Off the beaten path: five Italian villages to visit by train

Lina Branter | 05/12/2018
train travel to Celafu, Sicily. Travel by train in Italy.
Celafu, Sicily

Italy is blessed with an excellent rail service that not only connects the big cities to each other, but also all the quaint, Italian villages along the way. Travelling by rail gives you the perfect opportunity to mix it up. Plan you Italy travel itinerary to include stops in some of Italy’s most spectacular off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Below are just a few examples of some of the amazing destinations that await you when take the train in Italy.

Vipiteno-Sterzing, South Tyrol

The northernmost village in Italy, the commune of Vipiteno-Sterzing dates back to 14 BC when Nero Claudius Drusus set up a military camp in that location. However, it was only in the middle ages that the town really came into its own with the opening of the nearby silver mines, owned by the prominent German banking family, the Fuggers. The town is dominated by the city’s emblem, the 150-foot tower erected in 1470. If you’re looking to visit a picture-perfect medieval village nestled among the mountains, look no further. Vipiteno is characterized by its colourful façades, beautifully preserved medieval architecture and surrounding natural beauty. Explore the historic buildings or take a hike in the mountains!

Getting there: Trains heading to Vipiteno-Sterzing leave several times a day from Milan or Venice and take about four to five hours from those major hubs.

Orta San Giulio, Piedmont

Since cars are banned in this lovely village, taking the train is your most practical option for visiting Orta San Giulio. Walk through the town’s winding streets and admire the colourful homes and their wrought iron balconies. Check out the Isola San Giulio, the little island that also falls within the town’s boundaries, and the Basilica di San Giulio. A must-see in the region is the Sacro Monte of Orta, a series of nine chapels and other architectural features depicting different aspects of the Christian faith. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, not only for the beauty of the architecture but for the artful manner in which it has been integrated into the natural landscape.

Getting there: Orta San Giulio is a two-hour train ride from Milan.

Vietri sul Mare, Campania

Known as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, as it marks the beginning of the coastal road, Vietri Sul Mare might also be the coast’s best kept secret. Just as beautiful as the more popular towns of Amalfi and Positano, Vietri sul Mare does not rely on tourist dollars for survival, but on fishing and ceramics. The little town has a reputation for polychrome ceramics dating back to at least the 15th Century. Wander through the narrow streets that branch off from the main church, the Neapolitan Renaissance Church of Saint John the Baptist, and gawk in wonder at all the colourful shops selling some of the most amazing ceramics in the world.

Getting there: An easy train ride of a few minutes from the town of Salerno, Vietri sul Mare is one of the more accessible villages on the Coast.

Buonconvento, Tuscany

Tired of the hustle and bustle of Florence and Siena? Why not take a trip to the walled town of Buonconvento, which roughly translated from the Latin means, “happy place”. First mentioned in 1100, touring the streets of this Italian city feels like going back in time to the Middle Ages. Just 46 miles south of Florence and 15 miles southeast of Siena, Buonconvento is nestled in the gorgeous area of Tuscany known as the Crete Senesi. For centuries it has been a stop for travelers along the famous Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim route that connected Canterbury to Rome.

Getting there: Buonconvento is about a 30 minute train ride from Siena and a two and half hour trip from Florence.

Cefalù, Sicily

A short trip from the joyful historical cacophony of Palermo, Cefalù is so much more than a relaxing beach town. Make a point of visiting the Duomo, the double-towered cathedral in its center that dominates the city’s skyline with its beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Hike up La Rocca to the Roman temple dedicated to the Goddess Diana. Go a little further past the temple to take in one of the most spectacular views of the coast and the ruins of a Norman Castle. Naturally, Cefalù also has a postcard-perfect port and picturesque beach — perfect for an afternoon of sunbathing.

Getting there: Trains leave frequently from Palermo and take just under an hour.

Train travel in Italy is easy and flexible. When planning your grand tour of Italy, don’t forget to explore the smaller Italian villages. You can buy tickets online via ItaliaRail or purchase a rail pass to for more freedom to hop on and off at different locations.