Culture

Rail Wonders of Sardinia and Corsica

10 or 16 - 25 October
Italy, France

It was easy enough to build a standard gauge railway along the wide north-south valley of Sardinia, but the towns in the hills either side of it, or the ports and fishing villages on the east and west coasts could only be reached by narrow-gauge feeder lines. Think of the Douro Valley in Portugal—though here in Sardinia the narrow-gauge lines are longer and still open even though funding for repairs is not always available when needed.

Our tour of Sardinia gives you the chance to travel over every open railway line on the island, both standard and narrow gauge, and includes the two new tramway systems. We expect to see most of the locomotives and railcars on the island, both standard and narrow gauge. 

Corsica, the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean is also called “The island of beauty”; a veritable mountain in the sea and an island of strong character. Just look at the wild and rugged natural environment and the islands tumultuous history.  We start our tour in Pisa and tour the sights before travelling to Corsica and its narrow-gauge lines.

Highlights

  • Historic cities
  • Great scenery
  • Private vintage train charters
  • Plenty of off-train options

Tour Manager: Angelina

SARDINIA

Day 1 Tuesday 16 October Flight from London Gatwick to Olbia Airport. Transfer by road in our luxury bus to Palau, a well-to-do resort with lively streets lined with surfing shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants. Two night stay in Palau. An overland option via Eurostar and ferry (from Genoa) is also available.

Day 2 Wednesday 17 October (B,D) A free day to relax by the sea or to enjoy any of the various natural attractions around Palau such as La Maddalena or Capo d’Orso. Welcome dinner.

Day 3 Thursday 18 October (B) The coast in the vicinity of Palau is famous for its bizarre weather-beaten rocks, some of which we will see from our narrow gauge loco-hauled charter passenger train over the little-used line from Palau to Sassari, a journey of 150 km with some fabulous views. The first section, from Palau to Nulvi, has no regular traffic but is still traversable by charter trains. We can have photo stops and run-pasts. There is a lunch break in Tempio Pausania where we hope to visit the railway workshop, a masterpiece of industrial archaeology. The following section is one of a succession of viaducts and tunnels, including the Bortigiadas spiral tunnel, as we descend out of the hills and approach Sassari. Night in Sassari at the Hotel Vittorio Emanuele located in the heart of the city.

Day 3 Friday 19 October (B)There are options today. Enthusiast option: Free time to ride the Sassari tram system end-to-end and after lunch travel the lines to Porto Torres Marittima and the Sassari to Sorso narrow-gauge branch. Alternatively have an unescorted ride on the 06.40 to Cagliari which is non-stop to Macomer, and so covers the Ozieri avoiding curve. Cultural Option: Enjoy a guided tour of old Sassari in the morning with a professional guide. Sassari, the island’s second largest city, has a fine urban landscape of wide boulevards, impressive piazzas and stately palazzo (the town houses of the nobility), and an evocative medieval centre with Dickensian alleyways of small workshops and hidden churches. Charter bus to Santíssima Trinità di Sacargia. Free time and lunch break in Sassari. In the afternoon the whole group travel by rail along the branch line to Alghero, a pretty city on the seaside. We stay at the Hotel Alma di Alghero for two nights.

Day 4 Saturday 20 October (B) A free day to relax by the sea or to visit Alghero old town and its natural attractions such as the Grotta di Nettuno.

Day 5 Sunday 21 October (B) Transfer by road southwards along the spectacular coastal road to Bosa Marina, dominated by an imposing medieval castle, where we board another loco-hauled narrow-gauge charter to Macomer, a junction with both the FS standard gauge railway and another FdS narrow gauge line to Nuoro, the largest city in the interior of the island. Our train consists of diesel loco type LDe in brown livery with a parcels coach and a beautifully restored “bauchiero” coach dating from 1913 made from varnished wood. The Bosa line only sees public service trains in July and August, and then only on two days a week. The journey starts virtually “on the level” along the coast for a while and then twists and turns for a considerable distance to gain height, still giving splendid views of the coast. In Macomer there will be time to find some lunch. Then we board a narrow-gauge service train to Nuoro, before rejoining our bus for the journey to Arbatax, a seaside town on the east coast, and the Hotel La Bitta, our overnight stay.

Day 6 Monday 22 October (B,L) Unfortunately the railway line from Arbatax to Mandas in 2017 was only accessible from Seui.  We hope by the date of our trip the line will be restored throughout and we can again enjoy riding the complete 160km of very scenic narrow-gauge line inland from Arbatax through the Gennargentu Mountains using an elderly diesel railcar. Again, the line sees no regular traffic, only charter trains. In Sadali we stop for a three course lunch with spit-roast pig (included). The line between Arbatax and Mandas is considered by many to be the most spectacular on the island; a gravity-defying ride through some of Sardinia’s least accessible mountain terrain. At the end of the day our bus takes us to Cagliari where overnight accommodation for the next three nights is in the 4 star Hotel Regina Margherita. Cagliari has been the capital city of Sardinia for over 2,000 years; today, it has a still-busy, working port and a large student population, grand boulevards, neo-Gothic palaces and art-nouveau cafés.

