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Seven tourist trains to cross Europe at low speed

Panoramic or steam, historic or modern, the train is sometimes an ideal way to criss-cross the most remote corners of a country. From the Swiss Alps to the lochs of Scotland, our selection of day trips by rail.

One of the quietest ways to discover a country is undoubtedly to take one of its tourist trains. Panoramic, steam, historic or modern, they offer a contemplative interlude for a few hours or a day. What to be lulled by the succession of lakes, forests, mountains or medieval villages so remote that no road leads there. Often managed by associations of railway enthusiasts, they invite you to travel both in space, but also in time, through railway history and heritage. From the Glacier Express in Switzerland to the Flåmsbana in Norway, our selection of tourist trains to travel in Europe.

Switzerland in panoramic mode

This train likes to boast of being the slowest in the world. Traveling at an average speed of 36 km/h, the Glacier Express travels the 291 km between the mountain resorts of Zermatt and Saint-Moritz in 8 hours. Snow-capped peaks, mountain lakes, engineering structures (291 tunnels and 91 bridges, all the same!)… Through the large bay windows, travelers take in the view and enjoy many highlights, such as crossing from the Oberalp pass, the highest point of the route (2033 m above sea level). Since 2019, the trains have an Excellence class with concierge, guaranteed window seat and gourmet meal served in the seat.

Glacier Express. Access: Zermatt or Saint Moritz. Fare: for the entire journey between Saint-Moritz and Zermatt, count €150 one-way in second class or €262 in first class. Mandatory reservation. Included in the Swiss Travel Pass (see box below). Circulates all year round, except from October 24 to December 10, 2022.

An Italian-style Trans-Siberian

The “Italian Trans-Siberian” runs every weekend to the high plateaus of the Abruzzo region. Lucie Tournebize / Le Figaro

“Railway of the Parks”, “Sulmona-Isernia”, the “Neapolitan”… Of the many nicknames given to it, we will remember that of “Italian Trans-Siberian”, attributed by an Italian journalist, in 1980, when his convoy got trapped in the middle of a snowstorm. Every weekend around 9 a.m., old cars from the 1930s and 1950s, with wooden seats and sliding windows, rush from Sulmona station (150 km east of Rome) towards the heights plateaus of the Abruzzo region. The 52 km route crosses national parks and nature reserves and has several stops until the terminus of Castel di Sangro. Along the way, guides describe the history of the railway line and the geography of the area, known for its hilltop medieval villages.

The Transiberiana d’Italia. Access: Sulmona station. Prices: €40 return trip in second class, €50 in first class. Departure every Saturday and Sunday around 9 am throughout the year.

Royal escape at the gates of Madrid

Philip II’s train invites you on a historic journey about sixty kilometers from the Spanish capital. In the background, the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Tren de Felipe II / Photo press

The departure is given in the heart of Madrid, on platform 7 of the Príncipe Pío station. A few weekends a year, a train from the 1950s, put back on the rails in 2017, sets off for San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 50 km northwest of the Spanish capital. The city, a kind of “Madrid Versailles” located in the Sierra de Guadarrama, is best known for its royal monastery where King Philip II died in 1598, a place classified by Unesco since 1984. To put us in the mood, the train staff, dressed in period clothes, present themselves as subjects of the Court of Philip II.

Tren de Felipe II. Access: Príncipe Pío station in Madrid. Prices: formulas between €20 and €30 per adult (between €15 and €22.50 for 4-12 year olds) including a round trip by train and a guided tour of the historic town of San Lorenzo d’El Escorial and his monastery. Several departures per month, details on this calendar.

In Scotland, aboard the “Hogwarts Express”

The Jacobite Train and the Glenfinnan Viaduct have been popularized by many films, including the Harry Potter saga. Lukas Bischoff / Photo press

The Jacobite Steam Train provides a 135km circular journey between Fort William and Mallaig in the South West Highlands of Scotland. This steam train starts near Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, and ends near Europe’s deepest seawater lake, Loch Nevis. The main highlight is crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, whose semicircular shape has been made famous by many films, including the Harry Potter saga. The “Hogwarts Express” would have been inspired by the Jacobite Steam Train. Note that the route can also be done with the regular trains of the national company ScotRail: a more economical route (17 €) but also much less picturesque.

The Jacobite Steam Train. Access: Fort William station (connected to London by the Caledonian Sleeper night train). Price: €52 for a return trip for an adult in Standard class, €95 in first class (respectively €35 and €68 for children under 16). Open from April 4 to October 28, 2022.

Full steam ahead in Wales

The Ffestiniog Railway is run by the oldest railway company in the world, created in 1832 to transport slate. Festiniog & Welsh Highland Railways

Particularly attached to its railway heritage, Wales has brought together twelve tourist lines under the brand The Great Little Trains of Wales. Among them, the Ffestiniog Railway, created in 1832 to transport slate, is managed by the oldest railway company in the world. Along the 21 km journey between the port town of Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog, you can enjoy an incredible diversity of landscapes aboard a steam train, between lakes, forests, mountains and pastures (three hours round trip) . Porthmadog is also the starting point of another equally scenic line, the Welsh Highland.

Ffestiniog Railway. Access: Blaenau Ffestiniog and Porthmadog stations. Prices: €95 for a four-seater compartment with two adult tickets included, €48 per additional adult, €1 per child from 3 to 15 years old. Daily circulations from March 28 to November 4, 2022.

Sweden from north to south at low speed

The railcars of the Inlandsbanan pass only once a day through the stops which mark out a long route of 1288 km. Inlandsbanan

Lovers of wide open spaces, this train is made for you. While the main railway line connects north and south along the Baltic Sea, the Inlandsbanan runs inland through landscapes of lakes, rivers and fir and birch forests. Built between 1908 and 1937, the 1288 km long line connects Gällivare, 100 km north of the Arctic Circle, to Kristinehamn, in the south of the country. A journey so long that it is divided into three sections, with Östersund and Mora as intermediate stations, on which only one train runs per day. If the entire route can be done in two days, the best thing is to make stops along the way to best appreciate the calm of Swedish nature.

Inlandsbanan. Access: Gällivare, Östersund, Mora or Kristinehamn stations. The Inland Railway Card allows unlimited use of the line for 14 days only in summer (€210). Summer service from June 20 to August 28, 2022, winter service from mid-December to the end of April.

Norway between fjords and mountains

The Flåmsbana, which connects Flåm to Myrdal, is one of the steepest railway lines in the world. Norway’s best AS / Sverre Hjørnevik

It is one of the steepest railway lines in the world, with 80% of its journey being made on a 5.5% gradient. From the village of Flåm, on the edge of the Aurlandsfjord located at sea level, the Flåmsbana climbs for almost an hour to its terminus Myrdal, 867 meters above sea level, a station also served by trains from the Oslo-Bergen line. A 20 km course on the mountainside offering breathtaking views of the fjords and waterfalls. During the summer, the train stops for five minutes in front of the Kjosfossen waterfall, enough time for travelers to admire this impressive waterfall.

Flamsbana. Access: Flåm or Myrdal stations. Price: €52 round trip in low season (January to April and October to December), €68 in high season (May to September) for an adult, half price for children aged 6 to 17 . If correspondence with the Oslo-Bergen line, prefer the purchase on Traffic all year round.


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