Paris-Rome by train: in the footsteps of the Palatino

If you’re a train lover, you know the Paris-Rome line is mythical. There used to be a night train like no other: the Palatino. I would have loved to take it again, but it no longer exists.

So I imagined a new trip to relive the magic of Paris-Rome differently, with daytime trains. A magnificent four-day land trip with stops in Turin and Genoa!

IMPORTANT: following the collapse of a cliff in the Maurienne valley, this route is not possible at the moment. The line is scheduled to reopen in November 2024. Be patient!

Paris-Rome train with stops in Turin and Genoa

In May 2022, I traveled from Paris to Rome in four days with the Italian rail company Trenitalia. I’ll tell you all about it:

I want to start by telling you about the Palatino, the night train that used to run the line.

Finally, I’d like to share my thoughts with you and give you a few tips on how to make your own Paris-Rome train journey.


All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Paris to Rome train journey

Once upon a time the Palatino

I was lucky enough to work on this magnificent train in the early 80s during my studies as a sleeping car steward. The Palatino stopped at Dijon and then continued to the Alps before reaching Italy.

In summer, in the non-air-conditioned cars, we could feel the coolness pleasantly penetrating as we progressed through the mountains. And the next day, as we lifted the curtain of our compartment after Pisa, the Big Blue was revealed to us under a sparkling sun. It was magical!

One of my favourite night trains

Departure from each capital at 7:30 p.m. and arrival at 9:30 a.m. was the ideal timetable for a night train. All the more so as it was possible to dine and have breakfast in a restaurant car, with stylish Italian-style service on immaculately white cloth tablecloths.

I still experienced this exceptional service in the 80s, and its presence alone made the Palatino one of my favorite trains.

The Palatino existed from 1969 to 2011

On September 28, 1969, the Palatino replaced the Rome Express, saving an hour and a half. In 1969, Le Monde wrote a glowing article on the Palatino: The sleeper cars and couchettes are new and offer a real improvement in comfort, both in terms of soundproofing and suspension. The Palatino only offers sleeping accommodations but with a wide range ranging from second-class berths to a single in a luxury sleeper car.” (Photo credit: Stroll in old Paris)

The Palatino in the 70s

He concluded as follows:Under these conditions, the train is capable of competing vigorously with the airplane. To be at 9 a.m. 30 in the center of Rome, you’d either have to leave the evening before and spend a night in a hotel, which entails additional costs, or leave home by 5 a.m. at the latest. 45.

Indeed, it’s quite delightful to read this nowadays, especially as we rediscover the advantages of an old-fashioned mode of transportation: the night train!

In 2011, SNCF ceased operating the Palatino. It was no longer profitable, and SNCF wasn’t thinking about how to make it more attractive.

Memories, memories…

It’s with a head full of these youthful memories that I head for the Gare de Lyon on this early afternoon in May 2022 for a different journey, but still by train.

On board the Frecciarossa: luxury service

I chose to take the Frecciarossa, the Red Arrow, the SNCF’s new competing TGV between Paris and Milan via Lyon and Turin.

The train offers several classes of transport and I took the most expensive: the Executive. It has just ten seats and promises luxurious service. Although much more expensive than other classes, the price from Paris to Turin remains affordable at €165.

At 3.18 pm, the Frecciarossa leaves Paris gently from the Gare de Lyon, before taking to the high-speed line a little further on.

A little air of long-haul business class!

The ride is pleasant, with a peaceful cabin and unlimited food and drink. It’s almost like flying long-haul business class, with the bonus of scenery.

Frecciarossa Executive Class

The only major regret is that the seat doesn’t recline much, so you can’t take full advantage of the gigantic space on offer. What a shame!

The joy of watching the landscape unfold before you

And the joy of train travel is first and foremost the opportunity to see the scenery unfold before you. At 300 km/h, I feel like I’m watching a film in fast motion. A little frustrating, because in May the countryside is magnificent, especially as we cross the Morvan plateau. So I simply let my gaze wander over villages, forests, fields, then Burgundy vineyards and occasionally a manor house or château. It’s a very pleasant state of reverie.

Burgundy landscape seen from the Frecciarossa
Morvan landscape seen from the Frecciarossa

Italian gourmet meal

After Lyon, we head for the Alps at a leisurely speed of no more than 100 km/h. The terrain becomes increasingly hilly.

