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

Adriana Lima
By Adriana Lima 6 Min Read
origin 1©Rendering Orient Express La Dolce Vita by Dimorestudio ©©Rendering Orient Express La Dolce Vita by Dimorestudio

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 that 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?

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 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 its like to live here, they will be largely welcomed with our Mediterranean hospitality.

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

The programme takes dozens of super wealthy people who are indulging in an exoticized 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 tax payers but whose services are unreachable for those same people. 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 cant 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 laying 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.

origin 1The mountains on the border between Lazio and Campania in Southern ItalySavin Mattozzi/RockedBuzz via Euronews

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

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