Avoid the hassle and scrum of airports and set off across Europe the old-fashioned way. The 12-hour journey south from France to Italy is made all the more pleasant if you can relax over a meal, sleep through most of it and wake to watch the delights of the Italian countryside fly by your window. Sleeper trains from Paris head to most major Italian tourist destinations.
Head to Paris's Gare de Lyon, where the trains set off each night between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and arrive at various Italian cities from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Thello, a partnership between Trenitalia and Veolia, runs a sleeper service from Paris to Milan, Verona and Venice, or Paris to Florence and Rome. If you are booking an onward journey, factor in the fact that this is relaxed southern Europe, and the trains do not always arrive on time.
As of publication, fares range from about $45 to $355 depending on how far ahead you book, what distance you are traveling and what class of sleeper you opt for. Children under 4 years old, sharing a bed, are free. You can book tickets via Italia Rail, the Thello website or Rail Europe, though the latter does not have the cheapest options. There is a Thello office at the Gare de Lyon if you have any problems with your tickets. Check out The Man in Seat 61 website for helpful hints and tips.
These trains are designed for overnight travel so there are no ordinary seats. You can either select a berth in the more comfortable sleeping car or the budget couchettes. The sleeping car has one- to three-bed compartments, made-up beds with duvets and reading lights. These lockable private compartments include wash basins and complimentary toiletries, disposable slippers and earplugs. During the day, the beds fold away to form a private sitting room. Passengers traveling alone may find themselves sharing with other people of the same sex. The four- to six-bed couchette cars offer economical traveling. They include basic bunks with bedding and reading lights. These fold away to become seats during the day. The four-bed couchettes have considerably more space than the six-bed couchettes.
Enjoy a meal as the sun sets over the French countryside and the train speeds into the night. The trains have restaurant cars with waiter-service meals. They are not fancy, but you can enjoy a decent three-course dinner with a glass of Prosecco or Chianti. If you are going for a budget-option couchette, pack a picnic or opt for the buffet counter, which has espresso coffee, snacks and drinks. A light breakfast in the restaurant car of juice, fresh croissant or pain au chocolat and real coffee is included for sleeper car passengers or at an extra cost for those in couchettes.