‘Slow' travel is back in fashion with the journey being part of the holiday itself. Here are 10 memorable train journeys to seduce you back to the romance of rail.
By Fiona Cullinan
Japan - home of hi-tech and cute (kawaii) - brings both together in the shinkansen', the world's original high-speed trains. With cute bottlenose dolphin snouts or streamlined kingfisher beaks, plus overhead sports serrations inspired by owl feathers, a ride on the bullet train is both sleek and quiet. The speed and punctuality seem amazing to us in the UK, but it's nothing new in Japan; bullet trains have been running since 1964, when they were introduced for the Tokyo Olympics. A single from Tokyo to Kyoto (home of the geisha) takes around two-and-a-half hours, reaching speeds of up to 187mph and costs around £90 - with awesome views of Mount Fuji thrown in for free.
Further information: Central Japan Railway Company
Named after the ‘Afghans' who once trekked their camels and traded along this route, the original Ghan train has been running from Adelaide to Alice Springs since 1929. Since 2004, it has continued on to Darwin, enabling a 2,979km north-south crossing of the Australian Outback in just two days. Standard cheap seats (recliners) cost £395, or book a single or double sleeper for around double the price. Either way, the views are expansive with vast desert expanses, kangaroos hopping off into the distance; you may even spot one of the huge population of feral camels that remain. It's a relaxed way to arrive at Alice Springs for Uluru, and you really get a sense of the land. The train itself is up to 1km long, has 43 carriages and snakes through Australia's Red Centre twice a week.
Further information: GSR.com.au
At nearly 6,000 miles long and crossing seven time zones, the Trans-Sib remains one of the greatest train journeys in the world. The party atmosphere is also legendary because the length of the journey combined with often primitive on-board conditions, make it desirable to invest in a crate of vodka for the trip. There are three routes to choose from but the best conditions are to be found aboard the Rossiya, the original, 5,772-mile, seven-day route that runs from Moscow to Vladivostok (from where you can take a ship to Japan). There are also two branching routes to Beijing, the most interesting of which crosses Mongolia and the Gobi desert. This route lasts seven days and costs from £518 one-way, second-class, or consider a Trans-Sib tour stopping off along the way and taking 15 days for £1,295.
Further information: RealRussia.co.uk
A thousand miles of lavish journeying await passengers of South Africa's Blue Train - which is indeed blue - between Cape Town and Pretoria. A one-way fare costs from around £840 but for the splurge you get meals, drinks, butler service, swanky compartments, double beds, en suites with gold fittings, marble tiles and full-sized baths, Havana cigars, dinner jacket dining, observations cars... the list goes on. The 27-hour journey also crosses the diverse and spectacular scenery of South Africa, with am off-the-train champagne stop along the way.
Further information: BlueTrain.co.za
For those who hate to fly or sail, Eurostar has opened up a world of holiday possibilities across the Channel and beyond. The carriages themselves may not be the fanciest, but this is the train that connects us to our European cousins, linking to more than 100 destinations across Europe. The UK's first high-speed line from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord opened in November 2007 and, with speeds reaching 186mph, Eurostar's journey time has been cut to just 2 hours 15 minutes. From Paris, you can catch an overnight connection to Venice from around £30; from Brussels, take a high-speed ICE train to Germany; or the more adventurous can just keep on going forever - check Seat61.com for how to travel overland to Malta, Istanbul, in fact, just about anywhere from London. Eurostar fares from London to Paris start from £59 return.
Further information: Eurostar.com
The Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William in Scotland is ‘easily the most amazing train ride in Britain', says Mark Smith, the Man in Seat 61. Why? Because you can dine on ‘haggis, tatties & neeps' or imbibe a relaxing whisky in the plush lounge car, before laying down your head and being rail-rocked to sleep after a long, hard week. Pull back the curtains the next morning and Ben Nevis and the scenically gorgeous Scottish West Highlands fills your picture window. It's a relative bargain with second-class sleeper costing from just £59 each way - or try to catch a ‘bargain berth' for £19 by booking up to 12 weeks ahead.
Further information: Scotrail
For pure visual eye candy, Switzerland's Glacier Express offers one of the most picturesque train rides in Europe. Running 180 miles between Zermatt and the Matterhorn to St Moritz, the narrow-gauge, bright red train is also one of the slowest, chugging at an average of 24mph and taking nearly eight hours to reach its destination. All the better to enjoy the spectacular views - a glacial wonderland in winter and glorious alpine meadows in spring/summer, with 291 bridges, 91 tunnels and the crossing of the Oberalp Pass, at over 2,000 metres above sea level, along the way. One way fares start from 88 euros (around £75).
Further information: GlacierExpress.ch
Image: (c) Rhätische Bahn, Chur
Synonymous with glamour, elegance and luxury rail travel, the Orient-Express is also known for intrigue, adventure, even murder, courtesy of the novelist Agatha Christie and her book 'Murder on the Orient Express'. The original Paris to Istanbul service has been cut by degrees and actually took its final journey in December 2009. But you can still enjoy the ‘other' Venice Simplon Orient-Express, that runs from London to Venice in renovated Art Deco, 1930s-era cars, each with its own history. Fine dining, French chefs, Italian waiters, elegant cabins and the Bar Car with its baby grand awaits. A four-day /three-night package from London to Venice (with one night aboard the Orient Express) costs from £2,025, or just buy a one-way ticket for £1,595.
There's can't be many trains that circumnavigate a smoking volcano but the narrow-gauge Ferrovia Circumetnea is one of them. The 110-km long line almost completely encircles Mount Etna in Sicily. Go on a clear day for views of Europe's largest volcano and one of the world's most active - you may even see smoking vents from the train and or even red hot lava, though this is more visible at night. The cars are short and rattly but endearingly vintage while the service ranges from late and lurching to highly customised (they may even hold the single car train for you while you nip to the loo). Fares from Catania to Riposto cost 7 euros one-way or 11 for a round trip.
Further information: Circumetnea.it
Image: (c) Mike Priddy
The Maharajas' Express - the first pan-India luxury train - made its inaugural journey from Mumbai to Delhi in March 2010. The service then continues to Kolkata. Featuring a ‘spacious Presidential Suite' spread over an entire carriage, the train is a modern homage to the opulent coaches of the Maharajas. The itinerary is also a massive lure with off-train cultural excursions including lunch at a private palace, an elephant polo match and champagne brunch by the Taj Mahal. The all-inclusive ‘unparalleled luxury' starts from $800 per person per day, based on two sharing a Deluxe Cabin and peaks at $2,500 for the Presidential Suite.
Further information: Royale India Rail Tours or the train is bookable through all luxury Indian tour operators.