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Italy at high speed

Ute Junker rails it to Rome and beyond, taking in the scenic landscape, and finds out why train travel can be the better, faster option than flying between cities.

The Italo is a sexy train. Even if you’re not a trainspotter, you have to admire its streamlined shape and its glossy dark red exterior. There are luxurious leather seats in first class, and free Wi-Fi throughout the train. It’s no surprise to learn that this train was designed by Ferrari, a company that knows something about travelling at speed.

When we first climb aboard the Italo in Milan, our only disappointment is that we’re not going to be on board for long. Travelling at speeds of up to 300km an hour, the trip to Rome – halfway across the country – takes just three and a half hours.

Italy’s high-speed train network is one of its best-kept secrets. The Italians launched their first high-speed train service (Rome to Florence) back in 1977, well before the French launched their famous TGV. Today, all the major cities are connected by the high-speed service. Here are some of our favourite Italian journeys. Sign up for one, or link them together and see more of Italy, sooner.

Venice to Milan

They are separated by a train trip of just two hours and 20 minutes, but it would be hard to find two cities in Italy more dissimilar. Even with tourists whirling through her streets, Venice still lives up to her old nickname, La Serenissima, “The Most Serene”. The palazzos stand as they have stood for centuries; the waters lap eternally at the moorings; and the complete absence of cars remains an everyday miracle.

Make the most of Venice’s uniqueness by exploring the quieter neighbourhoods, such as Cannaregio, or see Venice from its best angle – from the water – with an exhilarating kayak tour with Venice Kayak. The place to stay remains the famous Cipriani hotel: if your budget doesn’t stretch to a room there, make a dinner booking at Cip’s Club for the best view in town.

There’s nothing serene about Milan. This bold, bustling city is all about landing the next deal, and looking good while you’re doing it. Milan may not be as beautiful as Venice, but it has plenty of sights worth seeing, including the magnificent cathedral, or Duomo,
and da Vinci’s famous Last Supper.

Milan’s most entertaining sights are to be found along the streets of the Quadrilatero d’Oro, or Golden Square. This is Milan’s fashion HQ, and the outfits you’ll see on the passersby rival what’s on display in the high-end boutiques.

There’s more style on show during aperitivo hour, Milan’s ritual after-work drinks. The city’s bars offer often lavish spreads of nibblies for locals and visitors who stop in for a prosecco or two –a superbly civilised way to finish the day.

Milan to Rome

The streets of Rome were made for walking. Once you’ve seen the big sights – the Colosseum and the Vatican, the Forum and the magnificent Capitoline Museums and Borghese Gallery – you’re free to explore Rome the way it’s meant to be explored: at random.

Browse through the artisan ateliers that line the cobblestoned streets of Monti. Duck into churches at random, and discover hidden highlights, from gory frescoes of martyrs to subterranean Roman ruins. Savour the high-brow elegance of the Quirinale, or lose yourself in the boutiques and bars below the Campo de Fiori. It’s all on offer.

Rome to Florence

The first high-speed train route remains one of the quickest: just 90 minutes separates these rival cities. Florence hates being overshadowed by Rome, pointing proudly to its role as the cradle of the Renaissance and to its magnificent collection of masterpieces by Michelangelo, Botticelli and da Vinci.

The city remains much smaller than Rome, but that’s part of its charm. The Duomo dominates the city in a way that no single Roman building can, and with its red rooftops, its tangled streets, and the Ponte Vecchio arching over the Arno, Florence has an intimacy that Rome lacks.


Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore at sunrise. Florence, Italy

Rome to Naples

The Rome to Florence route is one of Italy’s busiest, but few tourists take the 90 minute journey from Rome south to Naples. The city’s reputation for crime (overrated) and its superficial grittiness overshadow the beauties of this city, where visitors are welcomed with open arms.

This being Italy, there are of course churches – from the opulence of San Domenico Maggiore to the medieval austerity of Santa Chiara. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter one of the frequent religious processions, a fantastic form of street theatre. Revive yourself with a pizza – yes, they really do taste better here, in the city where they were invented – before losing yourself in the warren of streets in the heart of the old city. Enjoy a coffee in the grand Caffé Gambrinus before taking a scenic stroll by the bay, where Vesuvius offers a picturesque backdrop.

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