I Spent the Night on Italy’s “New” Retro Snow Train to the Dolomites—Here’s What It’s Like Onboard

The fastest route isn’t always the most adventurous one, our contributor reports after taking the vintage “snow train” from Rome to the Dolomite’s most famous ski town, Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Espresso Cadore train in the Calalzo-Pieve di Cadore-Cortina D'ampezzo station with Dolomite mountains in background

The Espresso Cadore train leaves Rome at 9:50 p.m. on Friday and arrives at the Calalzo-Pieve di Cadore-Cortina D’Ampezzo station at 7:57 a.m. on Saturdays.

Photo by Kathleen Rellihan

“Buona sera, senora,” a cheerful white-haired man greets me as he takes my luggage and shows me to my sleeper cabin on the Espresso Cadore. After the train departs Roma Termini station, I head to the train’s bar car to grab a glass of prosecco to kick off my trip to the Dolomites—to ski on Italy’s famed Olympic slopes.

As I pass through the red plush-carpeted hallways, I look back at a time well before my first experiences taking trains in Italy 20 years ago while studying abroad in Florence. I pass photos adorning the walls of passengers decked out in 1980s and ’90s colorblock ski suits, skis-in-hand as they emerge from train cars and step out onto fresh snow. While “new” for 2024, the Espresso Cadore night train was once a popular route to take travelers to Italy’s northeastern mountain range, the Dolomites, in the ’90s and early aughts, but discontinued service in 2011. These vintage photos on the walls echo the vibe and design of the entire train, from the wood-paneled cabins, to the retro-red dining car, to the large black-and-white vintage travel photos that cover every sleeper cabin.

Bringing back the retro “snow train” to the Dolomites

Photo from the ’80s of two men outside train with ski gear

The Espresso Caldore night train was popular in the 1980s and ’90s with skiers.

Courtesy of FS Treni Turistici Italiani

In an effort to meet the ever-increasing demand for unique railway experiences and create more sustainable journeys throughout the country, FS Treni Turistici Italiani (Italian Tourist Trains), a new arm of the state-run rail network, is launching new routes in 2024 taking travelers beyond the typical city hotspots. Some of these routes might head to lesser-known areas, or visit familiar places like the Espresso Cadore, but always in a slower, more environmentally friendly way than a flight or car trip would be.

The Espresso Cadore route is the first of Italy’s new tourist train initiatives to launch in 2024, catering to the resurgence of night trains in Europe. This sleeper train restored from train cars built in the 1980s and ’90s, takes travelers on weekends from Rome through the night to Cortina D’Ampezzo, home to the 1956 Winter Olympics, the first Olympics Italy hosted, and the soon-to-be main site of the 2026 Winter Games.

This is no Orient Express, but it is an elevated rail experience

Note that this is no ride on the Orient Express. While not a luxury train, it is an elevated railway experience with white-tablecloth dining and a white-jacket donned staff serving you a three-course dinner and breakfast in the dining car. Dinner is included with private sleeper cabin car tickets, but you can pay à la carte as well. I chose linguine alla puttanesca, sea bream filet, and a dark chocolate panettone tart for my three courses. While it’s not the Italian food you’ll swoon over when you arrive in the Dolomites (you must try casunziei, Cortina’s signature dish of beetroot ravioli), service was top-notch and warm. There’s also a dedicated storage car for all your luggage, skis, bikes, and outdoor gear. Private cabins include a sink, floor-length mirror and small seating area, as well as a bed (shared toilets are outside the cabins). You get your own attendant too, who can make reservations for you in the dining car or serve you meals in your cabin as well. The bar car is open all night long if you’re feeling social.

Train dining car with red seats and issue of AFAR (L); train attendant in red jacket (R)

Some light reading before dinner in the dining car (L); attendants are available on the train to make reservations or serve meals in your cabin (R).

Photos by Kathleen Rellihan

For those looking for a more upscale experience, the glamorous Orient Express La Dolce Vita, is making its much-anticipated return to Italy later this year.

The Espresso Cadore night train takes just over 10 hours to get from Rome to the Dolomites. The fastest route to the Dolomites is to fly into Venice and take a two-hour car transfer, or drive eight hours from Rome navigating mountain passes and hairpin turns. Although this new train route takes longer, a weekend ski trip—or a summer hiking trip—seems even more enticing as you can travel there while you’re sleeping.

