Back on track with Italo Treno
Thank you, Agatha Christie, Billy Wilder, George Gilbert Scott, Ulisse Stacchini, Reed & Stem, Warren & Wetmore, Santiago Calatrava, and The Railway Children. I love trains, train stations like Milano Centrale and Florence’s Santa Maria Novella and train rides. Whether an overnighter or an early morning, trains are far more comfortable than a car and far more elegant than an airplane. Call me romantic but I prefer the sixteen hour Rome-Paris voyage to the two hour flight . . . And happily, Rome is rail central, a hub where high speed trains like Italo (Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori NTV), and Treno Italia’s Le Frecce, regional trains and city trams all converge .
A more stylish high speed train
When Italo launched in 2012 from the other side of the tracks, Trenitalia (Italy’s state train and subsidiary of Ferrovia dello Stato) was not happy. Who would be? Italo brought game – a brand new look with super sleek lines, a needle nose and a gorgeous blood red hue. They weren’t just riding Italy to the future, they were the future. .. . And they had style power thanks to its quartet of owners/business titans – including Ferrari Chairman Luca Montezemolo and Tod’s Diego della Valle.
From the moment I stepped on the binario (platform), I was mesmerised by its design, and easily fell for Italo’s chromatic palette that defined each carozza (car). Smarmy orange in Smart, royal blue in Prima and that buttery, tawny yellow in Business. talo teamed up with Poltrona Frau to create comfortable and beautiful hued seats for its Prima, First and Business classes and Italy to create a gorgeous and stylish privately owned and run railway designed make train travel more affordable, efficient and easy. It did far more.
Did Italo TreniItalia off the tracks? No, Italo has simply levelled the playing field and upped the ante in style, comfort, connectivity (yes, wifi) and ease of traveling. More trains, more lines, more competitive ticket prices which some say contributed to the downfall of Alitalia. And let’s be serious Italo has coloured train travel with a hi-tech tint. By that I mean both Italo and Trenitalia have easy-to-navigate-and-buy-tickets websites, awesome apps where you can change your ticket almost up to the minute before travel, and in-station super cute little assistance booths where actual humans who listen to your requests. Imagine that.
We all know that train travel in Italy is easy and fun, and lately, it’s elegant no matter where you sit. But I do have a preference: Italo and in particular, the Salotto, a private business cabin for four. It reminds me of an old fashioned first class couchette redesigned for a 21st century tiny home theatre – reclining leather couches, closed doors and white glove service. While it is supposed to be for business persons who want to have private meetings, I think it’s perfect for friends, family and me.
And to make things even more satisfying for those of us who enjoy a good train station, several of the larger and midsized train stations including Rome’s Termini, Milano Centrale, Bologna Centrale and even Padova, have great train lounges. Yep, just what you are thinking – a place to hang out somewhat privately, enjoy a free drink and watch the trains go by. If you purchased a business ticket with Italo, make sure to check out the Casa Italo lounge. You’ll thank me.
Train travel has always been part of me ever since my mother took me and my sisters to Manhattan on the Northeast Direct. Everything about it was a dream- from the downward escalators and the velvet rope, to the conductor punching our ticket. From that day, I was the self-appointed spokesperson for train travel. I’d brag about growing up in and out of Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, racking in kilometres on Ferrovia dello Stato’s kilometric pass, and spending hours in Fascist-era train stations while waiting to catch the next inter-city or regional rail. And I brought the love to my own family who will never forget to tell me how I forced them on a train to Palermo one very hot August night only to get in the right cabin on the wrong day.
I think I am still that spokesperson though my stories are less about the actual ride – almost always beautiful and definitely an adventure – and more about the art of train travel. I can wax poetic on folding beds, tiny restaurant car receipts, and awesome conductors. Of course, it was easy to fall in love with Italo because the rough-and-tumble rides of my youth have given way to an elegance that almost seems yesteryear. Next stop: Orient Express and Trans Siberian.
An earlier and very different version of this article appeared in Huffington Post.