Italy by 186mph Frecciarossa...
Trenitalia is Italy's national train operator, and their premier Frecciarossa high-speed trains operate on the main Turin-Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples route, and now on some Milan-Venice and Milan-Ancona-Bari departures. Frecciarossa means red arrow, and they can reach 300 km/h (186 mph) on Italy's new high-speed lines. Nobody flies between these cities any more: Rome to Milan now takes as little as 2 hours 55 minutes by train, Rome to Florence as little as 1 hour 23 minutes, with a restaurant or bar car and free WiFi. The original Frecciarossa 500s are now being joined by the first of the all-new Frecciarossa 1000 trains.
Buy tickets at www.italiarail.com from €19.90...
You can buy Frecciarossa tickets online at either www.italiarail.com or www.trenitalia.com. It's ticketless, you simply quote your booking reference on board the train. www.italiarail.com is an online agency who link directly to Trenitalia's ticketing system, very easy to use with English-language place names and it now allows you to select a specific seat from a numbered seating plan. The small booking fee will be refunded if you email email@example.com with your PNR booking reference. They can be cheaper than Trenitalia for two or more people travelling together. Trenitalia.com is Italian railways own website, English button top right. It only recognises Italian-language place names, Firenze for Florence, Roma for Rome, Napoli for Naples, Venezia for Venice and so on and it has a few quirks, but there's no booking fee and it also allows you to choose a specific seat.
Booking opens 120 days ahead, and if you book in advance on a no-refunds, no-changes-to-travel plans basis, super-economy fares start at just €19.90 from Rome to Florence Naples, or from €29.90 from Rome to Milan. Frecciarossa seat numbering plan.
Frecciarossas have 4 classes...
Frecciarossa 500s originally had 1st & 2nd class seats. However, with private operator NTV's Italo trains now competing with Trenitalia on the Milan-Rome-Naples route, Trenitalia has refurbished its Frecciarossas with not two but four classes: Standard, Premium, Business and Executive. Here's an illustrated guide to the classes on Frecciarossa 500, and the new Frecciarossa 1000 also has these four classes. Which class should you choose?
Standard = 2nd class
Seats are arranged 2+2 across the width of the car, covered with cloth fabric and grouped in bays of 4 around a table either side of the aisle. Power sockets at all seats. There's plenty of luggage space on overhead racks, which will take anything up to backpack-size, and space between the seat backs, and racks for larger items at the end of each car. Passengers may use the café-bar & (on some trains) restaurant car.
Premium = premium 2nd class
Absolutely identical seat layout as Standard class, with identical leg & elbow room, just with leather seats instead of cloth. As in Standard class, seats are arranged 2+2 across the car width in bays of 4 around a table either side of the aisle. The fare includes a complimentary welcome drink of coffee, soft drink or prosecco, and there are power sockets at all seats. There's plenty of luggage space on overhead racks, which will take anything up to backpack-size, and space between the seat backs, and racks for larger items at the end of each car. Passengers may use the café-bar & (on some trains) restaurant car.
The Man in Seat 61 says: "It will depend on what prices you're offered, of course, but the leather seats and 'welcome' drink make premium a nice upgrade from Standard."
Business = 1st class
Seats are arranged 2+1 across the car width, so there's significantly more elbow room than Standard or Premium (although legroom is the same), and the leather seats are roomier too. There are tables for 4 on one side of the aisle and tables for 2 on the other, the latter ideal for couples. The fare includes a complimentary welcome drink of coffee, soft drink or prosecco, and there are power sockets at all seats. There's plenty of luggage space on overhead racks, which will take anything up to backpack-size, and space between the seat backs, and racks for larger items at the end of each car. Passengers may use the café-bar & (on some trains) restaurant car.
Business Silenzio: One Business class car is designated as a 'quiet' car.
Business class Salottinos (below right): Each Frecciarossa has two fully-enclosed four-seat Salottinos (= little rooms). Seats can be booked in this if you are a small group travelling together, ideal for private meetings on the move.
The Man in Seat 61 says: "There's no need to travel first (Business) class if you're on a budget, as Standard & Premium classes are absolutely fine, and the legroom is exactly the same as in Business class. But the wider seats, extra elbow room and the ability for couples to choose a table for two, make Business class a nice upgrade."
Executive = premium 1st class
Executive class consists of just 8 super-comfortable leather reclining seats at one end of the train (pictured, below left) with their own dedicated steward or stewardess. Power sockets at all seats. The fare includes a complimentary cold tray meal and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and all Executive passengers can use the Frecciaclub first class lounges at main stations. Executive meeting room (above right): Executive class also features a 6-seat meeting room.
