The not so Dolce Vita: How super wealthy tourists are making a parallel Italy for themselves

Rendering of the La Dolce Vita train interior by Dimorestudio for Orient Express, November 2022
Rendering of the La Dolce Vita train interior by Dimorestudio for Orient Express, November 2022 Copyright Dimorestudio/Orient Express/Euronews
By Savin Mattozzi, Journalist
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Operated by the Orient Express, the new "La Dolce Vita" train lines will create a heavily curated version of Italy for the super-wealthy, Savin Mattozzi writes.


Starting next year, the exclusive and super luxurious train service, "La Dolce Vita", will depart Italian train stations and travel a collective 16,000 kilometres of railway lines across the peninsula.

"La Dolce Vita" is run by none other than the famous Orient Express. The train line has been featured in movies and books for more than 100 years and has captivated the western world’s imagination thanks to authors like Graham Greene and Agatha Christie.

As expected for an experience of this calibre, tickets for the train service will be out of reach for most people. In addition to a €500 deposit, tickets for overnight suites for two people will range from €6,600 to a whopping €25,000 per night.

These staggering prices raise the question: is it ethical for the super-rich to showcase their wealth in a region whose people struggle to put food on the table?

A train full of rich people in one of Italy's poorest regions

Half of the routes planned for the train service will go through Italy’s rural south. Although the southern half of the country is full of stunning landmarks, history and great food, it is also home to the country’s poorest regions.

Some regions of the south, like Campania, have a severe material deprivation rate of 15%. That means more than 800,000 people in that region alone are unable to buy basic food items every two days or are unable to keep their homes warm in the winter.

The problem with luxury travel like this is not exactly what they’re doing but how they’re doing it.
AP Photo/Thomas Adamson
Actors wait for guests on the platform by the Orient Express at the Gare de l'Est train station in Paris, February 2018AP Photo/Thomas Adamson

The median annual household income in southern Italy hovers around €20,000 while some of the region's poorest towns, where the train will pass through, earn just above €10,000 a year. An income that is €3,000 less than two nights in the more "affordable’" suites for two on La Dolce Vita.

The problem with luxury travel like this is not exactly what they’re doing but how they’re doing it.

If someone or a group of people wants to visit the south to experience our food, history, culture and language while learning what it's like to live here, they will be largely welcomed with our Mediterranean hospitality.

What "La Dolce Vita" is doing, however, is not that.

You'll be paying for as little authenticity as possible

The programme takes dozens of super-wealthy people who are indulging in an exoticised version of the country that doesn’t exist.

From the “bellboys at your disposal” in the "La Dolce Vita" lounge in Rome who will presumably have to wear some ridiculous blue and gold outfit as an "ode" to the old Orient Express trains, to the constant references and nods to old Italian cinema of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s; everything will be done to ensure these top paying customers are exposed to as little authenticity as possible.

All the while, the trains will travel on tracks funded by Italian taxpayers but whose services are unreachable for those same people. 

Savin Mattozzi/Euronews
The mountains on the border between Lazio and Campania in Southern ItalySavin Mattozzi/Euronews

Trains are even expected to travel along non-electrified rails which are, as the website puts it, "vestiges of Italy’s storied history".

So not only are regular Italian people indirectly funding a service they can't use, but the "La Dolce Vita" trains are taking advantage of rural tracks that have been abandoned or forgotten about by the state.

Meanwhile, local people have to travel for hours on poorly maintained roads. Unless of course, they have €13,000 lying around for a ticket on this train.

As a way to perhaps dampen any guilt these guests might feel by taking this journey, the Orient Express has made a concerted effort to market these trains as “environmentally friendly” and “a green choice of transportation”.

A technique that conveniently ignores the modes of transport that the majority of guests will take to get to Italy will most likely be private jets and yachts.


Why are some so scared of reality?

Italy, like many countries in the Mediterranean, has a lot to offer people who choose to visit. Diverse local cultures, thousands of years of history and delicious food. 

We want to share our country with people who have a genuine curiosity in it and you don’t have to stay in a collapsing building in order to have an authentic experience.

What frightens you about seeing how the vast majority of people live in a place you claim to love so much?
Alberto Lo Bianco/LaPresse
People refresh in the sea in Palermo, August 2021Alberto Lo Bianco/LaPresse

What I can’t seem to understand, and maybe some future guests of "La Dolce Vita" can help me figure this out, is why do you feel the need to pay this grotesque price tag to relive a life you never had? 

What frightens you about seeing how the vast majority of people live in a place you claim to love so much?

Savin Mattozzi is an Italian journalist covering history, culture and politics in southern Italy and the Mediterranean region.


This article was originally published on 12 August 2023.

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