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March is the month when many Europeans crawl out from their winter shells and start exploring. And with spring beckoning, we have come up with a handful of easy daytime rail journeys that just clamor to be taken. There is something seductive about climbing onto a comfortable train just after breakfast, knowing that all you need do in the hours ahead is sit and watch the scenery slide by.
Here are our top five rail journeys for this month.
1. Zürich to Salzburg
A wonderful transect from west to east through the Alps, taking in three countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria) and including the mountainous Arlberg route through the Tyrol. Depart Zürich at 10:40 a.m., enjoy lunch on board, and you’ll arrive in Salzburg at 4 p.m.
2. Riviera Cruise
Sit on the right side of the train for sea views aplenty as you ride local trains from Marseille all the way to Genoa. The train hugs the coast for much of the eight-hour journey. Leave Marseille St. Charles at 9:25 a.m., and with two easy changes of train along the way (at Nice Ville and Ventimiglia), you’ll arrive in Genoa just after 5 p.m.
3. Northward Bound
Central Finland has a delicate beauty as winter slips gently into spring. The rail route from Helsinki north through Kuopio is a gem – in our view outshining the more westerly route followed by the fastest trains from Helsinki to Oulu. So leave Helsinki at 8:12 a.m., change at Kajaani onto a delightfully rural local train, and you’ll arrive in Oulu at 5:24 p.m. There is no better way to mark the coming of spring in Finland.
4. Belgrade to Bar
The rail journey from the Serbian capital to the coast of Montenegro is one of the finest in Europe and at its best in early spring. Take the Tara Express from Belgrade at 10:10 a.m. and you’ll reach the port of Bar in Montenegro ten hours later. The journey passes through Bosnia & Herzegovina along the way. Rugged, wild terrain aplenty with fabulous mountain and gorge scenery.
5. Hebridean Adventure
The West Highland Line from Glasgow is a classic. Travel it this month and you’ll still see winter snow lingering on the Scottish hills. Depart Glasgow Queen Street at 8:21 a.m., cross lonely Rannoch Moor and skirt Ben Nevis to reach the fishing port of Mallaig at 1:34 p.m. You’ll have a couple of hours to wander before hopping aboard the afternoon sailing over the sea to Skye.
The train times given in this article generally apply to weekday services. Weekend timings may vary. You can check current schedules in the March 2011 issue of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable.