Table 1150: Praha – Pardubice – Brno – Břeclav

PART 1

This month we will be looking at the Czech Republic route from Praha to Břeclav, and enjoy the incredible scenery on your way, from rolling hills to towering castles.

Praha forms the hub of the Czech railway system, with services to all parts of the country together with many international destinations. The city’s principle railway station is Hlavní nádraží, with many services also available from other important stations, such as Masarykovo nádraží, Holešovice and Smíchov. Commuter rail services operate under the name Esko Praha, which is part of the Praha Integrated Transport system.

Praha, known as the city of a hundred spires is the capital, the largest city in the Czech Republic and the fourth most visited European City after London, Paris and Rome. The city has a rich architectural heritage and is famous for its cultural life. In 1992 the historic city centre was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Bursting with attractions and situated in Wenceslas Square, the heart of modern Praha is the neo-Renaissance of the National Museum, built in 1818 and the largest in the Czech Republic. Its magnificent interior is a shrine to the cultural, intellectual and scientific history of the Czech Republic. The main historical building was re-opened in October 2018 after several years of renovation work.

Take a cruise on the winding Vltava river with its succession of bridges, including the picturesque Charles Bridge, with the backdrop of Praha Castle that dominates the left-bank region of the city from behind massive walls set high on a hill.
The historic Old Town Square in Praha offers a charmingly eclectic mix of architectural styles spanning several centuries – undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful sights.

PART 2

Leaving Praha behind and continuing on our journey we head 96 kilometres east to the city of Pardubice. The journey from Praha to Pardubice takes approximately 60 minutes. Pardubice hlavní nádraží, the main railway station, is very busy; all services of Czech Railways, RegioJet and LEO Express stop there.

Pardubice is a city in eastern Bohemia and the capital city of the Pardubice region. The city lies in the Labe lowlands, in a landscape of meadows, deciduous forests and historic canals.

Pardubice is a great city and full of life. At the heart lies a very impressive central square, a beautiful chateau and it is internationally famous for its gingerbread and sporting events. These include horse racing and the Grand Pardubice Steeplechase. The race has been organised in the city since 1874 and is held annually, on the second Sunday in October.

The Golden Helmet of Pardubice is the oldest motorcycle Speedway competition in the world. The first race was held in 1929. Until 1963, the venue was the racetrack of the Grand Pardubice Steeplechase. After that, the competition moved to the speedway stadium in Pardubice-Svítkov and is held annually in September or October.

The 26th annual multi-genre City Festival traditionally enriches autumn in Pardubice and includes open-air concerts, street performances, historic vehicles and many other fun activities for everyone. The event culminates with the popular lantern parade and a spectacular firework show started from the ramparts of Pardubice Castle.

Famous for its gingerbread, which has been produced in Pardubice for centuries, the town has even registered its patented recipe with the European Union. Check out the Gingerbread Cottage, a former hunting chateau built in 1882, which is now the centerpiece for the Pardubice Gingerbread Museum, before you leave.

Next we will be heading to Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, with its beautiful architecture, and finishing in Břeclav.

PART 3

On the final leg of our journey we head to Brno with its vibrant atmosphere and numerous cafes. From Pardubice hlavni nadrazi to Brno takes around 90 minutes by train.

Head to Freedom Square a hive of activity and interest. The triangular square is surrounded by stunning Renaissance buildings and fountains. There is a superb farmers market with a variety of produce on offer, a great place to soak up the local atmosphere.

Built on a hill above central Brno sits Špilberk Castle, with one of the best views of the city. In the summer it plays host to various events, concerts and theatre performances. Don’t forget to explore the gothic-style Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and listen out for the noon bell ringing at 11 o’clock!

We head south east by train from Brno Hlavni Nadrazi to our final destination Břeclav. This frequent service takes approximately 30 minutes.

Just outside the railway station, in the park opposite, you will find the Velopavilon Bicycle Museum with an exhibition of historical bicycles, scooters and carriages, as well as photographs on the history of cycling which is well worth a visit.

