See the cities of Italy in a day – for less than £50
I’ve been making lengthy trips out to the continent from my home of Liverpool for the past 10 years or so.
The rent here is cheap, as are most of the amenities. It’s rather paradoxical, then, that I’ve somehow grown more money conscious over the years.
I’ve learnt a few money-saving tips over the years, in order to make my frequent trips to Europe a little more affordable. They range from the classic: book flights around two months in advance and never fly on a Friday or in the afternoon; to the more obscure: I find cheap parking at Liverpool Airport two weeks before I fly, for extra piece of mind whilst I’m away. Beyond these little rituals, I’ve learnt a few exceptions to the rules, when it comes to travelling by rail on the continent.
Many experienced Inter-Railers will swear by the pass that they use to save money on long-distance European rail trips, but you shouldn’t listen to them when looking to see Italy by rail. This is a country whose rail system has improved immeasurably over the years but whose Government have stubbornly refused to raise the prices, to the benefit of both travellers and natives alike. As such, travelling through this vaguely mystifying country by rail is fantastic value for money (especially in comparison to our extortionate ticket prices here in the UK).
Flights to Milan, booked well in advance, can be as cheap as £45. A slow train from Italy’s fashion conscious Financial capital, to rough’n’ready Naples, sets you back around the same price. Taking you on a lazily scenic tour of Italy’s tourist cities, across around 800km in a cool 4 hrs and a half, this trip allows you to truly appreciate the North-South divide that the country exhibits so effusively.
You start the journey by drifting out of Milan. Winding through fields; passing small towns and villages at a sedate pace (if you choose to take the cheaper slow train), the landscape could not be described as dramatic. This offers a fine opportunity to get lost in a short book, or perhaps a collection of stories from a legendary travel writer. Henry James’ collection of essays, Italian Hours, can fill your mind with a vision of a very different Italy, from over a century ago.
By the time you’ve reached Bologna, you have the option of jumping out and grabbing a quick lunch. Pasta in this region is particularly good, however if you were wise and packed a robust lunch with you, feel free to carry on your journey through to Florence.
Put the book down for this portion of the journey and switch to some Classical music, or even opera. It might sound like a cliché, but a selection of Pavarotti’s finest performances perfectly fit the scenic route through the forest laden landscapes and vistas. Whilst you cross bridges and edge through hills, take the opportunity to enjoy the peace and serenity before you arrive at one of Italy’s busiest tourist destinations.
If you’ve not visited Florence before, then you should really hop out and take a walk around this bustling town, noted for being one of the most beautiful in the whole of Italy. Although the wealth of art galleries and cultural sights demand a longer visit, unless you stay in a decent hotel (which could set you back a rather serious amount of money) you’ll be forced into one of the many costly and rowdy hostels. If this is the case, you’ll be looking forward to a night of heavy drinking, loud dormmates and endless ‘where are you from’ conversations.
Otherwise, set off from the city in the early evening and wind your way down to Naples. This is a pleasant journey that will take you around 1 hour and 20 minutes, sitting on the left hand side of the train to get the best view of the surrounding countryside. You’ll pass through no fewer than three separate areas of outstanding beauty; National Reserves, Parks and Lakes will all be laid out in front of you on a clear day – the perfect time to sit back and let your mind wander.
Rome is a city that demands to be visited at least once in your life – however you would be forgiven if you gave it a miss on this whistle-stop tour. Accommodation is almost always overpriced and during peak season it can be a nightmare making it through the crammed streets and piazza. Skip the Colosseum for now and stay on the train to benefit from the cheap thrills lying in wait in Naples.
The last leg of your Italian train-tour will fly by, quite literally. High-speed rail links have been invested in across the country; make up some time by catching one of these and travelling the 200-plus km trip in just over an hour. The plains and hills might be whizzing by too quickly to truly appreciate, but you may as well take this time to enjoy the super-clean environs of the train you’re on – things are about to get messy.
Alighting in Naples you’ll notice that the town exists in a state of disrepair. The concentration of organised crime – in the form of extortion and corruption – is known to be of a much higher concentration in the southern regions of Italy; resulting in, rather stereotypically, a constant backlog in waste disposal. Unemployment is high here and some citizens exhibit a flagrant disregard for their own heritage: even the statues in the centre of plazas are not safe from graffiti artists.
Despite all this, you’ll be relieved to hear that the chances of travellers being affected by street crime is relatively low. It does pay to be cautious of pickpockets and bag snatchers, but the same could be said for any part of Italy. For the most part, Naples’ citizens are friendly and helpful, even if they struggle with the English language even more that the rest of the country. Thankfully, the excellent range of hostels employ fluent English speakers who are more than happy to help you out. Prices for beds are as cheap as they get and you’ll find the best pizza in Italy in the city that popularised the stuff.
Before you fly back home, you should find time for one last train journey.
The 40 minute trip will take you South, past Mount Vesuvius, and drop you right outside Pompeii. You’re given a decent amount of freedom to explore this town, so you can spend the waning hours of the evening wandering the deserted alleys of a forgotten town, before heading back to the streets of Naples for a well deserved beer in one of the many relaxed bars.