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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Another Way Into Italy!

Your typical arrival in Italy is by air at one of the large-airport cities, like Rome, Florence, Milan or Venice. But, there is another way…one that is beautiful, fun and relaxing.  It’s the way we’ve arrived in Italy on four different occasions. What way, you say? That’s the train way for a day — from Zurich, Switzerland.

Why start your Italy journey in Zurich? Because, you get an enjoyable start to overcoming your jet lag and getting comfortably acclimated to the Italian time zone without having to sleepwalk your way through churches and museums on your first day in Europe. The Swiss trains are very comfy and you will see beautiful countryside (as you doze off-and-on) heading south.

...you get an enjoyable start to overcoming your jet lag and getting comfortably acclimated to the Italian time zone without having to sleepwalk your way through churches and museums on your first day in Europe.

Flying into Zurich is not a problem, even direct from the U.S.  If you are one of my European readers, you have many options, of course.  Once you arrive at the Zurich airport and leave customs, you have the convenience of a train station right there in the airport. The station name is ‘Zurich Flughafen’, which translates to ‘Zurich Airport’.  It can’t be any easier than that to start your journey!

I will cover three routes from Zurich to Milano, Italy…a direct route, a scenic route, and an absolutely gorgeous route that requires an overnight stay (in Switzerland) that is well worth your time. And, there are bonus stops you can take advantage of along the way.

You will be using the Swiss railway website at www.SBB.CH. Their website is easy to use and is a joy compared to some other nations’ train websites.  Their route solutions will even include cable car and bus connections to get you to your destination…more on that later.

 

Fastest Direct Route

Click on maps to enlarge

This route is simply the one you will find when creating your Zurich Flughafen to Milano journey on the outstanding Swiss railway website. Click the map thumbnail to see the route.

This route will take you just under 4 hours to arrive at Milano Centrale station. But, one of the features of this route that we’ve taken advantage of is a Bonus Stop at beautiful Lake Como…and I suggest that you do this too, of course. See my articles on Go There: Bellagio and Getting There: Bellagio for the wonders of Lake Como and bella Bellagio.

 

Scenic Mountainous Route

Are you up for a train ride that seems to climb straight up the Alps on their way to Italy? Then the route that includes the Bernina Express is the route for you. This map will show you how you will accomplish this journey.

A view from your train, early in the trip

Traveling from Zurich Flughafen to Chur and then St Moritz happens in scenic valleys. The countryside is just as you had imagined it…pastoral green fields with Swiss chalets.

 

However, going from St Moritz to Tirano, just inside Italy, is a whole different experience. As you can see in the accompanying photos, you are in for high-altitude travel. We were right there among the peaks and glaciers.

The high-mountain lakes were still frozen during our late-May Bernina Express adventure

And on this late-May trip, we had this clean, efficient train car mostly to ourselves

And yes, those are skiers at the base of this run. And note the size of the cable car!

This route will take about 6 hours from Zurich Flughafen to Tirano, and then another 2:30 hours to Milano from Tirano. We opted to overnight in Tirano, completing our journey to Milano and then Venice the following day.

Tirano has more of a clean, Swiss influence than one of Italian quaintness, a product of its location sitting almost right on the border. But, at least delicious prosciutto and caprese salad were available.

BerninaSign-1.JPG

It seems that the Bernina Express has been delighting travelers for well over one-hundred years

Here’s your Bonus Stop – Depart the train along Lake Como when you reach the town of Varenna (the Varenna-Esino station) and then take the ferry to Bellagio for the night. Before you go, compare the online ferry schedule to the arriving train schedule to determine your ferry connection timing.  Bellagio is not the only Lake Como overnight spot. A stay in Varenna is a great option. Or Menaggio. Or Cadenabbia.

 

The Ultimate Swiss-to-Italy Route

We’ve done this journey twice and we highly recommend it.

The highlight is an overnight venture to the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland…specifically through the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the quaint hillside (maybe I should say ‘cliffside’) town of Murren.

Murren is one of those no-automobile towns which is only accessible by cable car. It was a shame to spend just one night here on both of our trips, as there is much to do in this area, especially if you are into a bit of alpine hiking. The scenery is breathtaking, as I hope you can gain from the accompanying photos.

 

That’s the Lauterbrunnen valley in the photo below. Not very spectacular, is it? Our destination is Murren, just on the other side of that ridge. We take a cable car from a point at the bottom-right edge of the photo, which then connects to a small train that moves along the hillside on the middle-right of the photo, terminating at Murren.

