Slow food meets slow travel on Sicily’s culinary train tours

Paul De Tourreil | 05/12/2018
Slow travel tour, Sicily. Tour Sicily by train.
Trapani railway station, Sicily

In our always-on modern world, many of us feel like we don’t have the time to actually take our time. It’s why we look forward to our vacations so much! Yet both science and common sense demonstrate that a key to long-term happiness is savoring the little moments of joy, whenever they happen.

This concept is at the heart of the proverbial slow food movement, and its close cousin, slow travel. Slow food in Italy is a time-honoured tradition, as anyone who’s lingered over a  three-hour Italian dinner can attest to. And touring Italy by train is a wonderful way to practice slow travel, as you sit back and enjoy the splendid landscapes while building up an appetite for whatever delectable treat is around the next bend.

Tours of Sicily offer a myriad of ways to enjoy the food and landscapes that have made its reputation around the world, and many of them incorporate slow travel, which in Italy is sometimes not a matter of choice.

Recently, Trenitalia has turned slow travel into a pleasure with its Treni Storici del Gusto, or “historical tasting train” service. Running from late summer through the end of November, it aims to revive the leisurely charm of 19th Century train travel and allow vacationers to sample Sicily’s culinary marvels while enjoying the beauty of its landscape, monuments, and culture. 

With some of these train tours, the title alone is enough to make your mouth water, like Il treno delle pizze, focacce e ciambelle (the pizza, focaccia and doughnut train) from Caltanissetta to Porto Empedocle. Or Il treno dei dolci e dei formaggi del Val di Mazara (the train of desserts and cheeses from the Mazara Valley) running from the Sicilian capital of Palermo to Caltanissetta.

Other tantalizing selections include trains dedicated to cheese and autumn preserves, wine, fish and seafood, chocolate and even one devoted exclusively to olive oil and dark rye bread.

Sometimes, you can enjoy a tasting on board your magnificently restored vintage train car. Most of the tasting tours on trains in Sicily include invitations to sample local products at the train station, or in a nearby town square. Entrance to sites of interest such as museums, palaces, and archaeological sites are also often included in the ticket price.

Wondering what to do in Sicily when the Treni Storici del Gusto are not running? Back in the late 1800s, King Umberto of the house of Savoy had the Ferrovia Circumetnea built to ease family members’ travel to their estates in the Catanese countryside. Thanks to Umberto, you can now embark on an adorable “pocket train” that runs all the way around Mount Etna on narrow-gauge rails.  

Nowadays, the summer months bring Il Treno dei Vini dell’Etna, a Sicily wine tour like no other. Passengers board the Ferrovia Circumetnea at Catania, then hop on shuttle buses at various stops to visit local wineries in the celebrated wine producing areas of Linguaglossa, Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo.

Beginning in 2019, the Circumetnea train will be adding two new day trips, which will visit the thousand-year-old Norman castles near Etna, and the nearby Alcantara National park area. 

Anyone who loves food, train travel and the Italian countryside will be delighted by the many culinary journeys now available thanks to Sicily’s Treni Storici del Gusto.