The slow pace of a good railway journey is reminiscent of a more graceful age. Chris Carter reports.
No wonder the Swiss are a nation of rail fanatics, says Kerry Christiani in Lonely Planet magazine. The trains run bang on time and you have plenty of ludicrously scenic journeys to choose from. But if they could pick just one, Glacier Express (GlacierExpress.ch/en) would surely be it. Boarding the train is reminiscent of a more graceful age, when such journeys were the preserve of the rich. Liveried chauffeurs drop passengers off, the porters are dapper and the bright red trains so impeccably polished they gleam.
The eight-hour journey from ritzy St Moritz to Matterhorn-topped Zermatt passes through Alpine terrain on a route that takes in wind-battered passes, 291 bridges and 91 tunnels. It might possibly be the slowest express train in the world, but that only serves to allow passengers to enjoy the striking views of meadows, forests and falls through panoramic windows. All the while, wide-eyed cows graze in meadows spread out below jagged peaks, and the glacially cold Rhine and Rhône rivers roll past dark-timbered hamlets, castles and church spires. Each new view elicits little gasps of wonder. And then suddenly there it is: the Matterhorn, an almighty fang of a 4,478m peak and the ultimate Swiss icon.
An Aussie adventure
“If the train had been a boat, it might have capsized,” says Michael Kerr in The Daily Telegraph. One minute passengers rushed to the left-hand side to snap the engine and the leading carriages crossing the trestles of the curving Stoney Creek Bridge, 90ft above the creek bed, in Australia. The next, it was over to the right to snap water streaming down a cliff yards from the track at Stoney Creek Falls. There is no shortage of sights along the Kuranda Scenic Railway (KSR.com.au), which links Cairns, Queensland’s gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and Kuranda, “the village in the rainforest”. Completed in 1891, the railway was built to link gold and tin mines to the coast. At most it takes a couple of hours end to end, but the line rises from sea level to nearly 1,100ft, snaking its way through the Barron Gorge National Park, and offering spectacular views back towards Cairns and the Coral Sea.
An exuberant image of Buda-ji, the carpet snake that in Aboriginal legend is said to have carved out the gorge, is painted on the side of the diesel-electric locomotive. The carriages are made of silky oak and date from the 1900s. In “Heritage Class” you will find red leather benches, armchairs in “Gold Class” and no-nonsense Aussie service in both.
A ride through the moors
Closer to home, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR.co.uk) is one of the world’s great heritage railways, says Trisha Harbord in The Sun. Steam and old diesel trains take you along 24 miles of national park countryside; services run daily between Pickering and Whitby. You can discover the history of the railway in the visitors’ centre at 1930s-style Pickering station. Stop off at an even older station, Levisham, and walk about a mile to Skelton Tower for fabulous views of the valley. Goathland was the original Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter films. The railway is running a series of “Santa Specials” through December.
See India in style
Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, an outfitter that has been running specialised trips in some of the most luxuriously decked-out trains riding the rails today, has just added two new itineraries sweeping across India, says Phoebe Neuman for the Robb Report. Both the Madras Mail and Darjeeling Mail are 14-day journeys, available to book now for trips departing in 2019. They offer an easy introduction to a country that can be intimidating for even the most experienced jet-setters. That said, the luxurious Deccan Odyssey private train offers plenty of sepia-toned atmosphere. Both trips depart from Mumbai for open countryside, with the Madras Mail itinerary peeling south to explore Goa and Kanyakumari, mainland India’s southernmost point. From £17,695 per trip, see GoldenEagleLuxuryTrains.com.