From Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy (4 hours)
The highest railway across the Alps winds around glistening glaciers and roaring rivers to sunny meadows and pretty Italian towns.
Slow, but steady, this sleek train takes just over four hours to navigate its way from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy. More than a century old, the Bernina Express route comprises 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, offering passengers an extraordinary alpine adventure, all in the warm enclosure of a panoramic dome car. In winter, the sun shines through the windows, ricocheting off the crisp white snow and icy blue lakes. And in summer, cows with bells graze in the meadows, making their way through carpets of purple asters surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
The journey can seem precarious at times, as the train crosses bridges whose pillars are anchored in vertical rock faces, while milky rivers tumble below. But it’s all part of the experience, and the train soon emerges from resonating tunnels into valleys dotted with gleaming terracotta roofs, neat wooden churches, and palisades. A photographer’s dream, the route is famous for the Landwasser Viaduct at Filisur, a six-arch, single-track limestone viaduct that takes you over a 213-foot waterfall and straight into a tunnel built through a steep rock wall.
Consider adding to the adventure with an overnight stay in the medieval town of Poschiavo. If you time it correctly, you can browse the Wednesday market for local burrata and wine, hike around the lake, and then end the day with a hearty dinner at Hostaria del Borgo, which makes for a wonderful osso buco. Embark the next day for the last 45-minute stretch to Tirano.
From Åndalsnes to Dombas, Norway (1 hour 40 minutes)
Short but punchy, this service showcases the best of Norway’s mountains, rivers and lakes, passing six tunnels and 32 bridges along the way.
Construction of the Rauma Line began in 1912 in the village of Dombas and was completed in stages until the entire line was opened in November 1924 by King Haakon VII. Although intended to be a commuter service, the train adopted several forms in its day, moonlighting as a transporter of the Bank of Norway’s gold reserves during World War II and serving as a night courier. Now it’s shamelessly a tourist train, whose sole purpose is to present Norway in its wildest and rawest aspect, carrying passengers along towering mountains and over rivers flowing under bridges. With a glossy brochure and route plan distributed on board – along with audio commentary in Norwegian, English, and German – the train is one of the best ways to spend 90 minutes in the northwest of the country.
Neither terminal is wildly exciting; however, the journey is your destination. Departing from Åndalsnes four times a day, the train quickly leaves the city behind it as it navigates through fenced meadows carpeted with buttercups and daisies. Brooks babbles along the trail, and little houses dot the trails. But this gentle landscape quickly turns into mountainous territory, where the peaks wear scarves of clouds, and gray, gravelly tongues stretch out on their flanks where glaciers once moved. The Rauma River boils over boulders, foaming as if it were filled with soap. Creamy sandbanks rise from the turquoise water and salmon fishermen stand knee-deep in the whirlpool. Stopping at places along the way, the train offers photographers the opportunity to take their photos and others to simply stop and breathe in the beauty.
Jazz Express Evening
From Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to Berlin, Germany (12.5 hours)
Dance the night away aboard this mobile jazz club, with singers, DJs, and Cajun cuisine on wheels.
Night trains evoke a special kind of magic: comfortable bunks, mysterious passengers and the world passing by in the dark. Add to that dinner, drinks, and dancing, and you’ve got an all-night party in your hands. Organized every year in July, the Jazz Night Express is the brainchild of Chris Engelsman, an engineer passionate about trains. Desperate for cuts to European night services, he and a few other train enthusiasts collaborated to show the joy of overnight train travel.
The team hired rolling stock and hired jazz musicians to keep pace with the train. With three stages, the train presents a mix of new talent, established artists and DJs playing to travelers aged four to 83. Departing at sunset, the train takes just over 12 hours to head east as passengers sway in the blues and feast on Cajun-style meatloaf, prawn jambalaya and apple cake. apple crumbs.
With a capacity of 400 passengers, the train has comfortable berths with five beds per compartment, bed linen provided. The luxury cars have three beds per compartment, with air conditioning, a seating area and a private sink. Although the music is supposed to end at midnight, the party can continue until 6 a.m. before the train arrives at Zoologischer Garten station in Berlin at 8 a.m.
The Cinque Terre railway
From La Spezia to Levanto, Italy (29 minutes)
Scattered along the rugged cliffs of Italy’s Ligurian coast, this pastel-colored chain of villages is most accessible by regular commuter train.
One of the most popular regions of Italy, the Cinque Terre caters to all the country’s fantasies. Built on the rocky coast, this cluster of five fishing villages includes medieval cobblestones, friendly hotels and a family-friendly trattorie.
Between the villages you can find hidden shrines and chapels, terraced vineyards and ancient paths lined with olive groves.
Visitors typically hike the trails connecting Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – each taking a few hours – but the four-minute train gusts between villages offer a glimpse of parts unlikely to be seen on foot.
Disappearing in and out of the tunnels, the train follows the precipice of this jumble of gelato-colored villages as the sea laps against the rocks below. Passengers are treated to the sight of flat-capped farmers tending to their home gardens, resident cats tightrope walking over crumbling orange walls, and sudden bursts of tender pink cherry blossoms.
Although trains run regularly throughout the day, the best service to take is the slowest regional train, which will add just over 10 minutes to the 20-minute trip, and allow passengers to listen to the sound of the trains. church bells going through the trees, and smelling the scent of lemon and rosemary, heavy in the hot air.
Buying a Cinque Terre train card means you can descend into a village to enjoy a wood-fired pizza and walk around town, then board the next train.
The Douro Valley Railway
From Régua to Régua, Portugal (three hours)
Not far from scenic train routes and charming train stations, Portugal is home to one of the most enjoyable train journeys in Europe – literally.
One of the smartest ways to experience Portugal and its culture is to take slow trains. Crisscrossing the wine region, connecting major cities and traveling to the edges of the coast, trains provide a fun way to meet locals and explore the places behind one of Portugal’s most famous products. : the port.
A famous train that focuses on the latter is the historic Douro Valley Line that embarks on a riverside round trip for those fancy a drink on the move. Built in 1925, the steam train is something of a national treasure. With polished wooden benches and the windows wide open, the train gives a long whistle and then exits Régua station.
On a sunny day, there’s no better way to spend three hours than following the meanders of the wide-mouthed Douro River through the sun-drenched valley, a patchwork of traditional terraced vines, quintas and olive trees.
Throughout the journey, local musicians hit tambourines, strum guitars and squeeze accordions as passengers sip glasses of sweet Port de Ferreira and grab paper bags of rebuçados da Régua – hard, honeyed candies sold by ladies in white coats.
Its whistle piercing the quiet air, the train passes through Pinhão and Tua stations, where passengers can get off to stretch their legs and buy a few bottles of port to take home. Making the loop, the train returns to Régua with a final whistle and crackle.
This is an edited excerpt from Epic Train Journeys: the inside track to the world’s greatest rail routes, by Monisha Rajesh (£ 35, Gestalten)