What train routes might make it into a list of Europe’s greatest train journeys?
The book that inspires us to ask this question is published next month by Time Out Guides Ltd. Great Train Journeys of the World is edited by Andrew Eames who pulled together a team of leading luminaries on rail travel to write the book. (Full disclosure: Andrew was good enough to ask us to contribute prose and images for a number of routes across Europe.)
The routes: Classic long-distance and branch lines
Europe makes a good showing in this global compendium of journeys worth making. Of course the book includes many classic itineraries such as the Trans-Siberian and the posh tourist train Orient Express. But the joy of the volume is the neat way in which unexpected tiddlers are pushed into the limelight. For example, the book includes a rural run through the Cévennes area of southern France, a branch line that crisscrosses the border between Germany and Poland, a rural route in Catalunya, and a line that cuts through the heart of the Bosnian countryside.
This is not just a book for train buffs. It is pitched at the general reader who is looking for hints about journeys that might be worth taking. Some cutting-edge European express trains are celebrated for their speed, such as the Eurostar link from London to Paris, Germany’s ICE services, the TGV in France and the AVE routes in Spain.
But the lure of Europe’s greatest rail journeys is not generally in their speed, but in the way that trains trundle through the countryside both by day and by night. The book has a little Hungarian rhapsody in an account of a 12-hour journey by day that takes in four European capitals, and a Highland fling with a super essay on the Caledonian Sleeper night train from London to the Scottish Highlands.
A firm favorite: the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William
Editor Andrew Eames comments in the book that the night train from London to Fort William in Scotland (often dubbed “The Deerstalker”) was the service that every one of the two dozen authors really wanted to write about – no matter how many times they had taken the train before. In the end, Eames himself wrote about that particular journey.
Bargain berths, too
Rail travel on some of Europe’s classic rail routes need not be impossibly expensive. Some of the journeys in the book are brief and cost no more than a few euros. And bargain berths on that overnight train to the Scottish Highlands can still be booked for dates later in 2009 for as little as 39 pounds sterling – all inclusive in the comfort of a sleeping car with crisp linen sheets.