The heart of Trieste: the Piazza Unità d’Italia (photo © hidden europe)
Italian rail operator Trenitalia is busy finalising details with its Slovenian partner for a new direct train service linking Ljubljana to Trieste. The service is provisionally set to launch in June 2018 – most likely on the 10th of the month – with the possibility of a westward extension in 2019 to Venice. It will close a railway gap on Route 24 in our book Europe by Rail.
A dozen years ago, we were able to travel on a comfortable Eurocity (EC) daytime train from Venice to Zagreb, crossing the Italian-Slovene border between Villa Opicina and Sezana. No longer. In recent years, the only passenger trains over this frontier have been a handful of Slovenian trains which venture west over the border to Villa Opicina, but terminate there. There has not been an onward train connection into Italy for some time.
That will change with the launch of the new train service in summer 2018, which will offer a twice-daily link from the Slovene capital to Trieste and back, along the way serving Postojna, Pivka, Divaca, Sezana and Villa Opicina.
Provisional timings show departures from Ljubljana at about 06.00 and 16.00, with the return runs from Trieste at about 09.00 and 19.00. Look for an end-to-end travel time of about 2hrs 40mins.
The steeply graded line from Villa Opicina, located high on the karst above Trieste, and the port city of Trieste, doesn’t allow for high speeds. So the westernmost part of the journey is painfully slow. But travellers will be rewarded by fine views of the Gulf of Trieste away to the south.
The morning train from Ljubljana will a give a comfortable connection in Trieste onto a Frecciarossa service to Verona, Milan and Turin (for onward links to Lyon and Paris).
The extension of this new rail service west to Venice is contingent on the completion of the new railway station now under construction at Ronchi dei Legionari to serve Trieste Airport. So that’s something for the future, but meanwhile it is indeed good news that Villa Opicina will once again be served by trains not just from Slovenia but also from Italy.
Villa Opicina station is a shadow of its former self, but has still not quite lost the sense of intrigue and mystery which surrounded this station in the Cold War years. If you delve into spy novels, Villa Opicina plays a bit-part role in many plots – often featuring under its former name Poggioreale Campagna. The station name was changed to Villa Opicina in the late 1960s. When Ian Fleming described James Bond’s arrival from across the border in From Russia with Love, he wrote:
“Bond slept until Sezana. The hard-faced Yugoslav plain-clothed men came on board. Then Yugoslavia was gone and Poggioreale came and the first smell of the soft life with the happy jabbering Italian officials and the carefree upturned faces of the station crowd.”
Well, take it from us, times have changed. Last time we went to Villa Opicina, the platform was deserted and we were the only people to board the evening train across the border to Sezana in Slovenia. A station which once bustled with police and customs officials (though, we suspect, less carefree upturned faces than James Bond imagined) is now desolate. Perhaps that will change with the launch of the new direct train service from Trieste to Ljubljana.