London to Sicily by Train: An Instagram Photo Essay

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A month of train travel and we’ve made it: from London to Palermo by train with some wonderful detours along the way. We’ve travelled much more quickly than we’re used to these days and although there have been some exhausting moments, we’ve had some incredible experiences and also rediscovered our love for train travel.

It really is the best way to travel—comfortable, spacious, and we found that our train travel days were our most productive. Alternating between staring at the landscapes we passed and working on our laptops we found six hour train trips flew by and we were disappointed when they ended (we’ve never said that about a bus or plane).

Armed with an InterRail pass it was particularly stress free as except on some of the fancy trains (where we needed reservations) we could jump on any train without a ticket.

Despite a hectic travel schedule Simon even managed to very nearly complete Trail Wallet 2.0, a shiny new version of our travel expenses tracking app. This major update will have a completely new design, and lots of new features including the ability to set your own dates and track your expenses by trip as well as by month. It’s been a huge amount of work but we’re really happy with the results and have had great feedback from our beta testers. If all goes according to plan it should be in the Apple App Store next week!

I have many many posts to write about our travels in Slovenia and Italy but it’s going to take me ages to catch up so in the meantime I wanted to share a snapshot of our trip with the photos we posted along the way on Instagram. We are fairly new to Instagram, having only had a data enabled smartphone for five months, but we are really getting into it as a quick way to share our experiences as they happen. All these photos were taken with our iPhone 5 and most of them by Simon.

Paris

Our epic train trip started with a recreation of the beginning of our first InterRail trip 13 years ago—the Eurostar from London to Paris. In just two hours we found ourselves in sunny Paris stepping out of the grand Gare du Nord.

Gare du Nord, ParisWe spent most of our time exploring the artsy, multi-cultural neighbourhood Belleville and happily living off baguettes and cheese, but we did take a long walk into the centre to see the more classic sights like Notre Dame.

Notre Dame

Munich

A comfortable TGV train whisked us from Paris to Munich where we gawked at the gothic architecture, ate pretzels, and of course drank an oversized beverage in a beer hall.

Simon in Munich Beer Hall

Slovenia

A leisurely journey through the Austrian countryside brought us to Ljubljana, the tiny, laid-back capital of Slovenia. Like everyone else we know who has visited we promptly fell in love, and who wouldn’t with scenes like these.

Ljubljana dragon bridge LjubljanaThe rest of Slovenia was just as wonderful. We visited the dramatic Škocjan caves and met the gentle Lippizaner horses at Lipica stud farm.

Lipica Stud FarmWe loved the cute villages in Slovenia and Vipava was particularly lovely, and not just because we tasted all of these local wines (we were so impressed by the wine in Slovenia!).

Wine tasting Vipava, Slovenia Vipava, SloveniaBut Slovenia kept getting better and better and when we walked into Hotel Triglav at Lake Bled and saw that this was our view there may have been some squeals of glee.

Lake Bled view from Hotel TriglavAt Lake Bled even a morning run didn’t feel like work when you had views like this.

Lake BledOn the 3glav Adventures action-packed day trip the Emerald River Adventure we explored the Julian Alps, Simon jumped off a terrifying 10 metre high bridge, and we rafted through the turquoise waters of the Soča river. Slovenia seriously has the most beautiful coloured water of anywhere we’ve ever seen.

Soca River, Slovenia

Italy

We will definitely be back to Slovenia (a month at Lake Bled sounds rather tempting) but the only place that could console us as we left was…

VeniceVenice! How we’d let 13 years pass before we returned after our first visit I don’t know. It was just as magical this time, and despite the painful hotel prices we wished we’d stayed more than one night.

A long train journey took us down Italy’s Adriatic Coast where we passed scenes like this…

Italy's Adriatic CoastOur focus for the next eight days was Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy’s boot and one of our favourites. We delighted in the hobbit-like traditional houses called trulli.

TrulliAnd even stayed in one at Masseria Ferri. These farm stays were a highlight of our trip especially the long family-style meals with our hosts.

Masseria Ferri trulli
Our trulli hotel room at Masseria Ferri

At Masseria Il Frantoio we explored the ancient olive groves in this 1949 Fiat.

Il Frantoio's 1949 Fiat

We took a cooking class in Lecce and enjoyed the Baroque architecture.

Lecce

And wandered through the alleyways of the white city of Ostuni.

ostuni

Mostly in Puglia we ate

Burrata cheese and friselle salad
Burrata cheese and friselle salad

And ate…

Focaccia in Bari
Focaccia in Bari

This region has the most vegetarian-friendly food in all of Italy, which is saying a lot in a country we come to just to eat.

After deciding that next year we’ll be back to Puglia for a much longer stay (perhaps a month in Lecce?) we hopped over the border to Basilicata. Matera is one of the most spectacular cities in Italy (and the world), a series of caves carved out of limestone and teetering on the edge of a ravine.

MateraLike Puglia Matera also does the most delicious vegetarian antipasti plates (yes, you eat all of this before pasta).

Antipasti in MateraIn South Italy the train travel isn’t quite as easy and we had our only train mishap on the journey across Italy’s ankle. We missed our train to Bari through pure stupidity (we sat upstairs while it departed beneath us) which meant we missed our onward connection. To save ourselves four hours we sucked it up and took a bus (sigh) to Naples.

Which we confess we found chaotic, noisy and litter-strewn. We just couldn’t warm to it (but how could it compete with Matera?). Mostly we ate pizza (delicious but was it really any better than the pizza we ate in Rome? Controversial!).

naples_pizzaOur most uncomfortable travel day was the long journey down to Sicily. The train rocked so much I felt like I was on a bus. The whole train was put on the ferry, an impressive display, but of course all that dismantling/putting the train back together business made us late to Milazzo where we barely made the ferry over to the Aeolian Islands.

