Europe’s Only Train-on-a-Ferry route – Mainland Italy ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น to Sicily ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น overnight

Italy is well known for its expansive railway network, but there is one journey that stands out as being particularly unique. Direct trains run multiple times a day connecting key cities on the Italian mainland and stations on the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily. But what is unique about this journey?

Well, as part of the journey, the train is shunted onto a ferry at Villa San Giovanni station, sets sail across the Strait of Messina, and rolls off onto the island into the port of Messina before continuing its journey along the northern coast to Palermo and the south east coast to Siracusa. This is now the last remaining train in Europe to make a journey on a ferry, after the train from Hamburg to Copenhagen started to run via the overland route in 2019 (I published a trip report of this here).

There are two kinds of trains that operate between the mainland and Sicily that are operated by Trenitalia – daytime ‘InterCity’ trains and time effective nighttime ‘InterCity Notte’ trains. In 2020, I took a trip from Milan to Siracusa followed by, in 2022, a return trip from Rome to Palermo; which collectively covers all of the ‘InterCity Notte’ routes.

Both of these routes from Milan to Siracusa/Palermo and Rome to Siracusa/Palermo offer a long enough journey to make for a relaxing time onboard, that is normally a rarity for European sleeper trains that often depart late evening and arrive early morning giving you limited time to enjoy the trip. Below is a map of all the stations served by ‘InterCity Notte’ trains that connect mainland Italy and Sicily.

Onboard the InterCity Notte

Accommodation

There are three classes to choose from on Trenitalia ‘InterCity Notte’ services – branded as Comfort, Deluxe and Excelsior.

All trains offer both sleeping cars (Deluxe) and couchette cars (Comfort) with shared toilets at the end of the carriage, kept clean by the car attendant. There is also a more premium class, which is a sleeping car with an ensuite toilet and shower (Excelsior). The latter class operates only on one of the Rome to Palermo routes and are clearly visible in the booking engine on website of Trenitalia. All compartments are air conditioned, have power sockets and are lockable, however, only ‘Excelsior’ accommodation have access to an onboard shower within the compartment. On all of the trips I travelled in ‘Deluxe’ accommodation.

There is no formal process for boarding the train – just like any train you effectively turn up and go. Once you arrive at the platform and have located your reserved carriage, you are welcomed onboard by your sleeping car attendant who will check your ticket and ID document. They will be your contact for the journey.


Comfort

Comfort accommodation includes a comfortable space to sleep with seats that convert into bunk beds. Bedding is provided, however, this is up to you to make up. There is the option to book Comfort class for exclusive use or for a lower price you can share the compartment with other travellers. As mentioned, toilets and washrooms are located at the end of the car. A light breakfast is included in Comfort accommodation.

Deluxe

Deluxe accommodation is for exclusive use for up to three people, arranged in bunk beds. Unlike Comfort accommodation, the beds are ready made for you with clean and sanitised sheets. If you book sole occupancy of the compartment, the middle bed is folded away as can be seen in the picture below. There is a sink in the room with a seat and table available. A light breakfast is included in the morning with coffee and two bottles of water is provided for each traveller. On the three journeys I took each car varied in its design, as shown in the pictures.

Deluxe Accommodation Refurbished Car:

Deluxe Accommodation Non-Refurbished Cars:

Excelsior

The most premium accommodation on the train is the Excelsior class. These en-suite compartments are situated in the same car as some Deluxe rooms so are very similar in design. Like Deluxe accommodation, a light breakfast is included in the morning with coffee and Italian newspapers and two bottles of water per traveller is provided on departure. Below is a picture of a refurbished car, with other compartments similar to the red seats above depending on the train on the day.

Onboard Catering

The catering onboard is certainly not going to win any fine dining awards. In Deluxe and Excelsior accommodation breakfast is provided in the morning in your room which is made up of pre-packaged items including a croissant and a coffee. On one of the trains I took there was a delay of two hours, which happened to be on one of the longest InterCity Notte journeys from Milan to Siracusa. As this ended up being a trip of nearly twenty-two hours, Trenitalia were generous in distributing “Courtesy Kits’ with further drinks and snacks to see you through to the destination.

I strongly advise that you bring your own supply of food and drink to complement this offering, as it’s a very long trip.

Ferry Crossing

Now for the exciting bit – where the train boards the ferry. As part of the shunting the train carriages are uncoupled at Villa San Giovanni to enable the eight carriage train to fit.

Once the train has boarded the ferry you do have the option of walking upstairs on the ship’s deck for the 20 minute crossing to take in the views of the Strait of Messina and enjoy some refreshments. There is a stocked cafรฉ, however, I found on all three of my journeys this was closed with the shutters down, so I was only able to settle for the cash-only vending machines offering hot and cold drinks and snacks. Once the ferry had arrived into Messina I didn’t hear any announcements, so make sure you don’t miss the train as this will be shunted off the ferry as soon as the ship arrives!

The trains are then re-coupled up again to form two trains – one bound for Palermo and the other for Siracusa which sit side-by-side in Messina station, one departing after the other. Throughout the journey you are able to remain on the train in the comfort of your accommodation if you choose to.

Fares

Fares vary like air fares with the exception of Excelsior accommodation where I was unable to find a fare less than the on-the-day fare of 269,00โ‚ฌ.

Journey LegComfort AccommodationDeluxe AccommodationExcelsior Accommodation
Milan / Rome to Siracusa / Palermofrom 33,90 โ‚ฌfrom 89,90 โ‚ฌ269,00 โ‚ฌ

Book with Omio.com

Omio.com makes booking train tickets easy, selling tickets for 1,000 travel companies operating across the world, and removes the complication of knowing which operator to book your international train tickets.

If you book via the below link with Omio, Rail-Away earns a small commission that helps to support the running costs of the site โ€“ this is greatly appreciated. Tip – if booking the sleeping car for this trip, then choose a First Class fare when selecting the InterCity Notte option. Alternatively, for the couchette accommodation this is listed as couchette.

Full Trip Video

Below is a video of the longest journey I took from Milan to Siracusa that can be found below, covering the process of the train boarding and leaving the ferry crossing the Messina Strait, the excellent coastal views you can expect as well as the accommodation and service onboard. The trip took place during the COVID-19 pandemic when travel was permitted from the UK to Italy.

This article was first published in December 2020 and updated in December 2022.

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