscape so unique it is recognised by Unesco. Running from Grosseto to Monte Antico and Asciano Monte Oliveto Maggiore, it passes fields and cypress trees, olive groves and vineyards, grazing animals and historic villages. Also known as the “Nature Train” (Treno Natura) you can get off at a number of stations and go hiking, cycling, taste local food and wine, and visit markets and festivals. A typical full day trip leaves at 9.10am and arrives back at Grosseto in the evening.

One of Tuscany’s branch lines

Asciano is located some 30 kilometres southeast of the town of Siena by rail in a popular area called Crete Senesi. This small town has a population of just over seven thousand. Residential areas are nicely spread and you’ll find all the amenities you need with some good restaurants. Two-bedroom apartments in the historic centre cost around €120,000. However, it is the countryside that is the real highlight of the area and you can buy large farmhouses, some needing restoration, from €450,000.

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Next to the 11th century church of Asciano, works of art by painters of the Sienese school of the 14th and 15th centuries are exhibited in the Museo d’Arte Sacra. In the area you can see the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. This is where you will find those country roads lined with cypress trees, providing that ideal picture of Tuscany. At the beginning of December, in the streets of the village of Asciano is the White Truffle Market, the local truffles being prized around the world.

Campania – Archeotreno

For a unique experience travel to Italy’s most famous archaeological sites on a historic train. Starting from Naples, you can travel to Herculaneum, Pompeii, Paestum, Ascea, Salerno, Pontecagnano and Sapri. A steam train alternates with a train from the 1950s, each pulling old fashion carriages. The route of the historic train winds along the Vesuvian coast: on the left you can admire the volcano that dominates the surrounding landscape, while on the right you will have an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Naples.

The site of Paestum is famous for the Doric temples which testify to its Greek origin: the city dates back to 550-450BC. The Greeks called it Poseidonia, later the Romans later gave it the current name of Paestum. Today you can see the imposing remains of the temples, but also of the amphitheatre, the town and the walls that surrounded it.

The Temple of Hera at Paestum

 

Paestum is located in a lovely countryside location and a short distance from the seaside holiday village of Licinella-Torre di Paestum.  Here you can combine days on the beach with visits to historic sites. Town houses and apartments a short walk through trees to the sandy beach cost from €123,000.

The station master has blown his whistle and there is a light at the end of tunnel. Could it be the train that will take you to your new home in Italy? There are many beautiful Italian villages you can reached by train.

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