I know rail journey’s aren’t necessarily the first thing that pops into your head when you are planning a break, but there are some truly magical experiences out there! I’ve only put a couple down below, that I have done myself, but if you do your research there are many all over the world with stunning views and that stop off at some excellent locations.
The Canadian Rockies
The Rocky Mountains by rail appear exactly as they did in your dreams: white-capped mountains, thundering meltwater rivers, dense pine forests and mirror lakes glimpsed from a curve in the iron road. Just like your dreams, though, this journey is quite short: you can see the most dramatic sections in a couple of days. There are four routes, but connoisseurs agree that the First Passage to the West journey from Banff to Vancouver is the most scenic, taking in the Spiral Tunnels, Kicking Horse Canyon and the scary Stoney Creek Bridge before stopping, after 309 miles, for a night in Kamloops. After a stay in a hotel, you reboard for the 285-mile run to Vancouver, passing through places with names such as Black Canyon, Avalanche Alley and Hell’s Gate. It’s every bit as magnificent as you pictured.
First class £2,995
The Rocky Mountaineer tourist train doesn’t do over-the-top luxurious, probably because mere furnishings cannot compete with the magnificence of what’s outside. It’s a hugely popular overnighter, and departure dates in June — when there’s still snow on the peaks, the rivers are at their highest and there are flowers in the meadows — are selling fastest. Pick from Silver Leaf class (panoramic dome coach, free booze, two breakfasts, two lunches) or Gold Leaf (as above, but with added snacks and better wines). A seven-day package flying into Calgary and out of Vancouver, with the First Passage to the West in the middle, starts at £2,995pp, including flights and accommodation (01293 762456, hayesandjarvis.co.uk).
Super saver £704
Run by the state train operator, VIA Rail, the Canadian departs Toronto three times a week in summer, taking three days to cross Canada via Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops. The scenery is less Hollywood than what you’d see from the Rocky Mountaineer, but an awful lot more magnificent than anything you’ll see on the 7.54am from King’s Lynn. Four nights in a reclining seat, with access to the diner, the lounge area and the observation dome, start at £237pp (viarail.ca). Air Transat has open-jaw flights into Toronto and out of Vancouver from £467.
London to Venice
How did an overnight service from London to Venice come to be the most glamorous journey in the world? Is it all down to Agatha Christie — whose Belgian detective was actually travelling from Istanbul when Mr Ratchett copped it — or is it because the wanton beauty of La Serenissima is waiting at the end of the line? Maybe it’s the Grand Tour aspect of a trip that conquers the Alps to deliver pale northern Protestants to the sultry Catholic south. Either way, it’s a proper journey, and whatever you got up to as the train rushed through the French night, you need to wake up early enough the next morning to enjoy the thrilling stretch through the Alps. Eventually you cross the lard line — where pork fat is replaced by olive oil — as the mountains give way to the fertile flatlands of the North Italian Plain. Before you know it, you’re stepping into the arms of Venice.
First class £2,129
If London to Venice is the world’s most glamorous train journey, then the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is indisputably the world’s most glamorous train, and the best excuse to dress up after your favourite daughter’s wedding. The trip starts with a mid-morning, Bellini-fuelled journey across Kent aboard the British Pullman, transferring to the VSOE at Calais-Ville. Here the glamour really begins, as a steward shows you to your private cabin in a vintage sleeping car with the sort of corridor in which trenchcoated spies are betrayed by heavy-lidded blondes. As you trundle across to Paris to pick up more passengers, there’ll be champagne in the piano bar, followed by a four-course dinner in the 1920s dining car. And after that, with the train heading towards Switzerland, you’ll retire to your cabin, now transformed into a snug bedroom with bunks. There’s no shower, though: back in Poirot’s day, ladies and gentlemen were happy with a washbasin. Prices start at £2,129pp (0845 556 7278, belmond.com), and British Airways flies back from Venice.
Super saver £59.20
There’s not quite as much golden-age glamour in the combination of Eurostar and Thello used to get to Venice on the cheap, but it’s still an absurdly exciting journey through the night that beats the pants off a seat on a no-frills flight. Take the train from London St Pancras to Paris (from £29; eurostar.com), cross town to the Gare de Lyon and catch the 7.14pm Thello sleeper service via Dijon, Milan and Padua, arriving at Venice Santa Lucia at 9.35am. Don’t expect luxury: you sleep in six-berth mixed-sex couchettes and dine on microwaved suppers, but you can take your own wine and make a party of it. Just try not to be asleep as you cross the Alps — the scenery here is among the best on the trip. The cheapest ticket is only £30.20 if you book ahead (thello.com).
Do you have any rail journeys that you would recommend? Would you like to share your experiences or perhaps share some tips or great locations to visit on the way? Then get in touch! Gracias!