I spent the entire two hour journey struggling not to join the others with their heads in plastic bags, but it was worth it when we arrived in Salina and woke up the next morning to this view at Hotel Il Principe di Salina.

Hotel il Principe di salinaWe loved the sleepy village of Malfa where farmers were harvesting grapes to make the local dessert wine, the wonderful, honey-like Malvasia.

2013-09-17 13.23.11And there were sea views like this…

malfa_salinaWe hired a scooter and reliving our Thailand days (ah, we miss scootering about) explored the island including the colourful village of Lingua.

linguaWhere we ate one of Alfredo’s infamous pane cunzato, an open topped sandwich the size of a pizza piled high with mozzarella, olives, capers (grown on the island), tomatoes (sundried and cherry), and marinated aubergine. Delicious!

2013-09-18 12.02.25We braved the seas again to get to Stromboli a small island dominated by the volcano, which of course we climbed. The trek was totally worth it for views down into the three craters of the gurgling smoking volcano as the sun set over the sea. We sat on the warm earth and watched the eruptions. It was an incredible experience and the perfect way to end our train trip.

stromboli2Finally we reached Palermo where thanks to the lovely guys at Visit Palermo we had our easiest apartment hunt yet and settled straight into our home for the next month.

palermo_apartmentYou can read our picks for the best places to visit in Sicily, and for more of our photos follow us on Instagram.

Read more about travelling from London to Italy by train.

Eurail.com provided us with complimentary InterRail global rail passes (the pass for Europeans) as we’ll be writing some articles for their new Eurail blog. Our Puglia travels and part of our Slovenia trip were supported by the local tourism boards. 

32 Comments

  1. Hello! Your site is very exciting to read as we’re preparing for a trip to Italy (Nov 15-22). Are plan was to land in Milan rent a car & drive to Venice, Florence, Rome, Pisa, then back to Milan. Is that crazy? Any recommendations? What do you think of staying at hostels? Thank you for your any advice you can give!

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    • I would say that’s far too much in a week so I would focus on just 2-3 places. I personally wouldn’t bother with Pisa on such a tight schedule. Also if you plan to visit cities then taking the train is better as driving and parking in cities is a pain. A car can be handy if you want to visit the countryside such as around Florence which is lovely.

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  2. Glad to know you’ve enjoyed your European escapade. Slovenia has always managed to elude me, but I’m a sucker for Venice and will rant about it at the mere mention of a canal. As for Stromboli, yeah, that one made me slightly jealous. Should have gone when I had the chance… Kudos on the gorgeous photos (although I now have a sudden craving for pizza) and good luck exploring Sicily!

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  3. Love love love this post! I have done the Calabria/Sicily train thing a few times. I love the Italian south. Did I say I love it? That is a gorgeous photo of Matera. Basilicata has got to be next on my list. Love the photo of Stromboli, too; every time I’ve attempted the crossing, I’ve been told it’s been cancelled because of eruption or tremors. Next time!

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    • Thanks Lesley. The south is wonderful isn’t it? We highly recommend Matera if you haven’t been, and it’s an easy trip from Puglia too.

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  4. I don’t even know what to say…the views and the food just look incredible. I wanted to go to Puglia, and your photos make me want to go even more.

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    • We did have an amazing month. This was our second visit to Puglia and we’ll probably go back for longer next year – we really recommend it (and combine it with Matera).

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  5. Yay, you updated the map! I really appreciate the recap through Instagram, since, like you said (and I now understand how this is the case myself with being about 1.5 months behind with blogging on where we actually are) it will be a while till you get all the Slovenia and Italy posts out!

    Question: how do you actually fit that pane cunzato in your mouth? Or is it eaten with knife and fork? If so, it’s just basically an uncooked pizza, no?!

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    • Ha, did you notice we were a little behind? :) Glad you enjoyed the recap. I wasn’t sure about doing it as Instagram photos don’t exactly look the best on computer screens but at least it keeps everyone up to date.

      The pane cunzato has to be eaten with a knife and fork, it’s absolutely huge. It’s more like a giant bruschetta- a really large piece of toasted bread topped with raw ingredients and lots of olive oil and herbs. So good!

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  6. Oh, I have a tear in my eye-coincidentally, it has been 13 years this month since we were in Venice! I can’t get enough of Italy, but it’s pricey with two kids (still, it keeps the riff raff out LOL!) We absolutely loved Naples, and I can tell you it was one of the “really dodgy” parts where we met the nicest people, and ate the best food-I know what you mean though, at first we were kind of on edge (we got off at the “wrong” train stop), but everything turned out fine and we ended up getting the car ferry back to Sorrento watching the sunset……….

    Reply ↓

    • That is a coincidence! You have to go back too!

      Our tip for affordable Italy is to look for places on Airbnb. You can get some really great deals on apartments (perfect with kids), especially if you aren’t fussy about where you go. It’s how we ended up in the little village of Montecarlo last year: http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/montecarlo-our-tuscan-village/

      Glad you liked Naples. We only had one full day there so we didn’t really give it a proper chance. I think it’s the kind of city that would be great to have a local show you around.

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      • Wonderful ! So many absolutely authentic things you wouldn’t have seen ! You couldn’t have enjoyed anything by flying from London to Taormina ! It’s MAGIC , a unique experience that’s it ! Congratulations !

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  7. I’m drooling at the Slovenia pictures… a friend of a friend lives there, I think I might have to save up for a visit next year…

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