Famous Rail Journeys

I have always loved rail travel above other means of transport and have done quite a few of the more famous scenic ones, but my favourite journeys are still in Switzerland, so wonderfully efficient and very scenic. In September this year we will get the chance to experience the Andean Explorer in Peru which I am very much looking forward to and looks amazing, so the ones I have done so far

1. Bernina Express/Switzerland – Bernina runs from the Italian border to St. Moritz. This passes through winding acqueducts, many glaciers, waterfalls and tunnels and although a lot shorter I think the scenery is more dramatic than Glacier Express. The scenery changes from the wrought iron balconies of Italy to the wooden chalets that are so typical of the German Swiss landscape

2. William Tell Express/Switzerland –

We leave Lucerne on the paddle steamer on the first leg of William Tell Express from Lucerne to Fluelen at the southern end of Lake Lucerne or Waldstattersee as it is known locally. We collected a box each containing guidebooks, lunch voucher and a free gift which was a Swiss army knife.

Waldenstein is one of  five identical paddle steamers that are used on this route or the reverse route and lots of stops in between . This part of the journey takes a leisurely three hours criss crossing the lake and stopping at picturesque lakeside villages and in the winter they become ski resorts, The first one of these is Weggis which has a cable car  up to Mount Rigi at 5,800 feet, or the less scary alternative is from the Vitznau stop there is a mountain railway. There is a commentary in 3 languages announcing of the stops and explaining points of interest

Lunch is included with a first class reservation so represents good value as the reservation wasn’t expensive. Lunch started at 10.30am so a little early for the pasta that was included, and in hindsight the later connection may be better  It was very nice though with black and white macaroni. The snag is that drinks are not included and do work out ridiculously expensive so I would advise taking at least water with you 

At the Uri part of the lake sheer cliff faces surround you at 10,000 feet. While sitting dreamingt on a calm and peaceful lake we are told that this beautiful part of the lake can be rough and unavigable and demonstrate this fact we can listen to a piece of The William Tell Overture by Rossini so that we can close our eyes and imagine we are in the middle of a tempestuous storm. Am I missing the point, personally I would prefer the idyllic calmness of the lake!

The three hours  pass very quickly and we arrived at Fluelen where we transfer to the William Tell Express train leg of the journey. Once we are on the train it climbs very steeply past the Schlossberg glacier. And within minutes, instead of looking up thousands of feet , we are now looking down into valleys, gorges and alpine villages.

Once through the Gotthard tunnel we arrive at Airolo at 3747 feet, the first is Italian. Once we reached Faido the difference became even more apparent. Houses are brick instead of wood, with elaborate wrought iron balconies. Lilac, hydrangeas and sunflowers replace the small alpine flowers seen on the mountainsides. Catholic stone churches replace the distinctive Lutheran domes.

3. Golden Pass/Switzerland

We had a first class pass and this meant we had huge panoramic windows. The scenery was so breathtaking, about halfway the train starts to climb upwards revealing tranquil turquoise lakes with picture postcard alpine villages. Even the modern houses are built in the traditional chalet style so nothing looks out of place.Lake Lungern looked so peaceful, onwards and upwardf through Brunig-Hasilberg with its antique furniture shops, up to pine clad snowy mountains, at Meringen the train reverses so that it curves round the top of Lake Brienz. Brienz has clouds just hovering in the sky as if suspended by a puppeteer.

We carried on the Golden Pass Line towards Mongtreux pastLakeThun towards Spiez towards drier and greener alpine villages, past farms and orchards, to Zweisimmen where we had to change trains. Zweisimmen to Montreux passes from German speaking Switzerland to French speaking Switzerland, Saanen being the last station on the German side and FRougemont being the first station on the French side..

Once on the French side, the scenery changes dramatically. Sloping chalet roofs become barn roofs, they become, older, plainer and with less flowers. As well as being lower, the ski resorts like Chateau D’Oex become purpose built rather than pretty, but with more alternative sports facilities and après ski.

The line winds down very steeply past sloping vineyards and concrete buildings with French wrought iron balconies, into Montreux. Montreux itself reminds me of pictures I have seen of Nice orCannes, a resort feel with large Victorian hotels and it feels very French. There are more exclusive and designer shops and the whole character is very French.

4. Glacier Express/Switzerland –

Billed the World’s Slowest express train It takes seven and a half hours from St.Moritz to Zermatt. The dining car was a gourmet experience in a Pullman car with wood panelling, soft lighting, tablecloths and white glove service.

Back in our modern panoramic car, key spots are pointed out clearly in four languages over the tannoy, but not all the time so it isn’t annoying. The landscape changes to green fields with yellow flowers and sweet corn, before passing the allotments at Glim with sunflowers and vegetables along the railway. The train rises sharply to the remote Alpine Pass before descending into Andermatt, and continuing on to Brig through barren rocky landscape, then past the pretty wooden chalets of Munster and Neiderwald the home of Cesar Ritz, founder of the Ritz hotel group.

