Staying in Rogliano is fast becoming a frequent occurrence, but who’s complaining? Especially with a wonderful steam train trip organised through the beautiful Sila National Park, in Southern Italy.
With another wonderful weekend sleep-over in Rogliano, on this occasion, the Il Treno della Sila day trip (€16) is booked – and what a day it turned out to be…
Steam train trip details
You can organise the train trip with Associazione Ferrovie in Calabria, but this train doesn’t run on a frequent basis and only has 120 seats, so check the website for the schedule.
Pulled by a steam locomotive, which was manufactured in 1926 the train’s vintage carriages date back to the 1930s. Taking under an hour for the actual travel time until climbing up to 1,400 metres, we reach the highest narrow-gauge railway station in Europe.
On this occasion, we depart from the Moccone train station and the actual travel trip takes under an hour, although you stop.
Rough plan of the day
10:30: Meet at the Moccone train station to check-in
11:00: Steam train departs from Moccone
11:10: Arrive in Camigliatello Silano for local food and wine tastings, with continual folk music
11:40: Depart for San Nicola
12:15: Arrive in San Nicola and see the train’s reversing manoeuvres on a manual turntable
13:00: Lunch (not included in ticket price; reservation required)
14:30: Depart for San Giovanni in Fiore by bus
15:00: Start tour in San Giovanni in Fiore
17:30: Depart for Moccone by bus
Village of Moccone – awaiting the steam train
Our friendly guide meets us at the Piano de Lago train station (not far from Rogliano) for the drive to Cosenza to pick up another two passengers before heading to Moccone and the start of the steam train trip.
In true Italian fashion, we have some time to wait for the little train to arrive, so partaking in a coffee is always an excellent way to pass some time away.
The Binari 37 is conveniently located at the train platform and serves good coffee at €1+, which comes with a tiny plate of locally made delicious biscuits.
This is a large restaurant with many red and white checkered table clothes that also serves pizza and traditional Calabrese dishes. Not enough time to savour the local delights, so next time.
Whilst spilling out on to the train platform at Moccone, a pair of local musicians dressed in traditional black hats and black capes, playing a Piano Accordion and guitar wait on the platform with passengers.
Traditional music and folk songs flow along the platform, welcoming passengers as they arrive.
The steam train finally arrives and you have some time to take photos, smell the musty steam, and hear the old fashioned tooting of its loud horn.
The crowd goes wild with a photo session – and of course, I also have to partake in numerous photos.
Tickets are checked and passengers pile into the carriages. Without real seat allocation, it’s a free-for-all and we clamber to get a seat, but there’s room for everyone.
With everyone seated, the train slowly pulls away from Moccone and is on its way.
The ride is slow and leisurely but with the folk musicians, it’s not quiet. On the contrary, it’s boisterous, which sets the scene…
On the train
The musicians continue to sing folklore songs of the tales of Sila’s Briganti and the hardships of a bygone era.
The Tarantella and many other ancient songs are played for part of the way to Camigliatello Silano. With music in the background, it’s easy to imagine what it was like travelling in this steam train through the Sila National Park back in the 1930s.
The traditional folklore songs are great and it’s good that our friend translates, as I am not understanding all of the local dialect.
Growing up with traditional southern Italian music, I am no stranger to the Tarantella, which starts a little slower and ramps up its tempo – think Zorba the Greek but Italy’s version.
Hailing from the province of Taranto (Apulia), the common wolf spider named “Tarantula” was believed to be highly poisonous with the bite leading to hysterical conditions known as tarantism and so, became known as the Tarantella.
Suppressed by the Roman Senate, the Tarantella went underground in 186 BC and only reappeared “under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims.”
Depending on who is narrating, stories of banditry involving the Briganti borne from the Sila at the end of the 18th century are either romantic or violent.
This was a time when Garibaldi (general, patriot, leader) forfeited on promised land to peasants, increased taxes, abolished traditional grazing and forestry rights, all of which heavily impacted the poor. The government also confiscated church lands, and gifted land to bourgeois families instead of the poor.
During this infamous period, groups of men stole from the rich to give to the poor in protest of bourgeois favouritism.
Some say these bandits were Italy’s answer to England’s Robin Hood. Although, these men could also be very brutal when not given what they wanted, regardless of class.
Sila National Park
The train travels leisurely through the Sila National Park, which is famous for its wolves and beauty – its plateau stretching five-hundred-thousand hectares.
