Italy-Switzerland: lovely chocolate!
I was lucky enough to ride the Bernina Express from Tirano to St Moritz. The views are incredible and the scale of the countryside is vast, with snow-topped mountains, rivers, lakes and glaciers. There are announcements in English and German throughout the journey, providing details as to where you are along the route etc. We paid about £100 (114 Swiss francs) for a first-class return, which also included a lovely box of chocolates.
Switzerland: lakes like liquid diamonds
As the train winds its way from Lucerne to Brienz, a breathtaking vista unfolds. Majestic snow-capped peaks stand guard over valleys decorated with blankets of pristine snow. Lakes shimmer like liquid diamonds, reflecting the surrounding beauty, and each turn reveals a new masterpiece of nature’s winter-coated wonder. It’s a symphony of white, blue and tranquility that captivates the soul, an awe-inspiring journey through a true winter wonderland. The ride takes 90 minutes and costs about £13 (14 Swiss francs).
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Norway: watch out for snowy owls
The Bergensbanen train was worth every minute of the six- to seven-hour journey from Oslo to Bergen. The highest point on the track is 1,237 metres above sea level, offering breathtaking views of the unfolding mountains, fjords and waterfalls. The charming red villages dotted about the wintry landscape are a cosy sight, and if you’re lucky, you may even spot snowy owls and distant herds of reindeer as the train crosses the Hardangervidda national park. Fares are flexible and can be bought for about £55 (740 Norwegian kroner) each way.
Germany-Austria: apple strudels and glühwein
The Munich-Bologna train route gets you to Innsbruck in less than two hours. Often it runs with traditional carriages and cabins, and somebody wheeling hot coffee up and down the aisles. The Munich area is relatively flat, but as soon as you approach the Austrian border, the Alps soar up on each side. The route follows the River Inn, curving through the valley between the mountains and you can spot little farmhouses and castles on the mountainside. You don’t have to be into skiing to enjoy Innsbruck – Christmas markets, castles, hot apple strudels, glühwein … It’s a delicious place. The alternative route via Garmisch is even more spectacular according to the Man in Seat 61.
Sarajevo to Mostar: through the Dinaric Alps
You’ll have to wake up early because the train from Sarajevo to Mostar leaves at 7.15am. Grab a coffee and sit on the train’s left-hand side for the 80-mile, two-hour journey. You’ll be greeted by the Neretva River – it is well known for its emerald hue in summer, but makes an even better frozen treat. It has been cited as among the world’s coldest rivers. As you wind through the Dinaric Alps, you’ll catch the sunrise and see smoke rising from village chimneys as people start their day. Breakfast awaits in Mostar’s picture-perfect old town. Tickets cost only the equivalent of about £6.50 each way.
French Pyrenees: vintage electric yellow train
Take the Train Jaune from the Vauban fortress town of Villefranche-de-Conflent (good rail connections from Perpignan) to the ski resort of Font Romeu, then on to Latour-de-Carol. This electric train, which started operation in 1910, takes you through part of the Pyrenees, crossing two huge bridges (the Séjourné Viaduct, 65 metres above the ground, and the Pont Gisclard, 80 metres above a precipice) and through 19 tunnels. It includes one of France’s highest stations – Bolquère – at almost 1,600 metres. At Latour-de-Carol there are connecting rail services to Barcelona and Toulouse. The complete trip takes three hours and trains run throughout the year. A return ticket is €45.
Austria: breathtaking views of the Alps
If you are in Vienna for a winter break, try a day trip on the train to Semmering. It was Europe’s first standard-gauge mountain rail line, dating from 1854 and you will cross 16 high viaducts in an hour, with breathtaking views of the Austrian Alps as the train traverses icy mountain sides before slipping through snowy valley floors. Semmering itself is a major ski resort, with spas and beautiful old villas. Tickets are €23.90 one way – we enjoyed a two-course meal with coffee and Austrian wine in the buffet car at a window table with views for an extra €25.
Along the coast to St Ives, Cornwall
It’s only a short trip, barely 15 minutes, but my favourite winter train journey is in Cornwall, from Lelant Saltings to St Ives. On a clear winter’s day, the views starting with the estuary of River Hayle then of the coast and St Ives Bay are wonderful.
Winning tip: Italy – a high beauty-to-euro ratio
There were gasps of pleasure throughout the carriage as we approached Lake Como in the train from Milano Centrale to Varenna Esino. I immediately understood the oohing and aahing at the first sight of snow-sprinkled mountain ranges, like icing atop a Christmas pandoro. The tantalising first glimpse of the turquoise lake, sparkling under a winter sun, had everyone aboard pulling out their phones. Seldom has the reflection of snow-tipped cypress trees in an ice-cold lake melted more hearts. The unforgettable one-hour journey’s beauty-to-euro ratio is extremely high, with tickets costing only €6.80.