Corona InterCity – Budapest 🇭🇺 to Brașov 🇷🇴 by Hungarian sleeper train

The concept of naming trains is somewhat rare in Western Europe nowadays – in the Eastern parts, however, there are plenty. As part of a trip from the UK to Romania by train, I had booked on the, unfortunately named (at least for 2020 onwards), “Corona” InterCity for its full journey from the Hungarian capital of Budapest to Brașov, in the heart of Transylvania.

There are a multitude of sleeper trains between Hungary and Romania each day, departing at different times, all with their own names to match. The best known ones are the “Ister” and “Dacia”, which connect the capitals of Budapest and Bucharest. These trains are exclusively formed of carriages by the Romanian State Railways (CFR Călători) for journeys across the border with Romania.

On the contrary, the Corona is unique as it is formed of carriages from the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV-START), with its own dining car to match – a rarity in the world of continental European sleeper trains to have both. The train also takes a different route within Romania to serve towns, where Hungarian is widely spoken – for example Gheorgheni, Miercurea Ciuc and Brașov.

After enjoying a highly appropriate Kürtőskalác, or Chimney Cake, in Budapest (originally popular in the Hungarian-speaking regions of Romania) and the view from the Fisherman’s Bastion of the river Danube, we head to the station at what feels far too early in the day for a sleeper train in April – with no sign of the sun setting just yet.

One good reason for the 17:40 departure is the time that the train arrives at the Hungary-Romania border stations. Both countries are in the EU; however, Romania is not part of the Schengen agreement. This means we had our passports checked (and stamped) at both Biharkeresztes (Hungary) and Episcopia Bihor (Romania) stations. We were timetabled to arrive at 21:08 and 22:56 respectively, meaning no through-the-night disturbances. Romania is in Eastern European Summer Time (EEST), while Hungary is in Central European Summer Time (CEST), so the Romanian time includes the +1 hour time difference, as we cross the border. Another benefit is the 09:42 arrival in the morning, allowing for a full day to explore Brașov, known for its medieval Saxon walls and bastions.

Armed with plenty of fluids and emergency food supplies from nearby Spar, we headed to our platform around half an hour before departure. Here, our friendly Hungarian Sleeping Car Attendant greeted us, checked our reservation, and showed us to our compartment. The train conveyed one sleeping car, one couchette car, two seated carriages, as well as the recently re-opened dining car, following closure through the COVID-19 pandemic. We were in store for a highly memorable trip!

Booking

Booking a ticket from the UK for the Corona proved to be a challenge. Sleeping cars cannot currently be booked online at the, otherwise much improved, Hungarian Railways website. While these cars can be booked on the Romanian Railways website, no discounts can be applied if you already hold a valid ticket. My party of two had an InterRail Pass, and I can obtain a discount using FIP Coupons available to European railway staff.

Another drawback with the CFR website is that it only shows availability for the Corona when the Ister is not available – at least from my observation for a handful of upcoming dates.

Having consulted one UK Travel Agent, International Rail, who were able to book trains in western and most of central Europe, they were unable to book trains between Hungary and Romania. I tried another UK Travel Agent, Rail Canterbury, who saved the day being able to make our reservation for this train.

Onboard the Corona

Sleeping Car

Towards the rear of the five car train was Coach 435, the elderly sleeping car which would be our base for the next 15 hours. Although on some occasions there are refurbished air-conditioned sleepers on this route (as can be seen on VagonWEB), for us today, we would instead be in store for a trip of nostalgia. Not at all a bad thing.

In our comfortable compartment, our two beds were made up ready for us when we arrived, complete with clean bedding and towels. Air-conditioning would be supplied via an open window, and there was a black-out blind and red curtain. The train had clearly been baking in the warm 25°C April sun for the day, so after departure (window down fully) we were brought some very welcome bottled water, multi-vitamin juice, and chocolate wafers on the house.

