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There are some spectacular rail journeys out there, you know. From the Flying Scotsman to a 'Flavours of Tuscany', here are some of the most magnificent rail tours for 2019.
1. Inlandsbanan, SwedenSweden’s Inlandsbanan traverses what is described as the continent’s last wilderness of untouched forests and lakes. The 663-mile (1,067km) railway from Mora to Gallivare links isolated Lapland settlements with a variety of attractions. Most are either within walking distance of stations or linked to the railway by bus and include open-air museums, 19th-century lake steamers and Sami villages.
Discover Inlandsbanan (0046 771 53 53 53; inlandsbanan.se) offers a nine-night return tour from Mora from £777 per person.
2. Flying Scotsman, BritainIt may be three years since the nation’s favourite locomotive re-emerged from a £4.2 million refurb, but the Flying Scotsman has lost none of its allure. Climb on board for the original London-Edinburgh routing as part of a special Highlands & Islands Explorer tour in May offered by Steam Dreams. Shorter trips around the Surrey Hills and between London and Salisbury are also confirmed. The locomotive will be on display at selected dates at the National Railway Museum in York.
See steamdreams.co.uk and railwaymuseum.org.uk
3. Bordeaux, Cognac and the Loire Three nights in Bordeaux, reached by Eurostar and TGV, allows time to visit the World Heritage Site Old Town, the new wine museum and, with included car hire, the nearby vineyards of Médoc and St-Émilion. Three nights in Cognac for the city’s medieval quarter and English Garden are followed by another three nights in the village of Chenonceaux in the heart of the Loire Valley, home to excellent wines and Leonardo da Vinci – 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of his death, and of the construction of the beautiful Château de Chambord.
Ljubljana, the leafy capital of Slovenia CREDIT: ISTOCK
From £1,595pp with Planet Rail (01347 825292; planetrail.co.uk)
4. Habsburg Trail, Central EuropeThis eight-night self-guided tour through Austria, Slovenia and Italy follows a coffee trade route developed to meet the demands of the early 18th-century coffee craze in the Habsburg Empire. Travelling by train between four cities with a common imperial past – Vienna, Graz, Ljubljana and Trieste – provides an introduction to the empire’s magnificent architecture and art, ranging from Vienna’s Hofburg Palace to the wonderfully preserved Old Town in Graz. Notes for walking tours and recommendations for coffee provided.
From £995pp with Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk). Includes rail travel between Vienna and Trieste, but excludes flights.
5. Flavours of Tuscany Ease the pace by taking the train to Italy as it celebrates a year of Slow Tourism. The tour takes the Eurostar to Paris and then a TGV for an overnight in Turin, before skirting the Tuscan coast to reach the base for six nights at the Relais dei Molini. Car hire is included so travellers can explore and taste local wines, visit thermal springs, have a cookery lesson in the charming walled city of Lucca and try cheese making outside the town of Volterra. Return is by plane from Pisa.
From £1,495 per person sharing with Planet Rail (01347 825292; planetrail.co.uk).
6. Colombo to Jaffna, Sri LankaThe railway link between Sri Lanka’s two largest cities sliced through thick jungle in 1894, before being snipped by Civil War in the Eighties. For nearly three decades flora recolonised the tracks, along with the occasional elephant and crocodile. Now 10-hour day trains, plus a night mail sleeper, rumble past the Indian Ocean from Colombo to Jaffna across two thirds of the Asian island nation. Once-off-limits, Jaffna is a base for birdwatching, kitesurfing and Tamil cuisine. Passengers on Lanka’s lesser-travelled northern rail lines may hop off to visit elephant sanctuaries (at Habarana) and whalewatching hotspots (at Trincomalee).
Yonder (0203 880 8585; yonder.co.uk) offers an eight-day trip around Sri Lanka, including the Colombo to Jaffna train, with a stay at Ulagalla Resort, from £1,895pp.
7. Madaraka Express, KenyaThe new standard-gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi provides the link between the coast and Amboseli and Tsavo West national parks for 3½ days of game drives. The Maasai-inspired Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge has majestic views of Kilimanjaro, and the Kilaguni Serena Safari lodge has been designed to blend into the rugged savannah and overlooks a waterhole visited daily by herds of elephant and buffalo. The four nights in the lodges are flanked by a night in Mombasa.