Just after Chambéry, we are served dinner. For starters, I have a “mozzarella di bufala” with “Sbriciolina salami”, followed by a dish of “Mezze penne con ragù di verdure allo zafferano” and a Sicilian red wine. The meal is hearty and good. I don’t have room for dessert, but I appreciate the perfectly prepared espresso.

Entry aboard the Frecciarossa
Morvan landscape seen from the Frecciarossa

The Alps at last!

Suddenly, a murmur spreads through the car. One of my co-travelers has spotted the first snow-capped peaks.

We’re approaching Modane at the end of the Maurienne valley. Before the creation of the Schengen area, this was the border post. I remember being rudely awakened by customs officials to examine the passports of the passengers in my sleeper who had been entrusted to my care. Fortunately, I was soon asleep again!

Today, the stop is justified more for technical reasons, as the Italian rail electrification system is different from the French one. Smokers take advantage of this to go down and indulge their vice on the platform.

We set off again through the Fréjus tunnel, which is almost 13 km long. It’s almost dark and we can’t see a thing of the landscape until we reach the first stage of my journey: Turin.

View of the snow-covered Alps
View from the Frecciarossa window
Cigarette break in Modane

Turin: Piedmont’s aristocratic and industrial capital

It’s 10 pm when I arrive at my bed and breakfast. When I travel alone, I usually choose to sleep in a homestay.

This formula is often the least expensive and provides privileged human contact with a local resident.

Welcome to Max the French-Italian musician

My host for the day is Max. He’s a French-Italian musician who’s been living in Turin for many years. We have a drink, and he tells me all about his city and helps me organize the next day’s walk before I continue my journey to Genoa.

When I wake up, I only have a few hours to discover the city. The weather is beautiful and I decide to set off on foot, guided by my instincts and the few pointers Max has given me.

An inspired stroll through Turin

I start with the Mercado di Porta Palazzo, right next door to my guesthouse, which is quite simply the biggest open-air market in Europe! One part is located in a beautiful hall and the other in the Piazza della Republica. I take a look around and my mouth waters at the excellent products, Mediterranean vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, and cakes of Italian cuisine. It’s also a bazaar, like an oriental souk, where you can find everything!

Turin market
Turin market
Turin market

An opulent, aristocratic city

I continue towards the center.

The city is both elegant and severe. The streets intersect at right angles, and the buildings, often lined with arcades at street level, are stately and solid.

Turin exudes the opulence that its industries, particularly Fiat, have given it. It also has an aristocratic air as the former residence of the House of Savoy, which was housed in the grandiose Palazzo Reale.

Palazzo Real in Turin

Piazza San Carlo in Turin

On Max’s advice, I climb up to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini. The view of the city and the Po is very beautiful. In the distance, I can even see the first mountains of the Alps, unfortunately, a little misty at this time of year.

View of Turin from the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini

On the day of my visit, the city is in full swing with Eurovision, the queerest and gayest event I know!

Groups of young fans roam the city, particularly along the main shopping street, via Garibaldi.

Eurovision fans in Turin
Eurovision fans via Garibaldi in Turin
Eurovision fans

I’m delighted with this discovery of Turin and I’ll certainly be going back, this time for longer.

Discovering a city is a bit like making new friends

I like to explore a city in several stages. The first visit is often used to get your bearings. Subsequent visits are for exploring it more deeply. It’s a bit like starting a new friendship!

Turin arcades
Turin roofs
Ponte Vittorio Emanuele 1 in Turin
Views around Turin

A regional train from Turin to Genoa.

My train leaves from the majestic Porta Nueva station at 6.05 pm the same day.

Porto Nuevo station in Turin

The cars are a little more old-fashioned than the Frecciarossa of yesterday. But the trip only lasts 2 hours and the first class isn’t very full.

Train from Turin to Genoa
Train from Turin to Genoa

A feeling of being an outsider among the Piedmontese or Genoese

Being on this regional train gives me a strong sense of disorientation. I don’t see tourists or French people around me anymore, just Piedmontese or Genoese on their daily commutes. I feel a bit like an intruder.

