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Geneva to Florence via the Simplon Pass and Cinque Terre

Good day,
My husband and I are working to plan a trip for next fall (2021). He would like to take the train from Geneva and go through the Simplon Pass to Italy. Our ultimate destination is Florence. He basically wants to see the Cinque Terre as it were to drive by like you would to see Christmas lights rather than to spend any time there.

  1. Would it be better to go through to Florence and then make a day trip up past the Cinque Terre and back the same day.

  2. Transfer in Milan to a train going along the coast route. We would probably need to stay overnight somewhere and then go on the next day in order to pass the Cinque Terre during the day.

i am not sure how to put this leg of the trip together to make the best use of our time and for the most enjoyment.

Thank you for your comments and ideas. Anne

Posted by
429 posts

By the looks of it you could take the train from Geneva to Genoa via Milan to go thru Simplon Pass (8 to 9 hours depending on train). Then Genoa to Monterosso al Mare (1.5 hours) on to Florence. (2 to 3.5 hours) . I would stay the night in Genoa.

Posted by
2891 posts

A drive by the CT towns by train? Not getting off to walk around? You won't see much, unless you have a thing for tunnels. A waste of time and money IMO. If you only want to drive by, try a sail past instead- using the ferry. At least you can see everything from the water

Posted by
15948 posts

Be aware that the ferries stop operating by the end of October, and I don't know about "Christmas lights" in October.

Posted by
2109 posts

The days get short in fall after mid-October. If we're talking November, by the time you reach the 5 Terre it will be nighttime (the sun sets at 5.15 in Genoa on Nov 1).
While not great either (at least 5-hour round trip train), a day trip from Florence makes a lot more sense and gives you the option to cancel if the weather looks iffy (don't go in the rain!).

Also, the fact that you need to get from Geneva to Florence in a day makes me wonder about your overall route: why will you be in Geneva? Is it for the airport? For a personal interest? If for any other reason, please reconsider; just about any other town on Lake Geneva will be better from a tourist standpoint.

Posted by
7401 posts

next fall (2021)

Fall is from Sept 22 to Dec 21.

What may be feasible in the first 2-3 weeks of Fall, probably would be impossible the last 2-3 weeks.

Passing CT by train ( night or day) is not going to provide much of a view.

A boat is the only way to see the towns, ala a 'Christmas lights driveby.'

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you to all who replied to my inquiry. They were each very helpful.

When we arrive at this part of our trip we will have been in Europe about 3 weeks. I am currently planning on flying to Frankfurt in the middle of August. Our return flight would also be from Frankfurt. Our train trip across the Alps would be in early September.

Steve is an avid reader of spy novels some of which are set or partly set in Geneva. He has always wanted to visit and walk the streets of the old town. This, in addition to wanting to take the train across the Simplon Pass puts us in Geneva. I found a flight from Amsterdam to Geneva where we would stay for two nights before catching the train across the Alps. With the flight we would have a day and a half in Geneva for the visit.

Thank you for all the guidance and suggestions on the Cinque Terre. I found several videos, including Rick Steves, showing the five towns and I think this satisfied my husband's desire to visit. He was able to see more of the Cinque Terre in the videos than he would have been able to see from the train.

So at this point, I think our working itinerary will be to go directly from Geneva across the Simplon Pass to Florence without the side trip. The train trip is still about 12.5 hours even if we leave at 8:30 from Geneva. This perhaps will necessitate staying over one night south of Milan. I need to do more research.

I truly thank all of your for your help, suggestions and wisdom. Anne

Posted by
25584 posts

To prepare yourself for the trip you might have a look at a couple of YouTubes.

The train doesn't go over the Simplon Pass - for over 12 miles it goes under in a tunnel. To see the pass you will need either a car or a ride on a Postbus.

Have a look at A little of the ride through the tunnel is at minute 12:35 of the 19 minute video.

Decent scenery near both ends of the tunnel, but if you are after spectacular Swiss scenery there are better routes, IMHO.

