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La Bella Vita: Italy's new rail routes and the best Christmas markets to visit

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
La Bella Vita: Italy's new rail routes and the best Christmas markets to visit
Milan's popular Christmas market is just one of the many across Italy this winter. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

From exploring lesser-known parts of Italy by train to visiting the most magical Christmas markets this winter, our weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

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La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox: go to newsletter preferences in 'My Account' or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

If you enjoy both skiing and travelling by sleeper train, you'll want to know about the new overnight rail service from Rome taking passengers directly to the famous ski resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo on Fridays.

This means you can finish work, catch the train from Termini, have dinner on board (and buy your ski passes at the same time), and wake up the next morning in the magical landscape of the Dolomites.

And if you've already visited Cortina, you can also take a bus from the train station there to other ski resorts in the area.

Tickets go on sale from this weekend for the first journeys, which start in mid-December and are to run every Friday evening throughout this winter. We've put the details available so far in the article below:

Italy to launch night train from Rome to Cortina d'Ampezzo in December

The Rome-Cortina rail link is just the first of many Treni Turistici Italiani, 'Italian tourist trains', which state railway company Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) is planning to run between Italy's major cities and coastal and mountain destinations from 2024.

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There's a train from Milan to the Ligurian coast in the works, as well as a line taking passengers from Rome to Reggio Calabria at the southern tip of the country, via the scenic route.

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These journeys would normally require changes, but as well as being a more convenient and enjoyable option intended to prolong your holiday (or weekend trip) the trains themselves are part of the experience, FS says, with the Rome-Cortina train for example made up of carriages decommissioned in the 1980s that have been renovated to modern standards.

Ski slopes in Italy's Dolomites will soon be easier to reach from Rome. Photo by Secret Travel Guide on Unsplash

The services are hoped to help more people to travel beyond Italy's major cities and best-known tour destinations, encouraging a more sustainable form of travel which supports local economies in lesser-visited areas.

The company also said it also plans to launch pricier luxury rail services, fronted by the Orient Express La Dolce Vita fleet of six trains with “deluxe cabins” and fine-dining restaurant cars, travelling across 14 Italian regions and crossing national borders to reach Paris, Istanbul or Split, Croatia.

Where Italy's new 'tourist trains' can take you in 2024

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And Italy might not be the country most associated with Christmas markets and winter wonderlands, but the country goes all out for the festive season, staging everything from giant nativity sets to dazzling light shows - and some pretty impressive markets, too.

Most of these are found in the north of the country, though plenty of smaller markets do exist in the south too. Most are opening in the next week or so, and unlike in some countries Italy's Christmas markets usually close a full week before Christmas, so you won't want to leave your visit until the last minute.

We've listed a few of our favourites below, but we'd love to hear about any others you'd recommend in the comments section below the article.

Italy's Christmas markets: Where and when to visit this festive season

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you'd like to see us write more about? Please email me at [email protected].

 

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