Picture the scene. A girl runs frantically down the platform, as the conductor’s whistle blows, and the doors slide shut. She misses getting aboard by a fraction of a second, throws her hands up in the air, and retires to a railing along the edge of the platform. A nearby man raises a consoling eyebrow, and they strike up a conversation.
Years later, they tell the story of how they met, due to a microsecond of fate.
Ok, so the latter part of this conversation is fiction. I made it up as I watched someone miss their train in Italy, with my head filling in all the romantic part.
My point is that trains and train stations are undeniably romantic, a place where greetings and farewells have occurred over countless decades, and where stories like the one above have likely played out innumerable times.
So when I was recently invited to take part in a two day rail trip across the Molise region of Italy by train, naturally I was excited to do so. Partly because trains are great places to imagine stories taking place around you, however far from the original days of steam they have fallen, and partly because I’d never been to the Molise region of Italy before, so it sounded like a jolly good adventure.
Molise, for those of you not familiar with the geography of Italy, is Italy’s newest region, only formalised in 1970. It used to be part of Abruzzo, where I also travelled, and will be talking about soon.
If neither of those regions ring a bell, it’s basically on the opposite side of Italy to Rome, and is known for its dramatic landscapes of high mountains, ancient fortified villages and sparse population. The Molise region has only 300,000 inhabitants and two major towns, which means that nature is at the front and centre, along with those picturesque villages.
My trip to Molise focused around the Molise Discovery Leisure Train Tour, which offers a scenic journey through some of this regions most spectacular landscapes, all from the comfort of a “private” train.
Depending on the journey you take (programmes vary depending on the date), there are various stops at different locations, with optional activities, ranging from guided tours of the villages on the way, through to mountain biking and hiking for those of you feeling a bit more adventurous.
Our journey was no different. When given options on activities, I went with the one that would let me grab the best photos (shooting from a mountain bike generally proving to be both challenging and unwise). And I’m going to be telling you about all of the things I did around the Molise region in an upcoming post – from discovering ancient human remains to learning about bells. But today, I want to share my thoughts on the actual train journey.
The train ride
Whilst it would have been wonderful for the train to be one of those big steam engines that captured the glory of turn of the century train travel, it turns out that there aren’t so many of those left. So we were on a train that wasn’t entirely dissimilar to any other train you might find on a regional route in Italy. If it helps, the route the train runs on dates back to 1897, so I could close my eyes and pretend the steam was flowing.
It was made up of two carriages, and even had a first class compartment, which seemed up for the taking. Given that I largely bounced from side to side trying to get the best photos of the landscape as we went, the chairs were largely irrelevant, but still.
Of course, this wasn’t an entirely standard train. It had a couple of extras that the other trains I’ve experienced in Italy haven’t offered.
First, two lovely girls constantly came up and down the train handing out regional delicacies, from cheese to wine, as well as coffee to keep us energised.
Then, a couple in traditional dress entertained us with traditional folk songs and music played on traditional instruments, whilst explaining some of the history and meaning of these, and how they related to the land around us. The hills were alive, with the sounds of music, accompanied by the gentle clack-clack of the train.
But the real star of the show was of course not the train, but the view from the train. This is high country, and the tracks which run from Sulmona to Isernia are among the highest in the country, reaching a peak of 1268 metres in altitude. That means gorgeous mountains and views of isolated villages sitting high up on mountains.
We were lucky enough to be there in Autumn, as all the colours were changing, so the mountains were green and golden. And even better, the train windows opened, letting me take all the photos I wanted with none of those nasty window reflections. Which was what I spent the great part of the journey doing – with my head out the window, hair flowing in the wind, snapping away to my hearts content. What an experience!
The jeep ride to capture the train ride
I really wanted to get some pictures of the train to add to the pictures from inside the train, of which by the end of the first day, I had many. Normally this train ride is just a day long affair, but I was lucky enough to have the luxury of two days to experience it to the max.
So on the second morning I commandeered a jeep from the local civil defence force (this seemed very logical at the time), and raced around the countryside trying to beat the train to scenic locations to grab shots of it doing things like crossing bridges and entering tunnels. Things that trains are very good at.
This largely worked out, letting me grab the shot below of the train crossing one of the more picturesque bridges on the route, for example.
Of course, nothing is stopping you from hiring a car and chasing a train. You can even make siren noises if that’s your thing. You just might prefer to sit back, enjoy the view, sup on some wine and search for the romance around you. This is Italy, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.
Or, you can get all moody and play around on the train tracks instead (note, playing around on train tracks is generally not a good idea).
And that pretty much wraps up my train journey around the Molise region! Keep your eyes peeled for the next part of this post, where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on some of the sights we visited during the excursions away from the train. Better yet, instead of peeling your eyes, use one of the options a little further down to subscribe, and save your eyes that indignity.
My journey through the gorgeous Molise region was provided courtesy of Kolidur Travel Club, who put together the itinerary and handled all the logistics. You can find out more about their tours at their site. No integrity was harmed in the making of this post.