The Madaraka Express costs from £2,476pp through Kuoni (0800 144 8181; kuoni.co.uk).
8. Grand Tour, Scotland This nine-night tour by train begins in Edinburgh and takes in some of Scotland’s most celebrated castles and scenic journeys. Among the places visited are the Royal Yacht Britannia, the castles of Stirling, Dunvegan, Armadale, Eilean Donan and Glamis and the Glen Ord Distillery. The most dramatic part of the West Highland line between Crianlarich and Fort William is followed by the Jacobite steam train on to Mallaig, crossing the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, featured in four of the Harry Potter films.
From £2,495pp with Great Rail Journeys (01904 521936; greatrail.com).
9. Highlights of PolandPolish rolling stock is some of Europe’s most modern. The fleet of Pendolinos offer top-notch dining cars, plus free drinks in both first and second class. Rail Discoveries’ newest tour offers high-speed transport between every top sight including the Unesco city of Krakow and baroque gem Wroclaw. Another highlight is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, where miners sculpted crystalline chapels deep underground during the socialist era. The tour also leaves the rails for a river cruise on the Oder past Habsburg castles.
Marrakech is at one end of a new rail line CREDIT: ISTOCK
Rail Discoveries (01904 734939; raildiscoveries.com) offers the all-inclusive nine-night trip departing through spring and autumn 2019 from £1,195, including flights.
10. Tangier to Marrakech Forget the Marrakech Express. The hippy train that Crosby, Stills and Nash sang about riding through Morocco has been usurped by Africa’s first high-speed rail line, which connects Tangier with Casablanca in just two hours. The French-built TGV was launched in late 2018. Panoramic windows frame medinas and forests that rise into the Rif Mountains, while a buffet car serves thé à la menthe. Great Rail Journeys’ tour from London St Pancras blasts through France and Spain in first class, before riding the new Moroccan TGV and the old High Atlas railway lines to Fes and Marrakech.
Great Rail Journeys (01904 527180; greatrail.com) offers the 13-night Magnificent Morocco & Moorish Spain tour from £2,995pp, including meals and a flight home from Marrakech to London.
11. Castles of Transylvania This new tour starts as it means to go on: cocooned in the historic luxury of Istanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express. From here, the Golden Eagle Danube Express makes a stately dash through European Turkey towards the ancient Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, via the lofty Shipka Pass. Country number three is Romania for the beautiful town of Sighisoara – and Bran Castle, home of the infamous vampire-count. The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest is the ultimate stop on the seven-night tour, where there’s time to visit an Ottoman-era bath before the flight home.
Golden Eagle (0161 928 9410; goldeneagleluxurytrains.com) offers Castles of Transylvania from £4,395 including four nights on the Golden Eagle Danube Express, all meals and drinks, plus five-star hotels stays. Departs June 2019.
12. High-speed art, JapanRugby fans out for the World Cup this autumn may want to change the pace a bit with a ride on what is almost certainly the fastest-moving art gallery in the world, the Genbi Shinkansen (bullet train) running between Echigo-Yuzawa and Niigata on the island of Honshu. Carriages are dedicated to different art forms with paintings, photographs and carriage decor depicting traditional themes such as harvests and festivals in a modern and vivid way. In the second coach, the wall is filled with mirrors, giving scope for self-reflection as the real landscape shoots by outside.
Inside Japan (0117 370 9751; insidejapantours.com) can tailor trips to include a ride on the Genbi Shinkansen before, during or after the Rugby World Cup.
13. Seoul to the sea, South KoreaFor those really wanting to plan ahead, book this year for Great Rail Journeys’ first foray into South Korea in 2020. Using the whizz-bang Seoul to Busan high-speed train as its backbone and developed using French TGV technology, the route whisks passengers from kimchi-making classes in the capital to fish markets on the Sea of Japan. The nine-day itinerary includes a rare trip to the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarised zone. Visitors might struggle to spot Kim Jong-un, but they can peek into the hermit kingdom using high-power binoculars. Combinable with GRJ’s Grand Tour of China.
Great Rail Journeys (01904 527180; greatrail.com) runs its new South Korea tour from March to October 2020, from £2,795pp.
This article first appeared on www.telegraph.co.uk
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