Mediterranean Marvels – A Train Odyssey Along the Southern Coasts of Italy

Embark on one of Europe’s most scenic train rides. Climb steep cliffs and wind through spiral tunnels on an amazing adventure.

Ulysses’ desire to return to Ithaca reflects a lightness of spirit that enlivens Mediterranean culture. This spirit of wonder could revitalize the region and reduce inequality between generations and countries.

Amalfi: Maritime Majesty

Amid azure waves and verdant cliffs, a treasure trove of ancient towns and villages unfolds along the Amalfi Coast. Situated between fabled Naples and dormant Mount Vesuvius, this enchanting corner of Italy enchants travelers with its captivating vistas, quaint alleyways, and hospitable residents.

Awaken to a Sorrentine sunrise and prepare for an expedition that promises nothing less than visual and emotional spectacle. As you board a small group tour, your expert guide will introduce you to the enduring legacy of the Amalfi Coast.

As a prosperous Maritime Republic during the Middle Ages, Amalfi was able to cultivate a wealth of culture that has shaped the region’s distinctive architecture and traditions. Upon arrival in the charming town, a visit to its historic cloisters will reveal a stunning display of Byzantine, Romanesque, Moorish, and Baroque architecture. The imposing Duomo also dates back to this illustrious period, as do the awe-inspiring apse and Campanile.

Amalfi’s illustrious history is woven into the fabric of its culture and sophistication, and this heritage reveals itself in every moment. A journey to the Museum of Handmade Paper demonstrates this rich legacy, as you stroll through rooms lined with delicate “bambagina,” Amalfi’s luxurious handmade paper. You can even see tools and machines that shaped the paper’s storied past.

From Amalfi, ascend to the enchanting village of Ravello. This aristocratic retreat is perched atop a hilltop, overlooking a dazzling panorama of cliffs and coves. Admire the pastoral beauty of this Italian gem and its legendary gardens. In the evening, attend a heartfelt procession dedicated to Saint Andrew, an event that unites the community and celebrates the town’s devotional spirit.

The Echoes of Magna Graecia at Paestum

A train odyssey across the mountainous southern coast of Italy brings visitors to Paestum, where a pair of temples that rivaled the great sanctuaries of Athens and Rome stood for over two millennia. The ruins, which now house an archaeological museum, reveal how Magna Graecia was once the home of the earliest Greek civilization outside Greece.

Amid the rise of nationalist trends in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars of Magna Graecia wrestled with an issue that echoes to this day: how to incorporate South Italy’s Greek heritage into the narrative history of the new Italian nation-state. The answer, as the work of Francois Lenormant illustrates, often leaned towards a kind of comparative exoticism.

The idiosyncratic French scholar and child prodigy Lenormant, who had grown up in Florence, worked to overcome this obstacle by combining a keen sense of visual presentation with rigorous archaeological research on a scale unprecedented for his era. Yet he was not quite as solitary as he sometimes made out: as an active contributor to regional studies and even to state-sponsored excavations, Lenormant was well aware of the emerging disciplinary and institutional norms that would eventually shape the study of Magna Graecia.

The 1783 earthquake that ravaged the temples of Paestum exacerbated this dynamic, bringing to light a relative dearth of historical material for Greek south Italy. In response, the nineteenth-century travel writers Saint-Non and Swinburne framed Magna Graecia as a lost past, a space where Greece’s cultural supremacy ran into a primitive frontier.

In the work of Mazzocchi, however, a different approach emerges. He insists that the name “Magna Graecia” refers not just to its storied Greek past but also to Italy’s pre-Greek roots. The claim recalls earlier Italian historians who had emphasized that the storied Greek past did not simply overlay upon but encircled a much older Italian one.

A Tapestry of Milanese Marvels

An unmistakable glimmer of gold looms above the skyline as you venture into Milan, a city that celebrates artistic expression in all forms. The awe-inspiring Duomo cathedral serves as its crowning glory. Then, take a moment to admire the architectural grace of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a premier shopping destination. And don’t miss a close-up of the statue of St. Bartholomew Flayed Alive, which is composed of embossed and gilded copper plates and sculpted by Marco d’Agrate.

