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Trip Report Paris to Venice on the new Thello sleeper train

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I've just ridden the new Thello overnight sleeper train from Paris to Venice. If you want to see a video account of the journey to see for yourself what the sleepers, couchettes and restaurant car food is like, it's at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfjiaO2lyOw

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, slept well, and I'm pleased to say it's vastly improved over its lacklustre predecessor Artesia. Investment in the car interiors is where Thello needs to raise its game, as it currently uses the same elderly Trenitalia sleeping-cars and couchettes as its predecessor Artesia, but everything else is streets ahead. I'd happily use Thello again, whereas I had stopped recommending Artesia!

The train now leaves from platform 'M' of the main concourse of the easily-accessible and well-equipped Paris Gare de Lyon, no longer from the remote and poorly-equipped Gare de Bercy. You can have a drink or meal at the famous Train Bleu restaurant before boarding!

The sleeper train was platformed in good time, it left promptly and arrived at Brescia (where we left the train) spot on time. Staff were all new, and were friendly and helpful in both the sleepers and restaurant car.

The food was also way ahead of Artesia, it's now provided by Skychefs, a subsidiary of Lufthansa. Allowing for the constraints of providing complete meals economically on a train, dinner was remarkably good, with lentil and curried chicken soup followed by grilled Atlantic salmon steak and wild rice, then raspberry and chocolate tart, all accompanied by an excellent half bottle of Chianti and rounded off with a decent cafe latte from the restaurant car's expresso machine. The 3-course dinner cost 28 euros, the 37.5cl Chianti 12 euros. I almost went for a nice Cognac to round it off, but didn't on this occasion!

When we returned to our sleeper compartment the beds were made up, with clean sheets, plump pillows and soft duvets replacing Artesia's old blankets. Each berth had a reading light and a handy power socket for laptops and mobiles, which worked fine.

The ride was very smooth indeed, on well-maintained track all the way, and our sleeper was very quiet too - unless you opened the hopper window, when you'd suddenly hear all the track and wind noise!

In the washbasin unit in the corner, each of us got a clean towel, toiletries pack with soap, toothbrush and Thello-branded toothpaste, a tiny bottle of Thello-branded mouthwash, disposable slippers. We also each got a small bottle of mineral water.

The sleeper attendant took our tickets and passport and returned them next morning, so we weren't disturbed by any ticket or passport checks during the night, and he gave us a voucher for a complimentary light breakfast next morning in the restaurant car (that's sleeper passengers only, breakfast is 6 euros for couchette passengers).

The breakfast wasn't huge, just an orange juice, coffee and pain au chocolat.

The sleeping-cars had Closed Circuit TV cameras in the corridor for security, and both sleeper and couchette compartment doors had a security deadlock that cannot be opened from outside, even with a staff key. However, it seems Thello haven't yet fitted the hotel-style card-key locks that I have seen promised in some of the articles about the new Thello train.

I think if you travelled in the economical couchettes, in which fares start at only 35 euros in 6-berth or 55 euros in 4-berth, I think you'd think it great fun and amazing value, and travelling with a group of friends or a family, either using the restaurant or taking a picnic and your own wine, you could have a blast. You just need the 'camping' mentality for couchettes!

The sleepers are far more comfortable than couchettes, with proper beds and a washbasin, 1, 2 or 3 berths per compartment, fares from 145 euros per person in a 2-berth. ButI think it's here Thello need to raise their game, as passengers with expectations of old-style Wagons-Lits luxury may be disappointed.

The sleeping-cars are standard 'MU' ones built by the Wagons-Lits Company 1964-1974, probably a later batch, and when built they were classy vehicles with carpet and decent fittings. However, they were refurbished by Trenitalia a few years ago, before Thello inherited them, and for some strange reason Trenitalia removed the plush carpet and repaced it with grey linoleum, rendering them at a stroke (to British eyes, at least) much more basic and less luxurious. Perhaps the Italian psyche hates carpet and loves grey synthetic flooring?? Add to that some cheap materials such as a sticky-back-plastic mirror instead of a proper mirror, and no amount of new CCTV and power sockets and LED lighting can make the cars look really classy, they are at present a bit tatty. Thello promise sleepers with shower and toilet in due course, and say they will invest once the concept is proven, they've certainly got off to a good start, but higher-quality sleepers is where the money needs to go.

In the meantime, you'll find Thello an affordable, pretty comfortable and fun way to get from Paris to Milan, Verona or Venice without the stresses of modern flying, just make sure you have realistic expectations. Don't expect luxury, just reasonable comfort, if you expect lounge cars with pianos you're thinking of the Venice Simplon Orient Express!

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