Situated on the Dyje River, Břeclav is an ideal place to visit with many other attractions close by including: Lednice-Valtice Complex, Colonnade at Reistna near Valtice, the picturesque town of Mikulov and Pálava with its amazing nature.

Table 700: København – Odense – Frederica – Aarhus

PART 1

We will be looking at the route from Denmark’s capital city, København, situated on the eastern coast of the island of Zealand, to Aarhus. Denmark is the southernmost of the Scandinavian countries, linked to nearby Sweden by the Öresund bridge.

København’s name comes from the words for “Merchant Harbour”. Originally a Viking fishing village established in the 10th century, it is known for its horizontal skyline broken only by the spires and towers of its churches and castles, earning the nickname “City of Spires”.

The Central Station can be found opposite the Tivoli amusement park (also known as Tivoli Gardens). The park dates back to 1843 and three-quarters of the area has been dedicated to open space so there is a combination of rides, theatre halls and pavilions as well as beautiful grounds to wander. You will also find an aquarium within the concert hall.

Nyhavn, with its colourful facades, is a 17th century waterfront and entertainment district of København, which used to be a hub for ship merchants of bygone days. Now it is the perfect place to sit and people watch while enjoying one of the many outdoor dining areas, maybe trying your first taste of a local delicacy Smørrebrød, an open faced sandwich consisting of buttered rye bread topped with cold cuts of meat, fish, cheese or spreads and garnishes.

Being a royal city, you will find castles, palaces, royal statues and monuments all around København. Rosenborg Castle in the heart of the city is home to the Danish Crown Jewels amongst its royal art treasures. Set in the King’s Garden, the main attractions are the Knights’ Hall with coronation thrones and three life-sized lions standing guard. Every day you can witness the changing of the Royal Danish Guard, leaving its Barracks at 11:30 and marching through the city to Amalienborg Palace, residence of the Danish monarch Queen Margrethe 2. Amalienborg is made up of four identical buildings surrounding the palace square with its statue of King Frederik V from 1771. The Amalienborg Museum is also here presenting the private rooms of the most recent kings and queens and an exhibition on the monarchy today and its many traditions.

The Little Mermaid Statue is a bronze statue displayed on a rock by the waterside at the Langelinie promenade. Sculpted by Edvard Eriksen, it is based on the fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. This small and unimposing statue is a København icon and has been a major tourist attraction since its unveiling in 1913.

PART 2

Having introduced this route with a look at København, this week we travel the 160 kilometres to Odense, the main city of the island of Funen. There has been a settlement on this site since the year 980 when the Viking ring castle of Nonnebakken was constructed during the reign of Sweyn Forkbeard.

The Danish Railway Museum, Danmarks Jernbanemuseum, is housed in a former engine shed adjacent to the main railway station. The largest railway museum in Scandinavia, it traces the development of the Danish railway system and has an impressive range of engines and carriages on display including Denmark’s oldest preserved steam engine, H40 of 1868.

The medieval Old Town quarter with its cobbled streets, is home to some of the oldest houses in Odense, distinguishable by the crooked facades and half timbered frontages. On Hans Jensens Stræde is the iconic yellow house believed to be the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, which has been open to visitors since 1908. Throughout the city there are numerous statues and sculptures representing characters from his classic fairytales.

The Latin Quarter to the west of the city has many characteristic yellow brick industrial buildings which house attractions such as the Brandts art museum and a contemporary history museum. Here you will also find an array of cafes, bars and restaurants.

The 150 year old Harbour has been transformed from a bustling port to a residential area and now has a variety of sports and lesiure facilities including mini golf, an indoor football factory and an open air swimming pool.

PART 3

20 kilometres by rail from København, Fredericia, in central Denmark, is situated beside the s-shaped Lillebælt, a waterway between the island of Funen and the Jutland peninsular, which connects the Baltic Sea to the Kattegrat strait. In 1935 a bridge, Den gamle Lillebæltsbro (Little Belt Bridge) was built across the Lillebælt allowing faster access to the towns and cities of eastern Denmark. Before the bridge was built, ferries sailed from Strib and Middelfart to Snoghøj on the Fredericia side.