An ancient tribe of shepherds and farmers (the Brutti) were the first known settlers of the Sila plateau. In 510 BC and following the destruction of Sybaris (Greek city), Rome’s sphere of influence extended over Calabria and included the Sila. During later years, the Sila was occupied by the Ostrogothsa, the Byzantines, and then the Italo-Normans (from the 11th century).
The Kingdom of Italy was annexed in the late 19th century and following this, the Sila remained a base of brigandage.
Apart from hiking, rafting, rock-climbing, bird-watching, or just enjoying the blanket of wildflowers in Sila’s mountains, forests, and lakes, the national park is synonymous with the wolf.
Sadly, not even a glimpse of one of these wonderful creatures today. Hopefully, if you travel on this journey one day you’ll have better luck as they are still sighted.
After steadily climbing through the Sila, the train slowly chugs up to the village of Camigliatello Silano, which sits at around 1,300 metres high and a most popular mountain resort village with tourists.
Apart from more folk music on the platform, tastings of typical delicious locally made Silanes products are provided.
Indulge in Calabrese sausage, juicy plump olives, tasty pesto, cheeses, and of course local wines. Who needs lunch?
After more photos and a lovely short break, we board our historical train to chug away on the next leg.
Slowly we pull into San Nicola, which is our lunch stop but also where we can see the train’s reversing manoeuvres, where the locomotive is manually reversed on a steel turntable. Pretty cool to watch.
Following a very long lunch stop, everyone piles onto a bus, which drives to our next destination.
San Giovanni in Fiore
Sitting only a few kilometres from the Montenero Mountain range and with origins dating back to 1188 and from the Florense Abbey, this town was built by the Calabrian monk Joachim of Fiore. And, is the oldest, largest, and the most populated of the villages in the Sila.
It is wonderful just wandering the alleyways.
In 1214, a fire burned the monastery and its annexed edifices. Due to the fire and difficult climate, the monks decided to abandon this location.
A year later, a new site near the Neto River Valley was chosen, not far from the original site with a new abbey in Romanesque style completed in 1230.
Later centuries saw a remodelling of features to also include the church interior in a Baroque style.
The Demographic Museum of Economy, Work and Social Silan History is housed on the ground and first floors (east wing) of Florian’s Saint John in Bloom. With an entry fee of only €1.50, this exhibition is a worthwhile visit.
Authentic documentary photos dating back to the 1920s of locals but especially farmers of the region, which portrays the social, political, economic, and cultural history, mostly during the Depression. Sad to see, especially knowing that my father lived through these years in Calabria.
Also on display are many exhibits of original farming tools but also everyday tools such as looms, weavers, cooking pots, and much more.
Returning to Rogliano
Following a long but excellent day, which started earlier than scheduled and finished a little later than planned, it’s time to return to Rogliano for a rest, but not until we drive some passengers back to Cosenza.
Want to include a little on this evening and restaurant in the Sila, if any of you happen to visit Lorica as it’s definitely worth mentioning. Another great spur of the moment invitation for an evening’s enjoyment.
Although it’s a dark and starry night, I can still make out – just – the manmade shores of Lake Arvo on arriving.
Surrounded by the Sila’s beautiful aged trees and built with traditional timber and stone, this restaurant serves amazing food!
The restaurant rears its own cows, makes its own cheeses from their own dairy cows, meats and everything is actually made on site or from ‘strictly local produce’.
Meals are a traditional Calabrese cuisine and simply wonderful.
Anitpasti of Burratta: handmade fresh cheese made with Mozzarella and cream, is another level of heavenly; Piastrato Gamberetti di lago: lake prawns wrapped in cheese and bacon; Caciocavallo: grilled stretched-curd cheese topped with prosciutto.
The main dish of delicious sizzling 1.2 kilogram of calf steak is served on a heated lava stone and more than enough to feed four famished people. Throw in some wonderful Patate Mbacchiuse and wash that down with local wine, then some Liquirizia or Amaro del Capo (local liqueurs) for digestion.
After feasting, we roll down the stairs to the square for some free open-air music. The amazing and powerful voice of Elisa Brown is belting out Blues & Rock.
Needing a further walk, decide to venture down to the lake where some locals have a couple of small fires going on along the shore.
On returning to Cosenza, we stop mid-way along the highway to watch the millions of stars in the clear and crisp deep black sky for a while. The lack of light pollution lights up the evening sky stunningly. What a beautiful night and wonderful evening with great company!