by Telegraph Travel, The Telegraph, January 11, 2018
Our rail experts offer a guide to the best rail journeys in Europe for 2018.
1. Eurostar, London to Amsterdam
It’s the biggest Eurostar news for a decade. From spring 2018 direct trains will zip from London St Pancras to Rotterdam in just over three hours, plus Amsterdam in around four. The speedy twice-daily service will use brand new e320 rolling stock. New lounges will allow 900 passengers to pass through security in London or Holland, then simply step off on disembarkation. Free Wi-Fi will be offered alongside meals in Standard Premier and Business Premier, where cans of Heineken should be complimentary, too.
Price details are to be announced, but Eurostar’s current London to Amsterdam tickets cost from £29 one way; 0343 2186 186; eurostar.com.
2. Schwyz funicular, Switzerland
It is unusual for a funicular to replace a cable car, but that is what has just happened in Schwyz, the Swiss canton that gave the country its name. From last December the car-free village and ski resort of Stoos has the world’s steepest public funicular at a gradient of 110 per cent (1 in 0.9). The one-mile (1.6km) Stoosbahn even has a tunnel in which it crosses over a public swimming pool, but it is the funicular cars themselves that will astonish passengers. Each consists of four large-windowed cylindrical compartments, which rotate so that the 34 passengers are always on a horizontal seat or floor.
£17 return (various passes available): 0041 41 818 08 80; stoos-muotatal.ch.
3. Caledonian Sleeper
The popularity of the Caledonian Sleeper linking London Euston with Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen has grown to such an extent that its new operator is introducing a new fleet of 75 coaches in 2018. For the first time, passengers will be able to have an en suite shower room as part of four types of accommodation: reclining Comfort seats with a secure locker; Classic Rooms with single or twin berths and a washbasin; Club Rooms with twin or single berths and an en suite lavatory or shower; and Suites offering a double bed and en suite lavatory or shower. Expected to be phased in from April, the new carriages have such new facilities as key card access, Wi-Fi and information screens. Booking can be made 12 months ahead.
Standard berths on Highland Route from £80; first-class berths from £150; 0330 060 0500; sleeper.scot.
4. Ferry/Orange Train, London to Mallorca
Corsica Ferries’ brand new Toulon to Mallorca route opens for business this April. The line enables passengers to nip from France to the Balearics via twice-weekly daytime and overnight services, with private cabins on board. The ferry arrives in the historic port of Alcudia: a short hop from Mallorca’s trans-island railway, which stops at Manacor and Inca en route to Palma and the vintage “orange train” to Soller. The seven-and-a-half-hour ride through Provence from London to Toulon, with a platform change in Marseille, is equally scenic. The new ferry route complements Corsica Ferries’ recently opened lines from the South of France to Sardinia.
Eurostar operates London to Toulon trains from £60 (€67) one way; tickets to Alcudia with Corsica Ferries start at €20 one-way; Planet Rail offers 01347 825292; planetrail.co.uk; eurostar.com; corsica-ferries.co.uk .
5. Glacier Express, Switzerland
Switzerland’s favourite tourist train between Zermatt and St Moritz has been delighting passengers since 1930, and 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the most remarkable part of the Glacier Express route becoming a World Heritage Site. The whole route is a scenic delight, but the climb to the Albula Tunnel is also one of Europe railway engineering marvels with its spiral tunnels and viaducts. In the autumn a new level of service will be introduced with a luxury coach of just 20 seats in which a five-course meal will be served, with a high level of personal service and its own bar.
6. Trans-Siberian BAM Explorer
Leonid Brezhnev called it “the construction project of the century”. The 2,700-mile (4,345km) Baikal-Amur Mainline runs north of the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia’s Far East – seven hours ahead of Moscow time. Through the white nights of July, the luxury train operator Golden Eagle will operate a one-off 15-night voyage from Vladivostok to Siberia. It will also penetrate deep into Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar’s Naadam Festival, a raucous outdoor fiesta of archery, wrestling and anklebone shooting. A Soviet-era steam locomotive will also haul carriages around Lake Baikal.
The all-inclusive 15-night trip from Golden Eagle departs on June 29 and costs from £12,895 a head; 0161 928 9410; goldeneagleluxurytrains.com.
7. Railjet, Vienna to Venice
Railjets are Austrian Railways’ premier trains. They zip through central Europe at up to 140mph and include free Wi-Fi (in Second Class), complimentary wine and leather armchairs (in Business Class) and at-seat service (in First Class). The network’s most scenic route – and it’s a strong field – is the twice-daily meander from Vienna to Venice. The eight-hour journey takes in the Semmering railway, a Unesco World Heritage Site, amid Alpine peaks, 150-year-old viaducts and mountain pastures. Option two is the comfy Nightjet sleeper train, the Vienna-Venice Express, which arrives at the Grand Canal at 8.24am after a breakfast rattle across the lagoon.
8. Slow Trains through Asturias
The narrow-gauge FEVE railway, winding along the coast of the Asturias region of north-west Spain, is the focus of a new seven-night self-guided Slow Train through Asturias journey from the “slow travel” specialists, Inntravel. Passengers can hop on and off the train – billed as “the perfect means of transport for the curious and insouciant traveller” – to explore lush landscapes in the shadow of the dramatic Picos de Europa mountain range, along with fine beaches, fishing villages and Oviedo, the region’s capital, with its characterful old town. The trip includes stays at two Casas de Indianos, grand mansions converted into comfortable hotels.
From £625 per person (two sharing), including B&B accommodation and train travel; 01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk.
9. Lakes and Lochs
Some of Britain’s most stunning landscapes feature in a new seven-night cross-border Lakes and Lochs by Train trip from McKinlay Kidd, voted Best Specialist Tour Operator in the 2017 Telegraph Travel Awards. It takes in both England and Scotland, starting with three nights in the Lake District at a hotel on the shores of Ullswater (with a cruise) before heading north for two nights in the popular Highland town of Pitlochry, including a private tour of Perthshire. Finally, the main line through the heart of the Highlands to Inverness for a two-night stay overlooking Loch Ness (with a lake cruise) before heading back south to Edinburgh or Glasgow.
From £1,495 per person (two sharing), including train travel, B&B accommodation and transfers; 0141 308 8009; mckinlaykidd.com.
10. The Elizabeth Line
Known for all its years in the making as Crossrail, the Elizabeth Line will partially open in December 2018 when the central section is scheduled to open to allow the start of three separate services: Paddington-Abbey Wood; Paddington-Heathrow; and Liverpool Street-Shenfield. The new line will make it much easier to get to all sorts of attractions, such as the Grade I-listed pumping station at Crossness, close to Abbey Wood. Also, like the Jubilee Line extension stations, the underground Elizabeth Line stations have been built as interchanges as well as future-proofed for growth, so their scale is bound to impress and attract the curious even before further stages are implemented in 2019, culminating in December with through trains between Reading-Heathrow and Shenfield-Abbey Wood.
Contributors: Adrian Bridge, Anthony Lambert, Tristan Rutherford, Michael Kerr, Steve McClarence