Tailormade tour Michael Portillo’s train journey to Sicily rail tour Italy

6 nights/7 days

Lucerne • Milan • Naples • Taormina

This rail holiday follows in the footsteps of a rail tour taken by Michael Portillo and takes you the length of Italy, north to south, to Sicily. You stay in the two contrasting cities of Milan and Naples but also enjoy some spectacular, scenic rail journeys as you cross the Alps by train on the Gotthard route, follow the rugged coast south of Naples through Basilicata and Calabria to the toe of Italy where you cross the Strait of Messina in your train on the ferry. There is also the first night spent in Lucerne in Switzerland. You fly back from Sicily to London.
Holiday price guide

Available year-round subject to the opening period of the hotels, from £2,240 per person.

Luxury rail tailormade holiday in the footsteps of Michael Portillo to Sicily.


Lucerne • Gotthard pass rail journey • Milan • Opera at La Scala • Naples • Visit the Archaeological Museum • Train crossing the Strait of Messina • Taormina

Day by day

Begin your rail holiday to Sicily by departing from London by Eurostar to Paris just before 08.00 hrs. Transfer from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon by taxi where up board the high-speed TGV train to Basel and then onwards to Lucerne where you arrive at around 19.00 hrs. Your hotel is in the centre of this charming city, and there is a choice of restaurants within walking distance.

The so-called City of Light is a bubble of cosmopolitan atmosphere, as well as a place of rich, historic significance. Spend the morning wandering down the pretty streets, taking in the individuality of the boutique shops and quaint cafes. A highlight of your stay in Lucerne will be walking along the Chapel Bridge and seeing the Water Tower. Leave Lucerne at about midday to continue by train to Venice on the Intercity service. The journey takes you along Lake Lucerne, before climbing to pass through the Alps by the Gotthard train tunnel which links Fluelen to Bellinzona in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. From here it’s a short distance to the Italian border at Chiasso. Arrive in Milan late afternoon for one night with time to explore the shopping streets, visit the Cathedral or enjoy a performance at La Scala.

You can take a train from Milan Centrale at about 10.00 hrs to reach Milan at about 14.30 hrs. Your train takes you past Bologna, Florence and Rome. You are met at the station and transferred to your hotel by private car. After checking-in there is time to spend the rest of the day sightseeing, perhaps visiting the Archaeological Museum with its priceless display of the artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum.

You leave Naples behind just before 10.00 hrs to travel by train to Taormina-Giardini, following the dramatic coast south through Campania, Basilicata and Calabria and reaching the Strait of Messina where your train boards the ferry for the crossing to Sicily. Arrive into Taormina-Giardini station in the late afternoon and then you are transferred by private car to your hotel in nearby Taormina.

You have two full days included in Taormina. The town stands at an altitude of 250m above sea level and forms a perfect balcony overlooking the sea towards Mount Etna. A popular destination, it is renowned for its peaceful atmosphere, beautiful monuments and tranquil gardens. Taormina has a rich and extensive history; its Teatro Antico di Taormina is the second largest amphitheatre in Sicily, harking back to Taormina’s origins as a Greek ‘polis’. The Botanic Gardens of Villa Comunale offer a number of exotic and shady pathways for an afternoon stroll, as well as several intriguing structures that make up the villa complex. The Gothic Badia Vecchia is the town’s former abbey, and its design has been heavily influenced by Arabian and Norman art, much like the Palazzo Duchi di Santo Stefano. The Palazzo Corvaja was part of the town’s reinforced defences and was built in the style of Abraham’s first temple in God’s name. Alternatively, the Palazzo Ciampoli exemplifies the town’s medieval history. You can visit the beach at Taormina Mare, reached by cable car from the town centre. For those searching for the perfect souvenir, we recommend the pedestrianised Corso Umberto as it is lined with shops selling hand-made ceramics, fine leather, Sicilian wines, and wrought iron and wooden products. There are lots of restaurants in Taormina, within easy walking distance of your hotel.

Depending on the time of your return flight, you may have the morning free for last-minute shopping or photography before your private car transfer to Catania, which takes about an hour, and the flight to London.

Special offers for this holiday>

Holiday price guide Price from £2,240 per person based on two people sharing a double room including second class rail travel. Supplement for Luxury hotel option £480 per person. Supplement about £230 per person for first class rail travel.

Holiday Code ITBR07

Luxury rail tailormade holiday in the footsteps of Michael Portillo to Sicily.

Special offers for this holiday>

Holiday price guide Price from £2,240 per person based on two people sharing a double room including second class rail travel. Supplement for Luxury hotel option £480 per person. Supplement about £230 per person for first class rail travel.