Fredericia is one of the few Danish cities to have been built as a fortification in a location with no prior inhabitants. The ramparts were built in 1650 by farmers, soldiers and convicts to strengthen Denmark’s defences in a time of war in Europe. At the main entrance to the city is the Landsoldaten, a statue of a proud Danish foot soldier which commemorates the Danish victory in the 1849 Battle of Fredericia. It is said to be the oldest monument in the world celebrating an unknown soldier.

The Town Museum consists of several old buildings and includes exhibitions highlighting the area’s military, religious and commercial developments, as well as the daily lives of the citizens. Admission to the museum is free of charge. Another great way to experience Fredericia is to visit the Historic Mini City (Miniby) located at Madsby Play Park. Here the 1849 market town has been recreated in miniature at a scale of 1:10.

The vibrant city centre has over 120 shops and restaurants on its 1.4 kilometres of pedestrianised streets. Nearby is the new Kanalbyen (canal) district where a large area of the former harbour is being transformed in to new housing, leisure and retail facilities.

The waterways around Fredericia have one of the highest concentration of Porpoises in Northern Europe. ead to the old harbour and board a whale safari cruise to see these playful animals.

DSB (Danish state railways) services link Fredericia with many other major towns and cities using comfortable modern trains. During peak times it might be advisable to book yourself a seat which can only be done at a ticket office.

Our final stop in Denmark will be Aarhus, which is just 35 minutes by train from Fredericia.

PART 4

Aarhus is our final destination on this journey across Denmark from København. The city, which is 187 kilometres northwest of København by rail, and the second largest city in Denmark, was founded around the 10th century on the northern shores of a fjord at a natural harbour.

Aarhus Central Station has four platforms offering international connections to Hamburg and Berlin as well as regional services and intercity connections to København and Aalborg. It is also the terminus station for popular commuter services on the Grenaa and Odder Lines.

ARoS Art Museum is one of the main tourist attractions. Established in 1859, it has one of the largest art collections in northern Europe including the museum’s own collections from the 19th century up to the present day and the not to be missed 360º views of the surrounding city in the Your rainbow panorama exhibition.

Den Gamle By is an Old Town Museum, an open-air museum of urban history and culture with 75 original Danish buildings from 1597 to 1909. This living history attraction has neighbourhoods exploring Danish life pre 1900, during the 1920’s, 1974 and, as well as the homes, shops and workshops, there are further museums and art exhibitions.

Tivoli Friheden is a theme park where you will find four roller coasters, 40 rides, stalls, games and playgrounds, right in the centre of Aarhus. It is located within walking distance of the city centre in the beautiful Marselisborg forest. With a great selection of restaurants or, should you wish to dine al fresco, there are barbecues and dining areas where you can enjoy your own picnic.

South West England

PART 1

This month we are going to look at some of the scenic routes in Devon and Cornwall, in South West England, which are popular holiday destinations at this time of year. These counties are famed for their beaches, but there are also picturesque towns and rolling green countryside to enjoy from the comfort of a train.

We begin in the Cathedral city of Exeter which is the beginning of two scenic routes. Firstly the Tarka Line which runs for 63 kilometres between Exeter and Barnstaple (Table 113) and secondly the pretty Riviera Line to Newton Abbot (Tables 110/111/116). During August we will also be taking a look at the line from Plymouth to Penzance, taking in the main coastal resorts of Newquay and Looe in Cornwall and possibly the most scenic rail trip in Cornwall, the St Ives Branch line. There are also many wonderful heritage steam lines in the area.