I have no recollection of this part of the trip when I was working in the Palatino. It was the middle of the night, and I was sleeping soundly, as one can do at 22 years old. I didn’t wake up until our train arrived further on in Pisa with the first passengers getting off.

At first, the landscape is relatively flat, as we cross the westernmost part of the Po valley and its rich agricultural land.

The Po plain as seen from the Turin-Genoa train

The Morandi bridge tragedy

Then, just before reaching Genoa, the landscape becomes very rugged and our train winds its way through narrow valleys and several tunnels. We pass under the old Morandi bridge, which tragically collapsed in August 2018 following torrential rains. Since then, the Morandi bridge has been rebuilt in record time and is a new source of pride for the city.

The train arrives just before Genoa

The terminus of our train is the “Genova Piazza Principe” station. It’s amazing because it’s wedged between two mountains. Tunnels on either side provide access.

Piazza Principe railway station in Genoa
Piazza Principe railway station in Genoa

Genoa: a little-known city worth discovering

As I leave the station, I’m greeted majestically by the most famous of Genoese: Christopher Columbus himself! At least by its imposing statue.

Christopher Columbus

A disfigured waterfront

My B&B is only a fifteen-minute walk from the station. I take the seafront to get there, which is a bit of a letdown. An ugly freeway over a viaduct has disfigured the whole of its length. The elegance of Turin seems far away. It’s late and I’m tired. I settle for a pizza and go to bed for a good night’s rest. The Genoa discovery can wait until tomorrow.

Genoa waterfront viaduct

A guest room worthy of a Genoese palace

My guest room is located in a typical old town building. From the outside, it’sa very tall building with an austere facade, except for the laundry drying in the windows, which adds a touch of whimsy.

When I open the door, I’ m struck by the monumentality of the palace-like staircase! My room is more spacious than an average Parisian apartment, and the ceiling height is impressive. Amazing in a city where space seems compressed and buildings overlap one another!

Monumental staircase building in Genoa
Bed and breakfast in Genoa

After a good night’s sleep, I start my day with breakfast in piazza Fossatello. A cappuccino, a tramezzini, and a croissant with cream filling, all the while watching the passers-by around me. La dolce vita!

Then I set off, once again at random, to discover the city on foot. My bad impression of the previous day is quickly forgotten.

One of Italy’s largest historic districts

The old town is huge. It’s a maze of narrow streets and staircases and a pleasure to get lost in. I’d heard it was a cut-throat area with dilapidated buildings. The reality is quite different! In recent years, Genoa has made great efforts to rehabilitate its city center.

Street in old Genoa
Genoese Tower
Avenue Garibaldi in Genoa

Some elevators take you up to magnificent viewpoints over the city. I choose to climb up to the Castelleto belvedere from Avenue Garibaldi, lined with splendid palaces.

From this belvedere, it’s easy to understand the vital role played by the port in this town, which backs onto a mountain that prevents it from expanding easily.

Port of Genoa

Trompe-l’oeil decorations: a Genoese specialty

As I continue my stroll, I notice one of the characteristics of Genoese palaces: their facades painted with trompe-l’œil decorations, which are quite successful.

Artist painting a trompe l'oeil
Genoese Palace

The city also boasts remarkable monuments such as the Ducal Palace and San Lorenzo Cathedral.

Ducal Palace, Genoa

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

A rehabilitated waterfront

Even the waterfront ended up seducing me. The advantage of the viaduct freeway is that it has created a large pedestrian zone with excellent views over the busy port. I won’t be visiting the aquarium, one of the most famous in Europe, for lack of time. For the record, the ship from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie is docked here!

Genoa marina

Boccadasse: the spirit of the calanques

In the late afternoon, I decide to take the bus to Boccadasse. Within 20 minutes, I find myself in a completely different environment.

Boccadasse is a modest village of colorful fishermen’s cottages framing a cute little beach. I find the same spirit here as at Les Goudes in Marseille’s calanques.


Finally, I walk back along Corso Italia. This wide avenue, reminiscent of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, runs alongside the sea and lends itself magnificently to “passeggiata”. One beach follows another. In May, the beaches are not yet overcrowded, and beach-goers are preparing for the high season. Indeed, as is often the case in Italy, the beaches are very well equipped.

Corso Italia in Genoa

A few palaces line Corso Italia.