Brig is the border town of Switzerland and the start of the Simplon tunnel leading to Domodossola in Italy. There is a castle in Brig, but otherwise it is fairly large and industrial. Visp has the highest vineyard in Europe (not a lot of people know that) As we approach Zermatt we pass the deepest gorge in Switzerland and the roof tiles in this area are made of local slate to protect them from heavy snow

5. The Orient Express – British Pullman/UK and Europe

All the carriages have names, ours was Cygnus. We sat in our comfortable armchairs, in elegant surroundings, inlaid mahogany and brass, with the table already laid out with silver cutlery, bone china and crystal glasses. The toilet had a mosaic floor, mahogany cupboards, fresh flowers and liquid soap
We were immediately served by our waiters with chilled champagne and later with a choice of good wines throughout the journey. The dinner started in Woking and our route took us to Southampton and back a different way. The five course dinner was beautifully presented as well as being extravagant and delicious. Our first course was goats cheese tarlets with red onion sauce, followed by Pea and ham soup with walnut and sesame rolls, Lamb en croute with rosti and asparagus, cheese board with a choice of biscuits and crackers then a plate of artistic chocolate desserts with Creme Anglais (custard) and finally coffee with liqueurs

6. Rocky Moutaineer/Canada

Rocky Mountaineer has two main routes, one via Kamloops to Vancouver and the other from Jasper to Whistler. We took the latter as we wanted to see Vancouver. Rocky Mountaineer is a two day journey in either Red Leaf or Gold Leaf with an overnight hotel en route. We picked up our Red Leaf badges and sat down very excited at what was to come. In Red Leaf there is no hot food, only snacks and as it goes very slowly it is possible to go to the ends of he carriage to take photos. Gold Leaf does serve hot food, the seating is more comfortable and there is a panoramic car. Fraser Canyon was the most picturesque part of our journey and in general the second day was more spectacular than the first but at least 16 hours of the journey is through trees and forests so I did feel the experience was somewhat overrated.

7. Tranzalpine Express /New Zealand

This is another very famous journey that was a bit of a let down. This runs between Christchurch on the East of South island to Greymouth in the west. This takes about 4 hours and passes the foot of Mount Cook. First of all this train is very old and grubby and also doing the journey eastbound means it is dark well before reaching Christchurch so I would strongly recommend doing the morning one orignating in Christchurch. The general mood was very subdued as Christchurch had just suffered the devastating earthquake a few weeks earlier so arriving into Christchurch was an anti climax tio the final part of our holiday . I do think though that it is a real shame that New Zealand’s railways are so underused, many have been abandoned altogether in favour of cars, rails left to rust or just being used for cargo. The remaining lines in use only run once a day if that.

8. White Pass and Yukon/Alaska

We booked the White Pass and Yukon Railway, a half day trip from Skagway Alaska an this is an excursion that we would recommend. This goes from Skagway across old wooden bridges up the mountain and just across the Canadian border but not as far as Yukon. Most of the scenery is on the left on the way up, but for those sitting on the right there is a replay on the way down

9. Taeri Gorge Railway / New Zealand

This went from Dunedin which is in itself very special. It is a Victorian building with stained glass windows, a beautiful piece of architecture. This is a round trip in the afternoon from Dunedin, v ery enjoyable and not too expensive

10. Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway/UK

Not as famous as some of the other classic steam railways in the UK like the Bluebell, but it brings back fond memories of our Pontins holidays at Camber Sands and the typical English seaside with pebble beaches, unpredictable weather, candy floss and sticks of rock.

11. Chocolate Train/Switzerland

we boarded the Chocolate trai nPullman to Gruyere and Broc Fabrique. It looks like a Pullman from the outside but the inside is modern made to look old.

Complimentary Coffee, croissants and a miniature chocolate. Our first stop was the Gruyere cheese factory, where Cherry the talking cow told us via our headphones the 16 stages of making cheese.  There was the opportunity to sample Gruyere

Our next stop was the pretty, restored medieval villageof Gruyere and the castle which dates back to 11th Century. 170 people live in the village and a million people a year visit.  Two hours is a long time in Gruyere as it is small and the bars smell strongly of fondue and pipe tobacco.

It was about half an hour to Broc Fabrique station where we were to visit the Cailler Nestle factory. Cailler is unique as it is made with condensed milk rather then powdered to give it a smoother texture, and it is lovely chocolate, we had a chance to sample it at the end

12. Kuranda Railway Cairns Australia

This runs from Cairns high above beautiful gorges. Did this on my first time to Australia and would love to do it again

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