Exeter is an attractive and historically interesting city with a magnificent Cathedral, imposing Roman wall and beautiful Quayside. GWR services for Barnstaple depart from Exeter St Davids, a historic station designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It takes approximately an hour and a quarter to travel between Exeter and Barnstaple following the scenic river valleys of the Yeo and Taw. The line offers many opportunities to stop at pretty market towns such as Crediton with its many craft and antique shops or to join one of the many walking or cycle trails. Beyond Barnstaple, the railway used to continue to Ilfracombe, and Instow and Bideford. The latter part of the route is now preserved as the Bideford & Instow Railway, while sections of both routes have been converted to a cycleway called the Tarka Trail. Bicycles can be hired from Barnstaple station or instead you could follow the well-marked walks of the South West Coast Path. Nearby is the Lynton & Barnstaple heritage steam railway, which is currently being restored and extended. Passengers can travel in the original L&B carriages between England’s highest narrow-gauge railway station, Woody Bay and Killington Lane Halt, but eventually, it is hoped to extend the line to Barnstaple once again.

PART 2
South West England – Table 113

Following on from last week’s journey along the Tarka Line between Exeter and Barnstaple, we continue our exploration of the branch lines of Devon and Conrnwall, this time focusing on the route from Plymouth to Gunnislake. Known as the Tamar Valley line, we will be treated to a 45 minute journey through rolling countryside with some spectacular riverside views along the way.

Plymouth is a port city situated on the south coast of Devon, approximately 60 kilometres south-west of Exeter and 310 kilometres from London. The River Plym is located to the east of the city whilst the River Tamar is situated on the western edge (which also forms the boundary between Devon and Cornwall). Both rivers enter the English Channel in a natural bay to the south of the city known as the Plymouth Sound. Regular international ferry services, provided by Brittany Ferries, operate from the Millbay ferry terminal taking cars and foot passengers directly to France (Roscoff) and Spain (Santander).

Like all railway lines in Devon and Cornwall, the route to Gunnislake is operated by diesel trains. It initially follows the banks of the River Tamar as it winds its way through the Plymouth suburbs of Devonport and St Budeaux with clear views of the Royal Navy Dockyard on the left-hand side. After crossing the mouth of the River Tavy the route heads inland before calling at Bere Ferrers station where the Tamar Belle Heritage Centre can be found. Here, bed and breakfast accommodation in ex-LNER teak carriages and Pullman-style dining aboard a former British Railways restaurant car can be found (advance reservation is essential).

The next stop is Bere Alston, a junction station on the former Southern Railway route between Plymouth and Exeter via Tavistock which closed in 1968. The train changes direction here before continuing towards Gunnislake and, after a few minutes, we cross the spectacular Calstock Viaduct, 37 metres high with twelve arches each 18 metres wide. Cotehele, a medieval house with Tudor additions, now owned by the National Trust, is visible from the viaduct and is a short walk from Calstock station.

The train takes 11 minutes to travel the last five kilometres as it has to stop briefly at two ungated level crossings before proceeding, if safe to do so, as we head to our final destination of Gunnislake, a charming former mining town just across the county border in Cornwall. Situated in the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is a popular destination for walking and cycling. This mining district straddling the Devon/Cornwall boundary is designated a World Heritage Site and is certainly well worth visiting.

PART 3

So far this month we have looked at the Tarka Line between Exeter and Barnstaple, and the Tamar Valley line from Plymouth to Gunnislake.

This week we look at the Plymouth to Penzance Cornish mainline. This journey of approximately 103 kilometres takes us from Plymouth to Penzance, directly serving Truro, St Austell, Bodmin (by a Parkway station), and Liskeard. There are also branch lines connecting Liskeard to Looe, Par to Newquay, Truro to Falmouth and St Erth to St Ives which we will cover later this month.

The route has a large number of viaducts, notably the famous Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened by Prince Albert in 1859. At Truro the viaducts give sweeping views of the city and River Fal, while further west the north coast can be seen near Hayle before the line swings onto the south coast, along the beach at Marazion looking out on St Michaels Mount.

Penzance is a port town, the most westerly major town in Cornwall sheltered in Mounts Bay, a large sweeping bay on the English Channel which stretches from the Lizard Point to Gwennap Head. It is within the large conservation area that includes the historic harbours of Newlyn and Mousehole. The seasonal passenger services aboard the famous RMV Scillonian III, operated by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, depart Penzance to the Isles of Scilly taking in the spectacular Cornish coastline.

