Grappling With Climate Change and Overtourism, Italy Is Betting Big on Train Travel

New rail routes will help throngs of tourists get around the country in a sustainable way

Train exterior
The new Orient Express La Dolce Vita train, which is set to launch next year, is one part of Italy's new train tourism strategy. Accor

Italy has announced a host of new trains designed primarily for tourists—who are swarming the country in increasingly unmanageable numbers.

The project will introduce trains that carry visitors to “well-known destinations and destinations outside the classic circuits” alike, according to a statement from Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane (FS), Italy’s state-owned railway operator, per Google Translate.

The goal is to promote rail travel that will help passengers rediscover the “riches of the Italian territory,” per the statement. The idea is that the train journey itself should be a key part of vacationers’ experience.

Italy has long struggled with overtourism. Just this week, for instance, UNESCO even recommended adding Venice to its List of World Heritage in Danger. Overall, the number of travelers will probably only increase with time. By one estimate, Italy is already the fifth most-visited nation in the world, with roughly 56 million international tourists visiting in 2022 alone. This year, that number could reach 75 million, according to FS.

As train travel becomes increasingly popular, many of those visitors may want to explore the country by rail. For every €1 (about $1.09) they spend on train travel, Italian officials estimate they’ll spend an additional €1.50 to €3.18 (about $1.64 to $3.48) on other items in the region they’re visiting. That “multiplier effect” will help spur economic growth for “internal areas” of Italy, per the statement.

The new tourist initiative has three tiers: luxury trains, express and historic trains, and regional trains.

The luxury offerings will largely be centered around the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita train, which is launching next year, and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which is already in service.

For the express and historic train category, Italy plans to introduce new routes, including trains that will run at night, as well as those that connect popular tourist attractions and cities throughout the country. For instance, one route might take travelers from Milan to the Ligurian and Tuscan coasts, reports CNN’s Julia Buckley, while another might depart from Rome and head toward the Ionian coast.

The express trains will be refurbished cars from the 1980s and 1990s. Some will become sleeping cars, while others will be transformed into dining cars; still others will be able to carry outdoor recreation gear, like skis and bicycles. 

CNN reports that the new initiative will also feature “cruise trains” designed to ferry travelers around for short getaways, such as a weekend trip from Rome to the Cortina d’Ampezzo ski resort in the Dolomites.

The historic trains, meanwhile, will come from a collection of “more than 400 historic and protected vehicles,” according to Travel + Leisure’s Rachel Chang. Tourists will also be able to book activities and excursions, such as tastings and guided tours, along the way.

The third tier, regional trains, will consist largely of slower, more affordable options. FS says that these trains will run on routes connecting “villages and areas of scenic and naturalistic interest, distinguished by peculiar food and wine traditions and agribusiness.”

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