To evoke his next rail journey from Paris to Sicily is to raise an avalanche of questions. "But how can we go there by trainwhen it's an island?!" one wonders. One is surprised to learn that to connect the continent to the largest Italian island, the train does not use a bridge or a tunnel, but crosses a strait inside a ferry (you will understand later). Another question is travel time. Such a trip is achievable in 24 hours by the fastest 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 trip (1700 km) is achievable for just over 100 euros – provided you anticipate.
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The journey passes all the faster as it can be done in part on sleep time. Italy is one of the few European countries to have maintained a rather well-developed night train offer. The Intercity Notte crosses 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.
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Which route to take?
- Paris to Milan
Since December 2021, Trenitalia's Frecciarossa high-speed trains have been operating 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 comfort classes: Standard, Business and Executive. A snack and drinks are offered in Business, while Executive travelers enjoy premium service similar to airline business class, with unlimited meals included. The ideal is to take the Frecciarossa n°9281 which leaves Paris around 7:30 am to arrive in Milan around 14 pm. Thus, 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 terminate at Milan-Porta Garibaldi, while Trenitalia trains stop at the main station (Milan Centrale), located a 30-minute walk away.
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- From Milan to Sicily (Palermo, Catania or Syracuse)
Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily, is served by train. Here its ancient theater overlooking the sea overlooking the snow-capped peaks of Etna. Majonit - stock.adobe.com
Under the monumental steel arches of Milan Central Station, the departure of the Intercity Notte n°1963 is given every evening at 20:10. Direction Palermo and Syracuse for a journey of 1000 km from north to south of the Boot. To travel in the best conditions during this journey of nearly 20 hours, you can preferably opt for a Vagone Letto Deluxe cabin or - even more comfortable - an Excelsior that has a private shower and toilet. Shortly after departure, the staff goes into the cabins to serve water, a snack and a toiletries. A small bottle of prosecco is also offered to passengers in Excelsior cabins.
The cabins and sleeper 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 Corriere della Sera. On our tray, a coffee, a fruit juice, a crostata, rusks and jams.
On the ferry that connects Villa San Giovanni, Calabria, to Messina, Sicily, the train is divided into two parts. One will go to Palermo, in the west, the other in Catania and Syracuse, in the south. Jean-Marc De Jaeger / Le Figaro
Once in Calabria, the train runs almost continuously along the wild coastline until it arrives at Villa San Giovanni, the last continental 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. While tunnel or bridge projects have been talked about for decades, none have materialized. This is one of the rare cases in the world where you 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 is crossed, part of the train heads to Palermo in the west, including Cefalù. The other part heads south through Taormina and Catania to its terminus Syracuse. This is where our night train ends at 15:48 p.m. In any case, we take full view, no matter the window through which we 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 Mount Etna, the highest and most active volcano in Europe.
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Our advice. This train has neither a bar nor a restaurant, which is damaging considering the duration of the journey. A small catering offer is well proposed, but it boils down to salty and sweet snacks. We will therefore think about making his provisions before embarking.
If 4G works well on a large part of the journey, it is impossible to capture once past the Salerno station. And since the train doesn't have Wi-Fi, expect several hours of disconnection. But we will console ourselves by watching the wild coasts of Calabria scroll through the window.
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In a hurry to arrive? Go through Rome instead
It is also possible to take an overnight train from Rome. Two Intercity Notte trains connect the Italian capital to Sicily daily: n°1955, departure at 20:31, and n°1959, departure at 23:00... A preferred option if you want to arrive earlier at your destination, as these two trains serve Messina respectively around 5 am and 8 am, compared to 13 pm for the train that leaves from Milan. In this case, once in Milan, take a Frecciarossa to Rome (three hours, departure every 30 minutes).
- What's next?
Want to continue your roaming beyond Sicily? Ferries provide access to the Aeolian Islands. The quickest crossings are from Milazzo, near Messina: allow 45 minutes to Vulcano or 2h30 to Stromboli with Liberty Lines. Other countries are also accessible by sea. To Malta (Valletta) the crossing takes 1h45 from Pozzallo with Virtu Ferries. For Tunisia (port of Tunis), allow 10 hours from the port of Palermo with CNG or Grimaldi Lines.
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What budget should be provided?
In pictures, our journey from Paris to Sicily by train
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Such a journey is feasible for a hundred euros minimum. Paris-Milan with Trenitalia starts at €55 in Standard class, €83 in Business and €165 in Executive. The exchange is free until check-out time, while cancellation is possible with a 20% hold. Tickets go on sale five months in advance.
Several comfort classes are also available in the Intercity Notte from Milan to Sicily. The four-seater shared compartment berth is available from €53.90 for an adult (at the "Super Economy" rate, neither exchangeable nor refundable), with the possibility of selecting a compartment reserved for women. In the sleeping cars, the privatized Vagone Letto Deluxe cabin is offered at least €99.90 for single occupancy or €177.80 for double occupancy (at the "Economy" rate, exchangeable but non-refundable). The Excelsior cabin with private shower and toilet, meanwhile, is offered for a few euros more. Tickets go on sale between three and four months in advance. Discounts of 20 to 60% are provided for groups of 3 to 5 people or families travelling with their children ("Insieme" fare).
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These prices are "from". To get the cheapest tickets, it is better to anticipate as much as possible and favor a mid-week departure outside peak periods. Suffice to say that if you plan 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 journey is quite feasible for 120 € at least.
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, regardless of 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 € depending on the class) and not in the Frecciarossa of Trenitalia. In Italy, a reservation is required to use high-speed trains (extra €10) and night trains (between €3 and €122 depending on the class).
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How to book your tickets?
The official website of Trenitalia, 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 the France (Paris, Lyon, Chambéry and Modane) and any train station in Italy.
Rail Route of the Month
From the picturesque little line to the long journey through several countries, Le Figaro Voyage offers you every month an idea of itinerary to make by train. Find our previous stories:
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