One of only three sleeper services operated in the United Kingdom, the Night Riviera is operated by Great Western Railways offering a sleeper car service between London Paddington and Penzance for those wanting to travel on this Cornish Mainline from the capital. With a journey time of around 5 hours 30 minutes, sleeper berth passengers have access to the first class lounge at Paddington and the sleeper lounges at Truro and Penzance. Booking is recommended due to the popularity of this service.

PART 4

The Looe Valley Line is a 14 kilometre community railway from Liskeard (situated on the main line between Plymouth and Penzance) to the popular seaside town of Looe, following the picturesque valley of the East Looe river for much of the journey.

Liskeard is a town with fantastic architecture and much of the its centre was designed by Henry Rice during the Copper mining boom. The Pipe Well can be found in Well Lane, and is often referred to in old documents as “The Well of Lyskiret” or “The Well of St Martins”. It is probably the chief reason for the town of Liskeard being built.

The line is single track for the whole of its length and is worked by just a single train set each day. Trains leave Liskeard railway station from a platform at right angles to the main line platforms, initially running northeast away from Looe. Beyond the platform the line takes a long right-hand curve, passing the connection through the goods yard to the main line, and diving underneath the A38 road twice. It then descends steeply, now heading generally southwest, and passes under the Liskeard viaduct carrying the Cornish Main Line 150 feet (46 metres) above.

Curving right once more, the train joins the main branch line from Looe at Coombe Junction, and comes to a stand on a small level crossing. Most trains change direction here, the train’s guard operating the points, but two or three in each direction continue a short distance further to call at Coombe Junction Halt near the village of Lamellion. Beyond the platform the line continues further to Moorswater, passing under the main line again beneath the Moorswater viaduct, but this section only sees infrequent Colas Rail freight trains carrying cement.

With the driver and guard having now swapped ends, the train recommences its southerly journey, now running alongside the old Liskeard and Looe Union Canal and East Looe River. Another level crossing is passed at Lodge before the train arrives at St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, adjacent to the “Magnificent Music Machines” museum of fairground organs and similar instruments. The Holy Well of St Keyne is located near the village and is a ten-minute walk from the station. South of St Keyne the canal switches to the west side of the line for a while but, as the valley closes in, it disappears from view for a while where the railway was built on top of the redundant canal. One of the old canal’s locks can be seen at Causeland station.

After calling at Sandplace station the railway follows the east side of the river, now a tidal estuary which the line follows to its terminus. The line passes over one more level crossing, the unusual Terras Crossing, where the road approaches the crossing over a causeway that is liable to flooding at high tide, so the footpath is raised on boards alongside. As the crossing is ungated trains must come to a stand and sound their horn before proceeding.

After running further alongside the tidal estuary the line finally arrives at Looe station, opposite the point at which the West Looe River flows into the East Looe River to form the tidal Looe harbour. The town centre is a five-minute walk alongside the river and buses to Polperro stop on the road near the station.

The seaside town of Looe keeps visitors entertained all year round and is also still a working fishing port. Stand on the quayside in the evening and watch the boats return before dining on fresh fish in a local restaurant. The town prides itself on its fresh fish dining options and, be it award winning fish and chips near the river or gourmet menus in smart restaurants overlooking the harbour, your taste buds won’t be disappointed.

PART 5

We conclude our look at scenic routes in Devon and Cornwall with possibly the most beautiful coastal route, the St Ives Bay line.

The 6.84 kilometre branch line is single track for its whole length with no passing places. It runs alongside the Hayle estuary and then the sea coast and is promoted as a good place to see birds from the train. It has also been listed as one of the most picturesque railways in England.

The line starts at St Erth, the penultimate station on the main line between London Paddington and Penzance. A tranquil village centred around a pretty church and with a small river running through it, St Erth takes its name from Saint Erc, one of the many Irish saints who brought Christianity to Cornwall during the Dark Ages, and is at the old crossing point of the River Hayle.