This is the view from our cable car, as we begin our ascent. That’s Staubbach Waterfall dropping from the cliff face on the right.

Wow! That’s the view from the hillside-hugging train as we make our way to isolated Murren.

We’ve arrived at Murren’s small train station. Left to right are in-laws Craig and Leslie, my wife Ellen, and me.

 

We are definitely in a quaint, charming, exhilarating, absolutely gorgeous Swiss town, nestled in the Swiss Alps.

The views from town are stunning!

If you’re hungry, this pretty fraulein can help you. Goulash, spaetzle and beer is on the menu. And the view from the deck is amazing!

A highlight of a visit to Murren is the cable car ride to The Schilthorn, made famous in the James Bond hit “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – debuting 50 years ago.  The views, the views, the views…on the way up, on the way down, and at the top!

Chalets dot the mountainside as we ascend to The Schilthorn.

Low clouds hide the mountain peaks, but we are flabbergasted, yes flabbergasted, by the alpine scenery! When was the last time you were flabbergasted?!

Here is our destination, The Schilthorn of James Bond fame.

Ellen seems to be on top of the World.

 

An early departure will get you to Milano before lunch. But wait, there is another Bonus Stop along the way. Your Milano-bound train will traverse the shores of Lake Maggiore, passing through the lakeside town of Stresa. A stop here for the day…or better yet overnight…will allow you to lunch at Ristorante Verbano on the Fisherman’s Island before a visit to Isolo Bella with its fabulous Palazzo Borromeo and gardens. I will cover a visit to these sights in a future article.

 

Earlier, I praised the Swiss train website. Here’s why: not only is it easy to use, but it guides you effortlessly from one route connection to another, no matter what mode of transportation is involved in your journey. For example, if you wanted to go directly from Zurich Flughafen to The Schilthorn, just plug that into the departure and destination input boxes and you will be presented with the entire solution to your journey, including connections for each of the 5 trains and 3 cable cars needed to make your fabulous 3-hour-and-40-minute trip. And, this Swiss train website does not limit you to trains within Switzerland. Plug in Paris as you destination and you will see solutions for your 5-hour trip to the Paris-Gare de Lyon station. Or, London in 8 hours. Or either Venice or Rome in 7 hours. It’s all there.

 

On whichever route you find yourself as you travel from Zurich to Italy, I am sure that this day of leisure and scenic beauty will be one that will help you to acclimate to a new time zone as you start your next Italian adventure.  I’ll see you on the train…that’s me sitting across from you…and oh, I’m not dozing…I’m just resting my eyes.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Your Venice Arrival

Why Go?

In our opinion, Venice is the most excellent destination in Europe. If you haven’t been, I would suggest you get there!  For those who haven’t been to Venice, it’s hard for those who have been there to describe the whole experience.  

If you’ve read a lot, nothing is a great as you imagined. Venice is…Venice is better.”
— Fran Lebowitz

Since Venice is an island in the middle of a lagoon, getting to Venice and getting into Venice are two different things. And then getting to your hotel within Venice is another thing. With these tips, I know your grand entrance into Venice will be fun and easy!

 

Arrival By Air

If you fly to Venice, you will arrive at Marco Polo International Airport, where you will still be 5 miles from the island as the crow flies.  From the airport, your choices are to take a bus, a vaporetto (water bus) or a water taxi.

Bus

This would be my least favorite way to enter Venice. The bus takes about 45 minutes and at the end of the ride, after crossing the causeway to the mainland, you will be deposited at the Piazzale Roma. Now you are within the confines of the city, but you still need to get to your hotel, where you most likely need transportation via vaporetto or water taxi, anyway.  

There is absolutely no charm in taking the bus – I’ve done it, and if you are looking for romance, look somewhere besides the bus from the airport into Venice.

Vaporetto

A vaporetto is a water bus.  Just like the buses back home, they are slow and very often very, very crowded – and don’t forget that you have your luggage to deal with.

A Venetian Vaporetto or Water Bus as it Passes Under the Rialto Bridge

A Venetian Vaporetto or Water Bus as it Passes Under the Rialto Bridge

The trip from the airport to the closest vaporetto stop for Venice proper is about 40 minutes  (but more than likely you will not be staying in this out-of-the-way area) .  To get to a vaporetto stop close to your hotel (let’s assume the San Marco stop) will take about 1 ½ hours. 