The Man in Seat 61 says: "Executive class is aimed at top executives and priced accordingly, with fully-flexible tickets and no discounted fares. But if your company is paying, Executive is highly recommended, you won't want to get off..."
Luggage on Frecciarossa trains...
It's really simple. You just take all your bags with you onto the train. Nobody weighs it, measures it or argues with you about it. You can take pretty much whatever you can carry and you simply put it on the racks.
Anything up to backpack-sized will fit on the overhead racks above your seat, or in the recess between the seat backs. If you insist on bringing a giant suitcase, this will fit on the racks at the end of each car, just inside the entrance doors, see the photo to the right.
It's always best to keep your bags where you can see them, although they'll be perfectly safe. Theft of bags from trains is as rare as theft of airline baggage.
This video guide shows the difference between the four classes on the Frecciarossa 500. The new Frecciarossa 1000 has the same four classes.
The new Frecciarossa 1000 is here! Watch the video Virtual tour
In June 2015 the very latest Frecciarossa 1000 entered service between Milan, Florence & Rome on a few departures. Like the Frecciarossa 500 it has 4 classes, shown below, and a cafe-bar (but no restaurant car). All seats have power sockets. It has faster acceleration than the ETR500, and a faster top speed of 360 km/h (223mph) although in practice it won't go more than 300km/h (186 mph) unless line and signalling improvements are made. Incidentally, for some strange reason it's officially classified ETR400 even though it's newer than the ETR500.
A journey from Milan to Rome in Business Class (1st class) on the new Frecciarossa. Also see the virtual tour...
So should you choose Trenitalia's Frecciarossa or NTV's Italo?
On the Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples route you can now choose between Trenitalia's Frecciarossa and NTV's Italo trains. So which should you choose? Both are excellent trains, but this is my personal take...
Comfort: NTV's Italo is arguably the newer, brighter and more stylish train. It's carpeted throughout and has top-quality Poltrona Frau leather seats in all classes. Legroom is excellent. Bizarrely, Trenitalia's 4-class Frecciarossas (both the Frecciarossa 500 and the latest Frecciarossa 1000) have hospital-style synthetic flooring in all classes, lacking carpet even in Executive class. The Frecciarossa has leather seats in Premium, Business & Executive, but only cloth seats in Standard at least in the Frecciarossa 500. However, a plus for the Frecciarossa is the seat layout, as in Standard, Premium and Business classes seating consists mainly of bays of 4 seats around a table (ideal for families or groups of friends) and (in Business class) bays of two seats facing each other across a table (ideal for couples), all of which line up correctly with the windows. Italo mainly features unidirectional seating, although there are a limited number of tables-for-four in Smart and tables-for-two and tables-for-four in Prima, which you can select when you book, if they're not already taken.
Catering: Italo has vending machines for coffee & snacks in Smart class, and in Prima and Club class you can buy innovative high-quality packed lunchboxes with cold food in jars, served at your seat. However, there's no restaurant or bar car, and no hot food. If you like dining on the rails, you may prefer the Frecciarossa, as all passengers on the Frecciarossa can use the waiter-service restaurant car (on some trains) serving complete meals with hot food, or buy coffee, tea and snacks from the staffed bar area. Executive class on the Frecciarossa features a simple high-quality cold tray meal included in the price.
Frequency: Trenitalia operate the more frequent service, running trains half-hourly at peak times between Milan, Florence and Rome. Italo is still building up its services but will eventually run hourly on the main Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples route, not quite as frequent as Trenitalia. However, both trains operate a 'reservation compulsory' system, so once you've bought a ticket on a specific train frequency is irrelevant as you can only travel on the train you've booked.
Convenience of the stations: Italo trains initially only served Rome Tiburtina which is a €10 taxi ride from central Rome, but these days most though not all Italos use Roma Termini in the city centre from where you can walk to most of the city sights and to many central hotels. In Milan, Italo initially used the less important Milan Porta Garibaldi station but as from 2016 most Italos use Milan Centrale as Trenitalia does. At other stations such as Bologna, Florence, Naples and Venice, Italo and Frecciarossa have always shared the same centrally-located stations. So there's now little to choose between Italo & Trenitalia as far as convenience of stations is concerned. Map of Milan showing stations. Map of Rome showing stations. Map of Florence showing stations.
Child age limits are different... Do you have a 3 year old? Children under 4 go free on Trenitalia's Frecciarossa (without their own seat), but only children under 2 go free on Italo. Under 16s go at the child rate on Italo, under 15s on Trenitalia - although with the cheapest fares there's no difference between the adult and child rate anyway.