When I spotted an advert for a choral singing holiday in Italy, my first thought was, “Oh, that looks good!”
I've been on quite a few singing holidays both in the UK and abroad, and I welcome the opportunity to do more with like-minded people.
My second thought was, “Can I combine this with a holiday with my partner? And can we do it by rail?”
We have been taking the train to France for many years as neither of us has flown for a long time. But while France is easily accessible in a day, Italy takes more planning and determination.
Out of the two of us, I am the less enthusiastic about long-distance rail travel – I do love it, but was daunted by the prospect of spending two days on a train. Phil is an eco architect and has decided that it would be hypocritical to fly, whereas I had to have a good talk with myself to avoid just waving him goodbye and taking the plane. But Phil was willing to share this adventure with me, so the spreadsheet was started.
From York, we travelled to Paris where we stayed overnight at a hotel near Gare de Lyon, then caught an early high-speed train the next morning to Turin. Onwards from Turin it was much slower, with quite a few stops, but the train follows the coastline so there were glorious views of a sun-speckled sea and the Cinque Terre seaside towns. It was a very long day, so next time I would stay overnight in Turin to get the majority of travel out of the way on day one.
The train follows the coastline so there were glorious views of a sun-speckled sea and the Cinque Terre seaside towns
The choral retreat was in Montecatini Terme, a spa town in Tuscany. Most of the other people came by plane (they were from all over Europe, US and Canada), though at least two other people came from the UK by train, and one from Norway, for similar reasons to us. Phil spent time walking and exploring while I was on the course, then we had a further week in Montecatini for our holiday.
We took some very cheap day trips by train: £5 each to Florence (horribly crowded), Lucca (lovely and not too crowded) and Pistoia (very lovely and not crowded at all) and did some walking, bird spotting (LOTS of egrets!) and weird-building-exploring. The hotel had a pool with lots of seating, so we relaxed with books and endless games of Yanif.
On the return trip we decided on two nights in Turin, finding a cheap hotel (Hotel Torino) across the road from Porta Susa which was our departure station. Not being city people, we were a bit worried about being there, but it turned out to be immensely enjoyable. The wide streets with covered walkways made walking in the heat quite bearable, and the integrated transport system made getting further afield very easy. A three euro ticket gets you all-day travel on the buses, metro and trams (though the metro was closed for work).
Other than walking and looking at the many wonderful buildings, we went to the Egyptian Museum, which was enthralling and kept us open-mouthed for three or four hours, and to the Fiat Factory in Lingotto which satisfies the car enthusiast, the architecture enthusiast and the plant enthusiast – the roof still has the old track where they tested the cars, and has now been made into a long garden of heat tolerant plants which are useful to study in these days of climate change.
The train departed Turin at 07.30, bang on time, and the first part of the journey was relatively slow as we edged around the foothills of the Alps. You can do this on a sleeper train but you would miss some wonderful scenery!
After that, it speeds up, reaching speeds of 300 kmph, arriving in Paris for lunchtime. The train was running a bit late by this time so we only had time to grab a sandwich before heading to the Metro to transfer from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord. It’s only two stops but quite a distance between the two stations, so allow plenty of time as the trains are not that frequent. Boarding Eurostar and going through immigration seemed very much easier this year, with more help around and less of a sense of controlled panic.
We could have been home in York by 19.30 but, due to a technical hitch with the Booking Officer (me) who misread the timetable, we actually got back home at 21.30. The sun set in a dramatic and wide open sky, which reminded us how much we still like the UK, even though it had barely stopped raining while we were away.
It is much more pleasant, and much less stressful than flying. Local trains in Italy are cheap, so do take advantage and get around.
It’s a long journey, and it’s more expensive than flying. Booking early keeps the prices lower but it’s still a lot. Travel by train shouldn’t be this much – we are the ones saving the planet after all! In terms of distance, the most expensive bits are UK and Eurostar. But it is much more pleasant, and much less stressful. Local trains in Italy are cheap cheap cheap, so do take advantage and get around. No need to pre-book.
I’m hoping to go again next year. Now that I’ve sorted out the wrinkles, I will definitely choose to let the train take the strain again.
Even though the two-day journey seemed a bit daunting, the journey was broken into manageable parts and the scenery in Italy was fascinating. Being worried that I might not understand the Italian instructions, I did four months on Duolingo, but on all the Italian trains, apart from the last very local train, the announcements were in both Italian and English!
- Paris (stay overnight)
- Montecatini Terme
- Montecatini Terme
- Turin (stay overnight)
Cost: £1457 for two
We found out afterwards that if we had bought Interrail tickets we could have done the whole journey for £750 between us, which is competitive with the flights. We were put off by the perception of them being for young people doing extensive travel, and also having to book seats on the long distance trains which sometimes cost extra. We would definitely do this next time though, as it works out much cheaper.