Heather Green has worked for Citalia for nearly 20 years. As we approach our 90th birthday, she tells all about Citalia’s surprising post-war past.
Citalia started life in 1929, after the end of World War I. How did everything begin?
We were originally founded by the Italian State Railway in 1929 to connect Italians living in the UK to their homeland. We were called CIT – or Compagnia Italiana Turismo (the Italian Tourism Company).
Where did things go from there?
Over the years, we introduced air travel and expanded our tour operations to Italians living everywhere from France and Belgium to Canada and Australia.
The British arm eventually took on the name Citalia – although many of the hotels we work closely with still refer to us affectionately as CIT. Relationships and history mean a lot in Italy.
Hoteliers really still talk about CIT?
Yes! They talk of this era and the three iconic managing directors behind it – Luciano Rocca, Massimo Sabattini and Stefano Della Pietra. They were real personaggi of Italian travel. They’re what gave us our Italian spirit – our passione.
Let’s fast forward to the 1980s. Were things still going strong?
We were still expanding our tailor-made holiday collection by offering charter flights.
But for customers who didn’t fancy travelling by air, we introduced a special train – The Napoli Express. The Napoli Express had carriages reserved for Citalia customers, as well as private concierges.
It started at London Victoria, stopped in Rome for customers holidaying in the capital, and finished at Naples. Just like today, most travellers were heading on from Naples to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
Do you still recommend train travel?
Yes! After all, it’s in our DNA. We have some amazing Italy rail holiday itineraries – but like in the past, we can also put together a holiday tailored to you. Train travel in Italy is easy, especially the main high-speed routes that have undergone extension improvement over the last decade. It’s quick, comfortable and very inexpensive.
Have you got a favourite train route?
Rome to Florence (about 1 hour 30 minutes long) is a good one due to the changing scenery, especially as you pass by the Apennine Mountains that form the backbone of Italy.
Is Citalia doing anything for its 90th birthday in 2019?
You’ll have to watch this space! For now, we’re making sure to shout about our history as the original Italy travel specialist. Even some of our colleagues were surprised by our origins as a train holiday company. We’re really proud to say that no one knows Italy like we do.