There is another flash (just a flash) of the Simplon Tunnel at minute 4:48 of the 8:40 video

Note that video's incorrect assumption that the border police are checking at Domodossola is because Switzerland doesn't use the Euro. Wrong. A fair video though.

A good vlog for Swiss things is How to Switzerland on YouTube. Two of Sarah's posts are and . The first one is a little more recent and they have a little jaunt from the Voralpen and a beautiful village in eastern Switzerland. The second one is a year older and is a bit of an ad for Eurailpasses because they were given them for free. Normally they they don't do promos but when they give it for free what do you do? The information about taking Swiss trains is very good, and the Eurailpass info is good if you want to do that (I don't but sometimes they might make sense for some).

Happy watching, and I hope these help a little.

Posted by
2132 posts

The train trip is still about 12.5 hours even if we leave at 8:30 from Geneva.

The morning direct train to Milano Centrale takes 4 hours. Add a couple of hours to get From Milano Centrale to Firenze SMN.

Where did you get those travel times? Aside From the reduced schedules because of Covid, you are not supposed to enter a day of travel after June 13 to look the schedules up.

Posted by
2109 posts

Thanks for all the clarifications about your trip! The railway between Geneva and Milan through the Simplon tunnel is reasonably scenic, but the best views are mostly confined to the Lausanne-Villeneuve stretch along lake Geneva (sit on right hand side out of Geneva if you can). Expectations need to be managed.
Taking the train still makes sense, however, because Geneva-Florence only requires 1 change in Milan and takes about 6.5 hours, so it is pretty reasonable.

Posted by
25584 posts

Castleme2, Anne, are you still with us?

Posted by
16 posts

Hello Nigel --
Yes I am still with you. The more I try to "sort out" Italian rail the more confused and frustrating I become. It is harder than making an airline reservation.
The journey from Geneva to Milan seems fairly straight forward.
When we reach Milan -- There are two private rail companies that provide high speed trains to go forward to Florence. Trying to get into their website and locate the information is hard and not at all straight forward.
So I keep working at it in bits and pieces.


Posted by
25584 posts

All trains between Milan and Florence are operated either by the state railways, Trenitalia, or by the much smaller (Ferrari owners are investors, although I am not in favour of Ferrari in Formula 1, I prefer Italo trains when I get a chance) Italo. They both use the same tracks. Italo only run high speed trains, only stop at main stations, and only on some routes.

Between Milan and Florence both companies run trains.

Looking things up at the moment is very difficult because different areas of Italy are under different levels of Lockdown, nearly all prohibiting other than local travel except in very exceptional circumstances.

Needless to say the trains in Italy, and in much of the rest of Europe are in a real mess.

Those of us who regularly used trains in Italy before the pandemic can give you a decent idea of what it might look like if it goes back to normal (who knows?) after the pandemic.

There is one main station in Florence, Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella) and one main station in Milan, Milano Centrale. There are other more minor stations in both cities, and during the major cancellation era many of those have been used too.

I'm afraid you will need to be patient for a few more (maybe many more) months until Italy starts to open up for internal travel before schedules will make much sense.

Figure on a couple of hours travel time with zero to three station calls along the way for both companies, with no less than hourly service.

You don't need to get tickets months in advance.

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you so much Nigel. You are a fountain of knowledge, experience and wisdom. Anne

Posted by
429 posts

Doing a search for March 24th, on Trenitalia the fastest is 2 hours at ~ $100 for 2 or about 6 hours with 2 changes and ~ $50-60 for 2. Same date on Italo is 2 hours at ~ $85 for 2. Prices are for the cheapest tickets more of course for types/classes. There are a number of trains for each company each day.

I did March 24th because right now Italo only books about a month out. As Nigel said that's from Milano Centrale to Firenze Santa Maria Novella.

Posted by
25584 posts

In a normal year Milano-Firenze a couple of weeks out or so should be 19€ or 29€ per person each way on either company for the fast trains.

This isn't a normal year yet.