There was a USB and conventional socket within the cupboard above the sink; however, as explained later, we were not able to use it.

Dining Car

A real treat was the Hungarian Dining Car on the Corona, situated at the centre of the train that stays with the train for the full journey, boasting an extensive menu. Taking full advantage of the early evening meal departure time, we did not waste any time in seeking it out.

Enjoying a substantial beef burger with a few Korona wines (yes, the wine was called that too!), before we knew it, the sun was setting, and we were approaching the Hungarian border. We settled the bill and headed back to the compartment, to be ready with our passports.

It is worth mentioning that as Sleeping Car passengers on the Corona, we were entitled to a free breakfast in the Dining Car in the morning. The Sleeping Car Attendant handed us a voucher with our tickets.

Powerless

Returning to the compartment nicely full, we were surprised to find the Sleeping Car plunged into darkness. Our Sleeping Car Attendant appears out of nowhere to try to tell us what is going on, but we struggle with a mutual language. It appeared that he was telling us that in a few stations we will have power – I assume that he was referring to one of the stations where the locomotive would be changed.

Hopeful our power will return, we sit tight, enjoy the unique experience of travelling in the dark, glancing up at the stars. Resourcefully, we use every opportunity at lit stations to search our luggage for what we need to settle down for the night.

Unfortunately, the power never arrived, with the exception of the corridor that miraculously lit up at the border stations. Following a restful sleep, we woke up to a freezing carriage and frost on the ground in Romania, so we were very glad to be returning to the Dining Car for some sustenance and much needed mobile phone charge.

Couchette Car

Following breakfast in the morning, in search of somewhere warm to sit and power, we head to the Couchette Car, which offered us both. This carriage has been refurbished recently too. Our Sleeping Car Attendant pops his head in to say hello and understandingly nods his head when we tell him we moved to get power.

Seated Car

On the Corona there are two compartment Seated Cars. One was a refurbished car, the other looking more tired but comfortable. Take your pick.

Scenery

It’s worth heading to the back of the train to see the sunset over the east of Hungary. In the morning, we were greeted to hilly views of Transylvania.

Arrival

We arrived on time after an overall pleasant trip. And, in case you were wondering, we did not catch Coronavirus from the Corona.

Fares

Journey LegFull Price Return*Global InterRail Pass
Budapest to Brașov123.73 LEI (25€) + Reservation FeeIncluded + Reservation Fee (80€ for two people sharing 2-berth sleeping compartment)

*pricing valid at the time of writing – May 2022.

If you work for the rail industry in a European country, as I do, you can take advantage of FIP free and discounted travel across Europe, which includes a trip on the Corona plus the one-off reservation fee for the whole journey in the chosen accommodation.

Journey LegUsing FIP Free Coupons
Budapest to BrașovMÁV FIP Free Coupon (Budapest to Biharkeresztes)
+ CFR FIP Free Coupon (Biharkeresztes to Brașov)
+ Reservation Fee (80€ for two people sharing 2-berth sleeping compartment)

This article was first published in May 2022

Europe’s Only Train-on-a-Ferry route – Mainland Italy 🇮🇹 to Sicily 🇮🇹 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 café, 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 269,00€.

Journey LegComfort AccommodationDeluxe AccommodationExcelsior Accommodation
Milan / Rome to Siracusa / Palermofrom 33,90 €from 89,90 €269,00 €

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 – 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. Couchette accommodation is listed.

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.

Italy’s premium high speed train – the Frecciarossa 🚆🇮🇹 in Business Class during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The world looks different across all industries in 2020 as we all adapt to the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic and this very much includes the railway sector worldwide.

In October 2020 I travelled to Italy for some train-sampling Trenitalia style. Here is a video showcasing travel in Business Class on Italy’s most premium high-speed rail service by the nationalised operator, the Frecciarossa. I travelled from Verona Porta Nuova to Bolzano Boden – a wonderfully scenic journey towards the border with Austria.

This article was first published in November 2020.