Genoese Palace

Renowned Genoese cuisine

In the evening, I’m off to sample one of Italy’s most renowned cuisines. There are plenty of trattorias to choose from. In Genoa, you can’t go wrong with Pesto pasta! I go to the Trattoria delle Grazie recommended by my host, Massimo. The food is homemade and very good!

After dinner, I take another tour of the old town. At night, it’s almost deserted. With Cecilia Bartoli’s music in my ears, it’s like being immersed in an Italian opera set!

Genoa by night
Genoa by night
Church in Genoa

I spend a second night in Genoa. On the morning of the third day, I take a stroll along Via XX Settembre, the main shopping street , before resuming my journey to Rome at 12.05 pm.

Last journey: Genoa to Rome via the Frecciargento

Genoa-Rome is the third and final leg of my journey. The line repeatedly offers magnificent views of the Mediterranean. It’s not a high-speed route, as it takes us 5 hours to cover the 500 km between the two cities.

The Frecciargento is comfortable, however, and the trains are relatively new. I’m continuing my journey in first class, as I bought my tickets early enough to take advantage of the low fares.

First class aboard the Frecciargento

A railroad on a cornice

I’m lucky enough to be sitting on the seaward side of the boat, and spend the first part of the journey to La Spezia glued to the window. The train travels along a ledge with spectacular views of the bays we pass. I regularly catch fleeting glimpses of pretty manor houses or villas on rocky promontories surrounded by pine trees and bathed in sunshine.

View from the Frecciargento between Genoa and La Spezia

The bar car is in the middle of the Frecciargento. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a light meal and, above all, an espresso as good as ever!

An hour before arriving in Rome, we stop at Civitavecchia, Rome’s port of embarkation to Sardinia.

And our terminus: Roma Termini after a 13-hour journey! It’s a Friday afternoon and the traffic is heavy. The station building is modern and uncluttered, but not particularly charming.

Roma Termini

Roma Termini

Rome: the eternal city

Getting to Rome at low speed is a real luxury. The Eternal City is the apotheosis of my journey. The train journey from Paris, with extended stops in Turin and Genoa, is a great introduction. The feeling is very different from what you get after just two hours on a plane.

In the days of the Palatino, we used to rest in one of the many low-cost guesthouses housed in a few floors of residential buildings. After a restorative nap, we set out for a quick exploration of the city. We were already taking the evening train back to Paris for our sleeping car customers.

This time, I’m lucky enough to be able to stay with friends for several days.

Rome in May

We are in May, and furthermore, it’s a weekend. Suffice to say, I’m not the only one to have had the idea of visiting Rome. Major tourist attractions such as the Colosseum are crowded.

Tourists flock to Rome in May

The Colosseum in Rome

Seeing Rome differently

But since I’ve been here several times, I can explore the city differently by going to lesser-known places or at different times, like seeing the Forum at night.

Suburbs of Rome
Faro del Gianicolo
The Tiber
Religious in Rome
Saint Paul's Basilica outside the walls
The Forum

Capitol Museum

I took advantage of the trip to visit the Capitoline Museum , which I hadn’t seen before.

As few Parisians know, it is free for them as part of the twinning between the two cities:

“Only Paris is worthy of Rome, and only Rome is worthy of Paris!

The Roman statues are superb and subtly erotic!

Le Capitole
Capitoline Museum
Capitoline Museum
Capitoline Museum

A train journey that becomes a real vacation

From Paris to Rome I not only enjoyed visiting the cities of Turin and Genoa, but the trip itself was very pleasant.

It’s a trip that’s easy to organize on your own and one that I heartily recommend.

And why not visit Lyon, Chambéry, the Cinque Terre, and Pisa?

And depending on the time you have available, you can add other equally exciting stops such as Lyon, Chambéry, Cinque Terre, or Pisa. It’s enough to turn a simple Paris-Rome train journey into a real vacation lasting three to four weeks!

But you can also, like me, be satisfied with just one or two stops. In this case, you can plan just three or four days’ travel and return by plane.

A beautiful, easy-to-organize land-trip

Paris-Rome: an original, easy-to-implement land-trip that’s a welcome change from flying and much more comfortable than driving!

If you’ve already traveled by train from Paris to Rome, please let me know what you think in the comments.

Frecciarossa in Modane



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