THE RAIL ITINERARY OF THE MONTH – Achievable in 24 hours and for a minimum of one hundred euros, this 1700 km journey takes you from the north to the south of Italy while you sleep. With, in the end, a surprising arrival aboard a “railway ferry”.
Talking about his next rail journey from Paris to Sicily is to raise an avalanche of questions. “But how can we get there traineven though it’s an island?!“, we wonder. We are then surprised to learn that to connect the continent to the largest Italian island, the train does not take a bridge or a tunnel, but crosses a strait inside a ferry (you will understand later) . Another question concerns travel time. Such a trip can be done in 24 hours by the quickest route involving a change in Milan and Rome, or in 32 hours with a single connection in Milan. As for the price, it is surprising that such a long journey (1700 km) is feasible for just over 100 euros only – provided you anticipate.
The journey passes all the more quickly as it can be done partly during sleep time. Italy is one of the few European countries to have maintained a fairly well-developed night train offer. Intercity Nottes cross the Boot from north to south, from Turin to Calabria, from Rome to Puglia or from Milan to Sicily. Sicily, more precisely Syracuse, is precisely the objective of our journey.
Which route to take?
Since December 2021, Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa high-speed trains have provided two daily round trips between Paris Gare de Lyon and Milan-Centrale. They stop at Lyon Part-Dieu, Chambéry, Modane, Bardonecchia and Turin. On board, three classes of comfort: Standard, Business and Executive. A snack and beverages are offered in Business, while Executive travelers enjoy premium service similar to airline business class, with all-you-can-eat meals included. The ideal is to take the Frecciarossa n°9281 which leaves Paris around 7.30am to arrive in Milan around 2pm. This way, you will have an afternoon to visit Milan before boarding the next train.
The connection is also provided three times a day by SNCF TGVs. Note that the latter make their terminus at Milan-Porta Garibaldi, while Trenitalia trains stop at the main station (Milan-Centrale), located a 30-minute walk away.
- From Milan to Sicily (Palermo, Catania or Syracuse)
Under the monumental steel arches of the Milan-Centrale station, the departure of the Intercity Notte n°1963 is given every evening at 8:10 p.m. Direction Palermo and Syracuse for a journey of 1000 km from north to south of La Botte. To travel in the best conditions during this journey of nearly 20 hours, it is preferable to opt for a Vagone Letto Deluxe cabin or – even more comfortable – an Excelsior which has a private shower and toilet. Shortly after departure, the staff goes into the cabins to serve water, a snack and toiletries. A small bottle of prosecco is also offered to passengers in Excelsior cabins.
The cabins and sleeping compartments have individual sockets and reading lights, a sound and temperature regulator and a call button to request a flight attendant. Upon awakening, at the desired time, a light breakfast (included in the ticket for all passengers) is served instead with the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. On our tray, a coffee, a fruit juice, a crostata, rusks and jams.
Once in Calabria, the train runs almost continuously along the wild coastline until it arrives at Villa San Giovanni, the last mainland station of our train. Here begins the most surprising part of the journey. To cross the 3 km that separate the mainland from Sicily, the train enters inside a “railway ferry” in the colors of Trenitalia. If tunnel or bridge projects have been mentioned for decades, none have materialized. This is one of the rare cases in the world where we are both on the rails and on the sea! This crossing of less than 30 minutes is an opportunity to get some fresh air on the upper deck before starting the last part of the journey.
Once the Strait of Messina has been crossed, part of the train heads towards Palermo to the west, passing in particular through Cefalù. The other part heads south through Taormina and Catania to its Syracuse terminus. This is where our night train ends its run at 3:48 p.m. In any case, the view is breathtaking, regardless of the window through which you look: on one side, the clear waters of the Mediterranean that the train sometimes brushes a few meters away; on the other, a panorama of Etna, the highest and most active volcano in Europe.
Our advices. This train has neither a bar nor a restaurant, which is unfortunate given the length of the journey. There is a good offer of snacks, but it boils down to savory and sweet snacks. We will therefore remember to stock up before boarding.
If the 4G works well on a large part of the journey, impossible to capture once past the Salerno station. And since the train does not have Wi-Fi, expect several hours of disconnection. But we will console ourselves by watching the wild coasts of Calabria pass through the window.
Want to continue your roaming beyond Sicily? Ferries allow you to reach the Aeolian Islands. The fastest crossings are from Milazzo, near Messina: allow 45 minutes for Vulcano or 2h30 for Stromboli with Liberty Lines. Other countries are also accessible by sea. Malta (Valletta) the crossing takes 1h45 from Pozzallo with Virtu Ferries. For the Tunisia (port of Tunis), allow 10 hours from the port of Palermo with GNV or Grimaldi Lines.
What budget should you plan?
In pictures, our trip from Paris to Sicily by train
Such a journey is feasible for a hundred euros minimum. The Paris-Milan with Trenitalia is offered from €55 in Standard class, €83 in Business and €165 in Executive. Exchange is free until departure time, while cancellation is possible with a 20% charge. Tickets go on sale five months in advance.
Several comfort classes are also available in the Intercity Notte from Milan to Sicily. There berth in a four-seat shared compartment is available from €53.90 for an adult (at the “Super Economy” fare, neither exchangeable nor refundable), with the possibility of selecting a compartment reserved for women. In sleeping cars, the Vagone Letto Deluxe cabin privatized is offered at a minimum of €99.90 for single occupancy or €177.80 for double occupancy (at the “Economy” rate, exchangeable but non-refundable). There Excelsior cabin with a private shower and toilet, for its part, is available for a few euros more. Tickets go on sale three to four months in advance. Reductions of 20 to 60% are provided for groups of 3 to 5 people or families traveling with their children (“Insieme” rate).
These prices are “from”. To get the cheapest tickets, it is better to anticipate as much as possible and favor a departure in the middle of the week outside of peak periods. Suffice to say that if you are planning such a trip this summer, the prices you will find will be two to three times higher. But if you can leave in September, then the trip is quite feasible for 120 € minimum.
Two rail passes can save you money on this journey. THE Trenitalia Pass, reserved for foreign tourists, can be used on board night trains, as well as on Trenitalia’s Intercity and high-speed trains (Le Frecce). The principle ? You buy in advance a package of 3, 4, 7 or 10 trips that you use as you see fit, whatever the destination, distance, date and time of departure. Interrail is another good plan, but it should be noted that between Paris and Milan, it is valid only in the TGV of the SNCF (between 31 and 45 € according to the class) and not in the Frecciarossa of Trenitalia. In Italy, a reservation is compulsory for high-speed trains (€10 supplement) and night trains (between €3 and €122 depending on the class).
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How to book tickets?
The official Trenitalia website, translated into French, allows you to book the entire journey from Paris to Sicily within the same reservation. More generally, you can book trips between France (Paris, Lyon, Chambéry and Modane) and any station in Italy.
The rail route of the month
From the small picturesque line to the long journey through several countries, Le Figaro Voyage offers you an idea of a train itinerary every month. Check out our previous stories: