For he’s a jolly good thello

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Paul Wojnicki lets the Thello train take the strain and showcases some of the highlights of the route

Five years ago Paris was undoubtedly the hub of Europe’s overnight train services. Each night, as Parisians settled down to bed, trains would depart across the continent to Spain, Italy, Germany and the furthest flung corners of the domestic rail network.

Not so these days. Earlier this year SNCF- the national rail operator- announced plans to cut funding to all domestic routes bar three rural destinations. This, along with the demise of the Paris-Berlin, Paris-Munich, Paris-Barcelona and Paris Madrid services now means that Paris Gare du Lyon now has fewer night services than Novy Zamky.

“Where’s Novy Zamky?” I hear you ask.


This is terrible news to younger travellers, who’ve historically used night trains as cost effective accommodation and an efficient way of visiting multiple cities in one trip.

So it’s fortunate that the Thello – the most iconic European service after the Orient Express – still leaves the City of Light on a nightly basis at and hopefully it’s going to be around for a good few decades at least.

Here are the highlights of the route along with the arrival/ departure times.

Venice: arrives from Paris 09:35. Departs for Paris 19:20
A city that requires no introduction, from the moment you step out of the train station onto the Grand Canal you’ll be blown away by the sheer majesty of the place the world’s only pedestrian city, where the equivalent of London’s Underground is the Vaporetto water bus and even the garbage is removed by boats. With more art per square mile than any other city in the world even some of the smallest buildings in Venice house works by some of the world’s most famous artists. Then there’s the city’s unique Venetian Gothic architecture, the narrowest street in Europe and of course the Venetian Gondolas and Gondoliers.

Padova: arrives from Paris 09:06. Departs for Paris 19:48

Criminally under-visited by tourists, presumably due to its proximity to Venice, Padova is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy if not Europe and a city of superlatives. For starters there’s Prato della Valle, the second largest public square in the world and arguably the most beautiful. Then there is a palace in the city centre- Palazzo della Ragione– which at 82 meters long and 27 meters wide has the largest unsupported roof in Europe.
If that’s not impressive enough then Basilica di Sant’Antonio is one of only eight Catholic international shrines in the whole world and Padova’s most famous attraction, while the Scrovegni Chapel houses some of the most important and influential frescoes in the entire history of art.   

Verona: arrives from Paris 07:54. Departs for Paris 20:50
The beautiful medieval city in which Shakespeare chose to set Romeo and Juliet has a wealth of sights. The 1st century Arena is the third largest surviving Roman amphitheatre in the world and still functions as a live venue today.
For more Roman ruins head across walking across the river and up the hill to Castell San Pietro, here you can enjoy an unrivalled and tranquil view of the city with the medieval towers, churches and castles tucked behind the River Adige, and with the ruins of a small Roman theatre just below you.
Don’t forget to gaze up at the balcony at Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s house, afterwards. Supposedly the spot where Shakespeare’s Romeo declared his love to Juliet it’s something of a cliché, and there’ll be another dozens of other tourists doing the same thing but since the train arrives early you might just beat them and have the balcony to yourself.

Brescia: arrives from Paris 07:12. Departs for Paris 21:33
It’s not the most beautiful city in Italy by any stretch of the imagination but what Brescia lacks in looks it more than makes up for with its location. Just 13 minutes away from Lake Garda by rail means you can be windsurfing, swimming, boating or sunbathing on one of Italy’s most famous lakes. Trains leave on a regular basis for Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera Del Garda. Whichever town you visit of the two be sure to catch the boat to Sirmione- a fairytale walled town only accessible by boat or via the drawbridge of a 13th Century castle- and the most stunning town on the lake.
Lake Garda isn’t the only lake close to Brescia. If you prefer seclusion then catch the train to Lake Iseo instead (20-30 minutes from Brescia). The lake is one of Italy’s least known northern lakes, which is strange because it’s probably more beautiful than Garda and nestled really close to the Alps. It’s a beautiful spot to swim and relax in relatively warm water with the mountains towering behind you, and you’re guaranteed to find a stretch of water to yourself even in the height of summer.

Milan: arrives from Paris 05:50. Departs for Paris 23:05
Milan may be Italy’s economic capital and probably the world’s fashion capital, but its sophistication isn’t matched by its looks. Much of the city is modern and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the USA at times. That said there are more than enough churches art galleries and museums to keep you going for a week and enough high end shopping to ruin your credit rating for a decade. The nightlife is as diverse as you’d expect from a major world city too and if the heat of the summer becomes too intense then beautiful Lake Como is less than an hour away by train.
Top tip: since the arrival time in Milan is so early then you’re better off using the Thello on your way back to Paris.

We travelled on the Thello by private sleeper, which can be booked for one, two or three passengers. The sleeper was comfortable and provided everything we needed for a relaxing journey, including a washbasin with towel, a toiletry pack, bottles of water, power sockets and a space to secure our luggage. The only thing missing was a private toilet but there’s one at the end of each compartment. The cheapest fares for single passengers are found in the six berth compartments, which you’ll share with other travellers. These seats can be found for as little as 35 € each way if booked well in advance.

Words and pictures: Paul Wojnicki

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