After the line goes through a short cutting and underneath two road bridges which carry the A30 roundabout outside the station, the line follows the western side of the estuary past Lelant Saltings. Beyond Lelant railway station the line enters a cutting and climbs onto the sand dunes above Porth Kidney Sands, where you’ll find an RSPB bird sanctuary, an important habitat for sea birds.

The South West Coast Path crosses the line here and then follows close by all the way to St Ives. The railway continues to climb up and onto the steep cliffs at Hawkes Point, about 30 metres (98 feet) above sea level. Soon after the line comes around the headland at Carrick Gladden and into Carbis Bay.

Carbis Bay beach is 1 mile of award-winning golden sands surrounded by sub-tropical plants and lapped by turquoise waters. The beach rarely gets surf so is very safe for families.

The line then crosses along Carbis Viaduct and continues on the cliff’s edge until it emerges at Porthminster Point, from where it drops down across the St Ives Viaduct to reach St Ives railway station which is situated above Portminster Beach, from where you can make your way to the town centre via the jumble of cottage lined streets known as ‘the Warren’.

St Ives is on the western shore of St Ives Bay, its harbour sheltered by St Ives Island (a headland) and Smeaton’s pier. Close to the harbour, in the old part of the town, the streets are narrow and uneven while its wider streets are in the newer parts of the town on rising ground. The town has four beaches: Porthmeor a surfing beach, Porthgwidden a small sandy cove, Harbour by the working port and Porthminster which has almost half a mile of sand. The opening of the Tate Gallery, together with the Barbara Hepworth Museum, has had a knock on effect in St Ives, leading to the opening of many more galleries and studios and an art scene that continues to flourish.

Table 1330: Zagreb – Split

PART 1

This month we are following a scenic route which takes in Croatia’s two largest cities. We are travelling from the capital Zagreb, following the Lika Railway through the rugged hills of the Dalmatian mountains to the popular coastal holiday resort of Split.

Travelling by rail between Zagreb and Split is very easy, unlike some other major cities in Croatia where rail links are very limited. There are one or two excellent daytime trains on this lovely scenic route every day (more in the summer months) operated by Croatian Railways with “RegioSwinger” tilting trains, taking between six and seven hours. There is also a daily overnight service with couchettes and a car-carrying service in the summer which takes around eight hours (it only runs three times a week in the off-peak season). In addition, another night train from Budapest or Prague via Zagreb to Split runs three times a week in summer. This is a popular route for Interrail travellers and trains can get very busy in mid-summer, so advance reservation is essential.

Our starting point is Zagreb Glavni kolodvor, the main railway station for the city and the major hub of the Croatian Railways network. The striking neoclassical style station was once a stop for the Orient Express and a steam engine from its heyday is displayed next to the station. There are daily services from Belgrade, Budapest, Ljubljana, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and an overnight train from Zürich, making Croatia easily accessible from all over Europe. The station is an easy ten-minute walk from Ban Jelačić Square which is a good starting point for reaching most of the city’s attractions. Compact and easy to navigate, Zagreb has plenty of historic sights including its twin-towered cathedral and Presidential Palace as well as many fascinating museums and art galleries. It also boasts the shortest funicular railway in the world, linking the Lower Town to Upper Town where you can get some of the finest views of the city.

PART 2

Departing from Zagreb Glavni kolodvor, the first stop is the city of Karlovac in the beautiful forested area of Lika. The city lies at the confluence of four rivers and is surrounded by mountains and untouched forests making it a popular destination for water sports and hiking in one of the many nearby national and natural parks. Karlovac was designed as a defensive town against the Otoman Empire, with fortifications and moats and the old town is quite unique, built
in the shape of a six-pointed star, divided into 24 blocks of equal size. Amongst the star, you will find plenty of examples of Baroque architecture including a monastery and palace.

The next stop is the small village of Oštarije where the train journeys into the hills and joins the Lika Railway. Next is the town of Ouglin, located at the foot of Klek mountain. The region has many walks and bicycle trails where you can explore the natural beauty of the surrounding lakes and mountains which are rich with legends and fairytales. In fact every year, in June, an international festival of Ogulin fairytales is held which attracts many curious visitors! In the town, you can try traditional meals with game, fish, mushrooms, and a range of local produce.