Unlike many of Marvel’s pandemic-era films, Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels is an unapologetic embrace of its inherent silliness, a choice that may polarize certain audiences but serves the film well. The Marvels finds a welcome sense of equilibrium between the gut-punching gravitas of tragedy and uproarious belly laughs, a perfect balance of its comic book heritage.

This sense of authenticity extends to its trio of fully realized heroines. Larson’s Carol Danvers is afforded a depth of character that transcends the contrived “girl power” narrative, delving into her cosmic journey and the dual impact of her actions. Parris’ Monica Rambeau and Vellani’s Kamala Khan are likewise captivating, capturing their characters with warmth and charm.

From the awe-inspiring Duomo to the timeless Last Supper, your small group tour explores Milan’s most captivating landmarks on a bespoke itinerary. From here, the train glides you through Italy’s heartland to Venice, a floating city of winding canals and historic grandeur. Then, the enchanting Tuscany awaits with its age-old traditions and flavors. During this phase of your adventure, discover the cultural heritage of cities such as Monza, home to the legendary auto museum, and Florence, a Renaissance gem with its magnificent Palazzo Pubblico and famous Palio horse race.

Mount Etna

Etna dominates northeastern Sicily by its great bulk as the highest mountain of southern Italy and any Mediterranean island. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its globally significant geological features, the colossal stratovolcano is Europe’s most active volcano, whose constant activity has been known for more than 2,700 years. A composite or stratovolcano resulting from multiple overlapping eruptions that have been explosive and effusive in character, it is mantled by numerous lava flows, cinder cones and lava tubes, with a variety of volcanic ejecta deposits.

The mountain is a constant source of wonder and fear for local people, who have long associated it with the gods. Legends abound, with Pindar and Hesiod mentioning its cataclysmic eruptions that kept the Carthaginian army from reaching Catania in 475 bce or prevented the city from being overrun by a lava flow during an explosion in 1381.

Its summit area features four craters and a series of fissures forming lava domes, with a vast depression on its eastern side, the Valle del Bove, containing volcanic cliffs that expose historic layers of ash. Its endemic fauna and flora are also notable, contributing to the mountain’s status as an important natural laboratory.

In recent times, the volcano has been more active than usual, and in late summer and early autumn the summit’s flanks can be covered with a thick blanket of cooled lava and lapilli. However, there are no immediate dangers from the volcano, which is monitored closely at all times.

Etna’s impressive features can be enjoyed by train, with the Ferrovia delle Meraviglie (“Railway of Marvels”) climbing to the summit via spiral tunnels and lofty viaducts before descending to Ventimiglia, on the border between Italy and France. Its route traverses the Maritime Alps and Mercantour National Park, connecting Piedmont to Liguria and the French Riviera along the way.


Located on an escarpment overlooking the Bay of Naples, Pompeii was a prosperous Roman town when it was buried in volcanic debris during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The pyroclastic flows incinerated or suffocated nearly all structures within their path and changed the surrounding landscape. The eruption was so sudden that people had no time to flee. Even so, the town was preserved for millennia thanks to the protective blanket of ash.

When Pompeii was rediscovered in the 18th century, archaeologists marvelled at the wealth of treasures preserved in the volcanic rock. The most evocative finds include plaster casts of victims, including their hygienic and personal details such as the folds of their togas and the straps on their sandals. The eerie realism of the plaster casts has given Pompeii an unrivalled reputation as one of Italy’s most compelling archaeological sites. The 1954 film Journey to Italy, starring George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman, included a scene set at the site.

Pompeii exhibits other signs of everyday life as well. For example, holes in the counters of Pompeii’s “fast food” joints show where containers once held food for the city’s busy customers. A 1st-century AD painted tomb of a freed slave, Marcus Venerius Secundio, outside the Porta Sarno gate reveals that he achieved custodianship of the Temple of Venus and membership of the Augustales, priests of the Imperial Cult.

By the first century BC, Pompeii had become a wealthy city that was an important stop for goods being sent toward Rome or southern Italy along the Appian Way. However, it was not a major military base and retained a measure of autonomy.

Close by is Herculaneum, an upper-class rival to Pompeii with lavish villas and marble-work not found in its middle-class neighbour. Combine a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum with an archeology tour of Naples for the best of Ancient Roman culture.

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