Now you are at the San Marco stop (or some other stop along the Grand Canal) with your luggage.  Do you know that there are 409 bridges in Venice?  And that nearly all of the bridges have steps?  Begin your journey to your hotel from the closest vaporetto stop and you will more than likely have an adventure to tell your grandchildren about.  The ACTV website suggests that only one piece of luggage is included with your ticket, though I have never seen anyone make an issue of it – but be aware that you need to get on and off of the vaporetto quickly – and you are lugging around that luggage (does the word ‘lugging’ relate to ‘luggage’ in some way?).

My suggestion: You will have plenty of opportunity to ride a vaporetto while in Venice, but I wouldn’t suggest that this be your inaugural ride.

Water Taxi

This is the way to go. Yes, it will cost a bit more, but there are some definite advantages.

First is the time advantage. Don’ t you want to get going in Venice to see the sites, have a nice lunch, etc.? I’m thinking that the time from airport to Grand Canal is about 20 minutes.  

Our Water Taxi Driver on the Grand Canal --  Heading to Our Hotel

Our Water Taxi Driver on the Grand Canal --  Heading to Our Hotel

Second, the price of the water taxi will cover your group of two to four persons with several pieces of luggage. If you take the bus or vaporetto, don’t forget to multiply the ticket price by the number of people in your party.

The third advantage is that you will be taken more-or-less directly to your hotel.  Yes, many of the hotels have water gates where your water taxi will drop you off right at your hotel, where the hotel bellman helps you and your luggage off of the water taxi. Where a hotel does not have its own water gate, there will be a small canal that will provide very close access to most hotels. 

Palazzo Reflections in a Water Taxi's Shiny Deck

Palazzo Reflections in a Water Taxi's Shiny Deck

Our favorite hotel is the Hotel Flora which is not on a canal. But on our second visit there, we found that there was a narrow passage from a close-by canal that we were not aware of.  Our water taxi driver said ‘just go down that passage, take a right and then a left and you will be at your hotel in about 50 feet with no steps to climb”. He had called ahead and our hotel bellman was there to greet us at a side gate. 

Finally the cost: expect to pay from 100-120 Euros, depending on whether you have 2 or 4 persons in your group.

So, if you fly to Venice, I suggest that a water taxi be your mode of transportation from the airport, directly to your hotel.  

 

Arrival by Train

When taking a train to Venice, but sure to get your ticket all the way to Venice Santa Lucia station and not just the Venice Maestre station, which is the station just before crossing the causeway to the island of Venice.

After departing the train and exiting the station, you will be in the bustling Campo Ferrovia. What a sight! The Grand Canal is right before you, along with the pretty church of San Simeone Piccolo. Now what!?  

Vaporetto

To your left as you come out of the station is the vaporetto  stop and ticket kiosk. As previously discussed, there are issues with getting your luggage onto and off of the vaporetto.

And the crowd to get tickets and then get onto the vaporetto? I’d say, “forget it!”. Unless you are arriving in Venice in the off-season, there could be a hundred people waiting on the vaporetto transport experience. And, as  none of you will have the benefit of already having your ACTV tickets, plan to stand in line at the ticket kiosk (as you ride the vaporetto later, you can have the advantage of carrying a multi-day or multi-ride ticket so you can bypass the ticket kiosks).  

But, depending on your arrival time and the season, you may find very few people awaiting the vaporetto. But again, you will now need to get to your hotel, so the vaporetto information in the ‘Arrival by Air” discussion applies.

Water Taxi

Directly in front of you as your come out of the train station is the water taxi loading area. There is always a taxi or two waiting there to whisk you away to your hotel – luggage included.  And as discussed previously, you will more-than-likely be dropped off right at your hotel’s water gate.

 Does this water taxi cost more than the vaporetto? Most definitely.  Think about spending 60 Euros.  Is it worth it? That’s up to you based on your travel style.

Arrival by Rental Car

Hmmmm.  Why would you want to do that?  You are going to have to park your car in the large parking structure at Piazzale Roma and leave it there for the duration of your time in Venice. You do know that you can’t drive in Venice, right? You walk or take a boat – period.  But if you must drive to Venice, just read the ‘Arrival by Air’ ‘Bus’ discussion since you will be at Piazzale Roma.  Because of Venice’s location in Italy (kind of at the end-of-the-line, so to speak), we usually begin or end our Italy trips in Venice. So, if we were driving in Italy, we would drop off or pick up our rental car in Milan, Florence, Verona or some other city along the rail system, and then use the train.

Alternate Transport

Now, if you know a guy with a boat...

 

Summary

Go to Venice by bus, vaporetto, water taxi, or rental car. But go.

 

Ciao for now!

 Steve