Day 7 Tuesday 23 October (B,PL) After breakfast, our bus transfers us to Mandas where we board a diesel loco hauled train. Unfortunately, the almost-unused section of line to Sorgono was only available in 2017 as far as Laconi.  Again, if repairs are carried out in time, we hope to travel the whole 95km to Sorgono which is at the geographic centre of the island. The railway runs through the mountains with lots of brick and steel bridges and several tunnels, the longest of which is 999 metres. From Sorgono our bus takes us again to Mandas Junction where we take the service train to Cagliari Monserrato (69 km), although in 2017 part of the journey was replaced by bus due to bridge damage. On arrival there is the option to ride the new tram system before retiring.

Day 8 Wednesday 24 October (B,D) There are two railway museums in Cagliari, the FdS and FS, but the FdS (narrow gauge) museum is closed to the public due to serious damage. We therefore start today with a visit to the FS (or standard gauge) museum and afterwards ride the FS lines in the area, using service trains Cagliari – Carbonia – Villamassargia – Iglesias – Cagliari. We arrive back at Cagliari station in time to join the guided city tour. The Culture group in the morning will visit the archaeological site of Nora, 40 kilometres from Cagliari. Nora is an ancient Roman town located on a peninsula and the ruins function as an open-air museum with mosaics and the remains of the amphitheatre and several buildings. We return to Cagliari for lunch and then a guided tour of the old city with a professional local guide. Farewell group dinner at our hotel.

Day 9 Thursday 25 October (B)  We take the FS service train from Cagliari to Golfo Aranci, a four hour ride from the south to the north of the island, then take the bus from Golfo Aranci to Olbia airport for the evening flight back to Gatwick.

We also hope to include visits to some of the railway depots on Sardinia but these were not confirmed at the time of writing. Also in autumn 2017 some of the “green lines” were closed for repairs. We expect most, if not all, of these to reopen in time for this (2018) visit.

Pre-Tour to PISA and CORSICA

Day 1 Wednesday 10 October (D) We leave Gatwick at 13.40 on the Easyjet flight to the Italian city of Pisa. Overnight in Pisa. Welcome dinner.

Day 2 Thursday 11 October (B) Pisa straddles the River Arno just before it empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Although known worldwide for its Leaning Tower, the city of over 90,000 residents contains more than 20 other historic churches, several medieval palaces and various bridges across the River Arno. Much of the city’s architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics. We have a guided tour of the main sites in the morning leaving the afternoon free for your own exploration.

Day 3 Friday 12 October (B)  We travel the short distance from Pisa to Livorno by rail (followed by our coach conveying our luggage) and at Livorno we board a Corsica Ferries ferry at 14.15 for the four hour crossing from Livorno to Bastia. Short transfer to hotel.

Day 4 Saturday 13 October (B) Bastia is the principal port of the island and the city centre is mainly composed of the “Citadelle”, the stronghold, also called Terra-Nova, the Genoese Governor’s Palace, the old port and its popular quarter and the market plaza. In the morning we have a guided tour. The afternoon is free.

Day 5 Sunday 14 October (B) Today we travel by train to Calvi, so covering the upper branch of the Corsica railway. From Ponte Leccia the train goes up a dry and uninhabited valley but soon we have a view of the sea in the distance and before long we are travelling alongside the sea stopping at seaside villages. In Calvi we have a guided tour of the city, built on a promontory in a beautiful bay. We have time for a lunch break before taking our charter bus back to Bastia through the Balagna which is considered to be the most pleasant region of the island.

Day 6 Monday 15 October (B) Today we travel by service train from Bastia to Ajaccio, the Corsican capital city. The train crosses the island, winding round the mountains, crossing some superb bridges and passing through magnificent forest before reaching the tropical atmosphere of the Gulf of Ajaccio, one of the most beautiful locations in Corsica. Leaving Bastia at 08.55 we arrive in Ajaccio in time for lunch and a free afternoon exploring this pretty town.

Day 7 Tuesday 16 October (B) The morning is free before we transfer by coach to Bonifacio for a guided tour of the old town built on a promontory of white rocks before we board the 17.00 ferry for the one hour crossing of the Bocche di Bonifacio strait to Santa Teresa di Gallura on Sardinia. Coach transfer to our hotel in Palau to join the main Sardinia group.

Place(s) available

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • 9 day Sardinia holiday from London Gatwick: £1,899
  • Own travel to and from Sardinia: £1,699
  • 7 day Pisa and Corsica holiday from London Gatwick: £1,399
  • Own travel to Pisa and from Ajaccio: £1,199
  • 15 day Pisa, Corsica, Sardinia holiday from London Gatwick: £2,950
  • 15 day tour own travel: £2,750

Options

  • Single room Supplement (Sardinia only): £320
  • Single room Supplement (full tour): £490
  • Overland from St Pancras: POA

Deposit

  • Travelling by air: £500
  • Travelling overland: £1,000
  • Own travel: £300

Price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Good quality en-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted

Flights

  • We recommend the direct Easyjet flight from Gatwick to Olbia although other options may be available once the winter 2018 schedules are released.
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