Holiday Code ITBR07

Our prices include ● Second-class travel on all trains, with standard class on Eurostar (first and standard premier can be booked at a supplement)
● Private car transfers in Taormina, station to hotel and back to Catania airport
● Private car transfers in Naples, station to hotel and back to station
● Flight with British Airways one way from Catania to London Gatwick, Euro traveller
● 1 night’s bed and breakfast in a Classic room at the Hotel Wilden Mann in Lucerne
● 1 night’s bed and breakfast in a Superior room at the Hotel De La Ville in Milan
● 1 night’s bed and breakfast in a Classic room at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio in Naples
● 3 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Superior room with sea view at the Hotel Villa Belvedere in Taormina
● Concierge service and Expressions Holidays regional helpful hints

Our prices do not include ● Early check-in or late check-out at any hotels (although we can arrange this on request at additional cost)
● Any other services not mentioned above, such as transfers and meals except breakfast at hotels
● Personal holiday insurance. This is essential and cover should be in place from when you book the holiday.
● Local tourist tax, usually between Euros 1 and 3 per person per night, and payable locally to the hotel
● Transfers in Paris, Lucerne and Milan

Luxury rail tailormade holiday in the footsteps of Michael Portillo to Sicily.

Expressions Holidays includes these hotels in this touring holiday as suggestions, but they can be substituted by others in the same region, if you have a preference to stay elsewhere.
Hotels included in this tour
Hotel Wilden Mann Value option

Hotel Wilden Mann is a 4-star boutique hotel in an excellent central location. With gourmet cuisine and stylish, comfortable accommodation, the 500 year-old hotel balances its historic and old-world style with elegance and modern facilities.

Classic room

Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern Luxury option

The Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern is a grand 5-star hotel with an imposing history situated on the shores of Lake Lucerne.

Style double city view room

Hotel de la Ville

Hotel de la Ville is a cosy, refined 4-star hotel in an excellent central location. Delicious cuisine, excellent wellness centre and a soothing rooftop pool with views of the Duomo make it an idyllic haven from the bustle of Milan.

Superior room

Grand Hotel Vesuvio

Grand Hotel Vesuvio is a 4-star hotel with impressive views over the Bay of Naples. A superb restaurant an extensive lemon groves make this an ideal spot to recuperate after a day exploring the historic city.

Classic room

Hotel Villa Belvedere Value option

Hotel Villa Belvedere is a delightful 4-star hotel boutique hotel with enchanting views of Mount Etna and the sea. The beautiful gardens and idyllic terrace make it an ideal spot to relax and recuperate after exploring historic Taormina.

Superior room with sea view

Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo Luxury option

The Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is a 5-star boutique hotel with spectacular island views. Excellent spa facilities, gourmet cuisine and proximity to Sicily's famous landmarks such as Mount Etna offer guests a tranquil and indulgent experience.

Classic room

Special offers

Call to make your booking and save an extra £50 per adult Call us instead of emailing us when you are thinking of booking a holiday and save an extra £50 per adult (in addition to any special offers that might be available). We want to talk to you to discuss your requirements and a phone call is usually the best way for you to define what you want enabling us to respond more accurately. We want to talk to you and you save an extra £50 per adult.

Holiday price guide Price from £2,240 per person based on two people sharing a double room including second class rail travel. Supplement for Luxury hotel option £480 per person. Supplement about £230 per person for first class rail travel.

Holiday Code ITBR07

Luxury rail tailormade holiday in the footsteps of Michael Portillo to Sicily.

Highlights of Sicily

An ascent of Mount Etna, partly by car and then further on foot (guides available) through the luxuriant vegetation which includes oranges and lemons, bougainvillaea and poinsettias and then higher up the groves of walnuts, cherries, almonds, pistachios and vines. Palermo is known for its street markets, especially Vucciria and Ballaro, where traders and hawkers, pickpockets and shoppers converge amongst narrow streets and stalls of wares. See the traditional costumes and dialect of Piana degli Albanesi, where Albanians settled in the 15th Century. Revel in the splendid site of Taormina above the sea with views to Etna. Local crafts include cork, ceramics, honey, embroidery, raffia. Enjoy the calm and remoteness of the Aeolian Islands with their clear waters, beautiful scenery and peaceful way of life. Enjoy the gardens of the Villa Giulia in Palermo and the Public Gardens in Taormina.

Cultural highlights of Sicily

Palermo contains some of the greatest Arab-Norman buildings in existence - San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the Palazzo Reale with its striking Cappella Palatina and La Martorana. Monreale outside Palermo is the greatest work of Norman architecture in Sicily and contains beautiful 12th and 13th Century mosaics and cloisters. The Doric temples of the 5th Century BC in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Cefalu has the `Portrait of a Man` by Antonello da Messina, dating from 1465 in its Museo Mandralisca.

Festivals in Sicily

Many Sicilian local festivals are linked to Saints’ Days. A few of the most well-known festivals generally include Carnival celebrations in Taormina and Acireale. Easter is celebrated especially in Trapani, Marsala and Piana degli Albanesi. Messina celebrates Ferragosto on the 15th August with a firework display over the Straits. The Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore takes place in Agrigento in the first and second weeks of February to celebrate the almond blossom. Taormina Arte is a summer festival of music, cinema, ballet and theatre, held in the Greek theatre. The Palio dei Normanni takes place in Piazza Armeria in August.

Gastronomy in Sicily

The gastronomy of Sicily, like much of the culture of the island, has been heavily influenced by its history. Cuscus is a Sicilian version of couscous, and marzipan features heavily in sweets. Local produce includes citrus fruits, almonds, capers, olives, peppers and fish. Local specialities include Maccheroni con le sarde (pasta with sardines, fennel, raisins, pine nuts and saffron), Pesce spada (grilled sword fish), 'alla Siciliana' with capers, red peppers and herbs. Cassata is a popular dessert made with ricotta, candied fruit and pistachios and Cannoli are almond biscuits stuffed with ricotta. Sicily produces a variety of red and white wines including Corvo di Salaparuta and Etna, Marsala and Malvasia.

Luxury rail tailormade holiday in the footsteps of Michael Portillo to Sicily.

Highlights of Milan

The magnificent Duomo is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and was started in 1386, taking almost five centuries to complete. A visit to the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is a must, but be sure to book tickets in advance. The city’s opera house, La Scala, is one of the world’s most renowned opera houses and is host to the most famous opera singers, conductors and orchestras in the world

Cultural highlights of Milan

La Scala, The Duomo, The Piazza Duomo, The Convento di Santa Maria delle Grazie, The Galleria di Vittorio Emanuele II, The Castello Sforzesco.

Festivals in Milan

The festival of Sant’Ambrogio, the city’s patron saint is on 7 December and there are processions, fairs and festivities throughout the capital. The Festa Del Naviglio is held in the first ten days of June and sees numerous processions and street performances. The Opera season at La Scala runs historically from the festival of Sant’Ambrogio in December through to July, but of course there are concerts and performances on all the time, apart from in August, when it is generally closed.

Gastronomy in Milans

Milan lends its name to many regional specialities such as Risotto alla Milanese, Cotolleta alla Milanese, Minestrone alla Milanese, but is also home to the traditional Panettone Christmas cake. The cuisine of Lombardy tends to be hearty and meat based, such as Ossobuco (oxtail), but there are excellent vegetable and sea food ‘fritto misto’ dishes too. Wines of the region are generally from the Franciacorta wine growing region near Lake Iseo and the area is principally known for its sparkling wines.

Luxury rail tailormade holiday in the footsteps of Michael Portillo to Sicily.

Highlights of Naples

It is easy to take the hydrofoil from Naples port to the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. Please ask our reservations team for more details. There is a good rail service along the coast to Herculaneaum, Pompeii, Sorrento and beyond. For those who are looking for a spot of physical activity it is also possible to scale Mount Vesuvius. A bus service runs from outside the station at Herculaneum up to within a couple of hours walk from the crater.

Cultural highlights of Naples

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale, the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte and the gallery of the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte. which has numerous works of art by Perugino, Botticelli, Lippi and Brueghels. The Castle of Sant’Elmo at the top of the hill overlooking the old city of Naples is an impressive 14th Century fortification, still partially in use today.

Festivals in Naples

Naples hosts numerous music festivals and art exhibitions throughout the summer months. The city’s Saint, San Gennaro, is celebrated on the first Saturday in May and again in mid-September and mid-December, when the preserved blood of the saint is said to miraculously liquefy. Being the home of the Margherita Pizza, there is, of course, a Pizza Festival which lasts for ten days in September. Pizza chefs or ‘Pizzaiuoli’ from around Italy congregate in Naples to out wit each other in the perfecting the art of pizza-making!

Gastronomy in Naples

The world-renowned Pizza comes from Naples and the local pizzerias serve some of the best tasting pizzas you are likely to ever sample! Locally caught fresh sea food is also superb and does not need to be expensive. Simple, fresh ingredients, particularly tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and large varieties of fruit are grown locally and are superb.

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