The fastest route is not always the most adventurous one

And sleep I did! After a few bumpy stretches, I slept soundly. In the morning, I freshened up with the toiletries and towel provided, and had my breakfast in the dining car. Once arriving at the Calalzo-Pieve Cadore-Cortina station (on time, I might add), an included 50-minute coach bus took my fellow passengers and me directly to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy’s most famous ski town and Winter Olympics hub. Since 1993, it has hosted the annual Women’s Alpine Ski World Cup championships, which were underway when I arrived.

Private sleeper cabin with bed folded up (L) and down (R)

Beds fold down at night in private sleeper cabins and can be raised to provide comfortable seats.

Photos by Kathleen Rellihan

Whether you’re an Olympic hopeful or not, anyone can ski here. The Dolomiti Superski is the world’s largest ski area with 12 ski resorts serviced by 450 lifts and gondolas.

On my week-long ski safari with Dolomites Mountains, I never skied the same run twice. While it was incredible to swish down Women’s World Cup slopes against a backdrop of limestone pinnacles, one of my most memorable runs was the Armentarola piste, a gentle five-mile traverse that winds past dreamy icefalls. At the bottom, a horse-drawn carriage awaits to tow you and about 20 of your fellow skiers to the next ski area for three euro. There wasn’t room on the rope for me to hang on, so I was offered a seat in the horse carriage.

Even in the Dolomites, where the world’s fastest skiers are celebrated, there’s a time to let someone else take the reins, so you can sit back and take it all in.

Three people skiing in the Dolomites in front of dramatic mountain peaks

Cortina D’Ampezzo will host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.

Courtesy of Südtirol Marketing - Alex Filz

What to know about Italy’s Espresso Cadore train

While there’s a Sunday night return to Rome on the Espresso Cadore, I wanted to fit in one more day of skiing so I took Italo’s fast train from Venice to Rome. While the train ride was only four hours, after taking a car transfer to Venice from the Dolomites, I was disappointed that the only coffee available to purchase (if you’re not in first class) was from a vending machine. Some things should not be changed.

The Espresso Cadore leaves Roma Termini Station on Fridays at 9:50 p.m. and arrives in Calalzo-Pieve di Cadore-Cortina D’Ampezzo station at 7:57 a.m. on Saturdays. From there, an included coach bus takes passengers directly from the train station to the center of Cortina d’Ampezzo in 50 minutes. On Sundays, the Espresso Cadore returns to Rome leaving from the same Calalzo station at 9 p.m. and arrives at Roma Termini at 6:40 a.m. on Mondays.

The Rome–Cortina train route runs seasonally through the end of February and resumes for the summer months, exact dates TBD.

One-way tickets for the Espresso Cadore start at $183 for a bunk bed in a six-person cabin, $422 for a single private cabin; for exclusive use of a four-person cabin, prices go up to $655. Private cabin tickets (both for single or double cabin) include a three-course dinner, and all tickets include breakfast.

Tickets can be purchased on trenitalia.com. For more information visit trenituristici.it.

Where to stay

Cortina d’Ampezzo
Opened in 2022, Hotel de LEN is a modern and environmentally friendly nod to the Dolomites Ladin culture with its Climahotel-ceritifed energy-efficient wood design. Located in the heart of Cortina, its rooftop spa was a perfect spot for me to restore my tired muscles after skiing. From the open-air hut tub you can see the ski slopes lit up at night, and one of the saunas overlooks Cortina’s church steeple and snow-covered rooftops.

If you’re flying in and out of Rome, the new citizenM hotel’s location can’t be beat. Since I only had a day to wander around Rome, I loved having a base in the city’s historic Jewish Quarter right alongside the Tiber River, just a stroll from the Pantheon and the Colosseum. There’s a rooftop bar, and the hotel café serves a full range of espresso drinks and cocktails, 24 hours a day.

Kathleen Rellihan is a travel journalist and editor covering adventure, culture, climate, and sustainability. Formerly Newsweek‘s travel editor, she contributes to outlets such as AFAR, Outside, TIME, CNN Travel, and more.
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