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Ask the experts: Touring Italy by train

Our panel give advice on the most economical way of seeing Italy

Ask the experts: Touring Italy by train
Florence. Image: Getty

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QNow retired, we want to visit Italy for an extended period of time, starting this autumn. We’ll fly out and tour by train, booking hotels and B&Bs as we go. What’s the best way of touring Italy by train?

 
Donald Strachan, author of Frommer’s EasyGuide to Rome, Florence & Venice 2014: You can save lots by visiting Italy out of season. Haggle when booking hotels from November to February (not Christmas), especially for multi-night stays. August is low season in cities like Florence, too.

For apartments, I like GowithOh, which has a portfolio covering 24 European cities, including Rome, Florence and Venice, and reviews by guests. Cross Pollinate is another good agency for these cities.

Pre-book high-speed trains to save money. Fares on private operator Italo are released about six months ahead. For Trenitalia’s high-speed Freccia service, it’s 120 days. For example, the walk-up single Rome-Florence fare is €43 (£34) but you can travel in October for €20 (£15) with Italo. Pay online and print an e-ticket, or go ticketless using the Italo app.

Carolyn Spinks, COO, Association of British Travel Operators to Italy (ABTOI): Self-catering provides fantastic value and flexibility. There are one-bed apartments in cities, towns or farms from around £350 per week. Many have communal pools and restaurants, too. My advice: base yourselves in two different Italian regions and use the excellent-value trains. Some regions are better for train connectivity than others. One of the best is the central ‘foodie’ region of Emilia Romagna. Or Bologna is also an excellent hub with easy access to Florence (35 mins), Parma (50 mins), Ferrara (20 mins), all the art cities in between, and the beach (52 mins).

The Lazio region, home to Rome, is another great hub for easy access to Naples (1hr 10), Monterotondo (42 mins), Frascati (30 mins) and a coastline of fishing villages and medieval towns such as Sperlonga. For a list of self-catering specialists to Italy go to: loveitaly.co.uk

Sarah Barrell, associate editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK): Head north. The region of Lombardy is layered with sub-alpine lakes, and the largest
— Como, Garda, Maggiore and Lugano — are within easy reach of Milan and Bergamo. Garda is a short hop from Venice and Verona making these great destinations for combining city and country tours.

The stupendous landscape of the lakes means they’re not cheap destinations. So why not try Airbnb — cheap board in private homes; or Home Exchange — for free stays in exchange for your own home being listed on the website for other members to book.

Published in the September 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)