Enjoying the scenery
Two of the best known scenic train trips are in Switzerland, the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express. The four-hour Bernina Express (www.rhb.ch/en) travels through southern Switzerland from Chur across the Engadin Alps to St Moritz and on to Tirano, in Italy, with breathtaking scenery all the way. An even more breathtaking (literally) experience is the Glacier Express (www.glacierexpress.ch/en), an eight-hour trip across the Alps filled with tight curves, dizzying bridges (291 of them) and such vertigo-inducing angles that drinks are served in glasses with tilted stems.
Norway’s Rauma Line (www.nsb.no/en) takes two hours from Dombas to Andalsnes along the Rauma River, with a steady panorama of mountain peaks, jagged ledges, waterfalls, fjords, highland meadows and Europe’s highest perpendicular rock face at Trollveggen. In the summer, Fjord Tours (www.fjordtours.com) sells a multi-day round trip that combines the Rauma Line with cruises on the Geiranger Fjord and Hurtigruten coastal line, and trips on the Bergen Railway and the Flåm railway. Clients can begin these from Oslo, Bergen or the beautiful Art Nouveau town of Ålesund, a stop on the Hurtigruten route.
The main line connecting Oslo to Bergen is not billed as a special scenic route, but 300-mile length is among Europe’s most beautiful as it traverses Hardanger plateau, the largest wilderness area on the continent. It’s seven hours of almost constant scenery, crossing more than 300 bridges and weaving in and out of tunnels and snowsheds. Partway the train stops at the mountain station of Myrdal, the uppermost point of the Flåm Railway. This spectacular line connects the mountain ridge with Flåm, on the shore of Europe’s deepest fjord, Sognafjord, and is part of a circular train/cruise route known as Norway in a Nutshell (www.norwaynutshell.com), a must for clients visiting Bergen.
Scotland’s West Highland Line (www.scotrail.co.uk) is another particularly scenic main route, connecting Glasgow to Fort William, and on to the small fishing port of Mallaig. Harry Potter fans will recognize the stunning Glenfinnan viaduct, the one used by the Hogwarts Express. The scenery varies from romantic lochs to rugged mountain, to lonely moors and tiny stations that seem to connect to nothing but mountain tracks.
Another main line with some of the continent’s best views runs along the Rhine Valley in Germany, follow the curving river from Koblenz to Mainz. On the way the Central Rhine Railway (www.bahn.com/en) passes river scenery, castles and the famed Loreley rock, going through half-timbered riverside towns. For even more intimate scenery, book clients on the smaller line from Koblenz to the old Roman capital of Trier, a train ride through stone-built wine towns, right along the banks of the Mosel River. For the best views, reserve your clients seats on the right from Mainz to Koblenz and on the left from Koblenz to Trier.
The Black Forest Railway from Offenburg to Singen, in Southwest Germany’s Baden-Württemberg region, winds and loops through the pine-forested hills and grassy meadows of the Black Forest, through fairy-tale landscapes and medieval half-timbered villages. The stretch through the mountainous region between Hornberg, Triberg and St. Georgen is an important landmark in railway engineering of its time, as its designers routed it in double loops and through tunnels to accommodate the tremendous height differences, serving as the model for other major mountain rail lines. The route is used for regular Deutsche Bahn (www.bahn.com/en) service and excursions in vintage cars, with stops for sightseeing.
In Bavaria, book clients from Munich to Innsbruck via the winter sports capital of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (www.bahn.com/en). The landscapes, especially along the southern half of the three-hour trip, are a breathtaking succession of lakes, the Tirol Alps and their highest peak, Zugspitze. Clients can continue their scenic train travels from Innsbruck on Austria’s Arlberg Line, one of Europe’s steepest passenger rail lines. On this two-hour trip across the Alps from Innsbruck to Bludenz it passes castles, idyllic mountain villages and over high viaducts, all with Alpine peaks as
One of the least known and most dramatic short scenic rail lines is the Centovalli Railway (www.centovalli.ch) between Locarno, in Switzerland, and Domodossola, the Italian town at the foot of the Simplon Pass. Vintage rail cars ride slowly over tracks that seem suspended in midair, high above the Melezza River and its tributaries, each of which has carved a deep valley (Centovalli means 100 valleys). The river far below, and the gorges, ravines and waterfalls are all set in a lush landscape with chestnut groves and vineyards.
Many scenic trains, especially those that are not regular rail service lines, require advance reservations, but almost all can be booked ahead. Those that have a special panoramic car require reservation for those seats. All the regular route trains are covered in the appropriate rail passes (www.eurail.com), but most excursion trains are not, although pass holders may get a discount. An exception is the Swiss Pass, which does cover the Bernina Express (it still requires a reservation); Swiss Pass holders pay only a fraction of the fare on the Glacier Express. Luxury Train Voyages
Some rail trips are like overland cruises, not so much about the destination or even the scenery, as the experience of travel. The most legendary of these is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (www.belmond.com), with its lavishly restored 1920s cars that still follow the route from Paris to Istanbul that Agatha Christie made famous, as well as other routes, including a three-night London to Venice trip via Paris.
The 40-passenger Royal Scotsman provides guests with five-star dining, wine-pairing and deluxe accommodations on two- to four-4-night journeys in Scotland and seven-night Round Britain itineraries. New in 2016, Belmond’s Grand Hibernian offers two-, four- and six-night trips through Ireland from Dublin (www.belmond.com).
Clásico El Transcantábrico (www.renfe.com/trenesturisticos/eng) pampers 52 guests on a trip through northern Spain, with meals prepared by some of Spain’s top chefs. El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, which follows Spain’s north coast from Santiago de Compostella to San Sebastian, features all Preferente Suites, which are each half a train car, with a private lounge area. These cabins can also accommodate three guests. In southern Spain, the Al-Andalus tours Andalucia in 1920s Art deco style.