From Ouglin there is an easy connection to Rijeka (Table 1310), Croatia’s third largest city and a major seaport which acts as a jumping off point to visit the many pretty surrounding islands. The city itself has a castle, a bustling produce market and broad promenades full of upmarket shops and cafes and so makes an ideal day trip.

PART 3

Roughly halfway between Zagreb and Split is the oldest and most visited national park in Croatia, the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site of Plitvice Lakes. There is no way of reaching the park by train but it is well worth including a visit on any holiday in this region, so an organised bus tour or private transfer is worth considering. The park includes 16 terraced lakes with more than 90 waterfalls and several kilometres of boardwalks to explore. The lakes are dazzling, very clear and change colour in different light conditions due to the mineral content of the water.

From Oštarije, the line continues south through the arid and sparsely populated Lika region, with stops at stations in the small farming towns of Gospić and Gračac. The next major town is the fortress town of Knin which still bears the scars of its troubled past, having played a major part in the Bosnian War as the epicenter of the Serbian armed rebellion. Nowadays tourists are drawn to its spectacular hilltop fortress, the second-largest in Croatia and the historical seat of Croatian Kings. The hike to the top is worth it for the extraordinary views it offers over the valley to the mountains of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Knin and the surrounding area is also a paradise for cyclists, hikers and water sports lovers due to the nearby Dinara Mountain, the highest peak in Croatia and the various lakes, rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls.

Knin offers a useful bus connection to Zadar, one of Croatia’s oldest cities and historical center of Dalmatia. Zadar is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, attracted by its UNESCO-protected Old Town, Roman ruins, medieval churches, cosmopolitan cafes, and two very modern architectural attractions: the incredible ‘Sea Organ’, a set of steps that makes relaxing sounds with the power of the movement of the sea, and the ‘Sun Salutation’, a solar-powered light show set into the pavement along the harbourside promenade. The city also offers plenty of boat-trips and excursions to remote offshore islands and connections into its beautiful national parks.

PART 4

Last week we reached Knin, which is less than two hours from Split, but if you are dividing up your journey, you may wish to make a side trip to the coastal town of Sibenik. The town is a popular tourist destination, with two UNESCO protected monuments, Sibenik Cathedral and St. Nicholas Fortress as well as some lovely beaches and easy access to nearby Krka National Park with its beautiful expanse of waterfalls and river canyons.

On the approach to Split, we suggest taking a seat on the right of the train for the best view of the city. The station is situated about one kilometre from the old town and its main historical gems like the Diocletian’s Palace complex. There are also plenty of clean, family-friendly beaches to enjoy with the bonus of the beautiful mountain vista to enjoy, as well the bustling Riva waterfront promenade filled with cafes which are frequented by both locals and tourists. A popular activity with many visitors is a day trip to the islands of Brac and Hvar which are connected to Split via ferry lines or, going further afield, there is a regular connecting bus service to the pretty coastal resorts of Ploče and Dubrovnik (Table 1325) which takes around 4 to 5 hours.

TABLE 300 – Paris – Bordeaux

PART 1

This time we are heading to western France travelling from Paris to Bordeaux, exploring some of the towns of the pretty Loir-et-Cher region and Loire Valley, famous for its vineyards and fairytale castles. The original high-speed route between Paris and St Pierre des Corps was extended to Bordeaux in 2017 meaning you can now travel between the French capital and Bordeaux non-stop in just over two hours, a considerable improvement on the previous 3½ hours.

We begin our journey at Paris-Montparnasse located in the southwestern part of Paris, a station well known for a major rail accident in 1895 when a train crashed through the buffers ending up nose-down in the street below. It is the Paris terminus for TGV trains to the west and south-west of France and it also has a metro station, Montparnasse-Bienvenüe. Reaching and navigating Montparnasse can be difficult and the metro station is a very long underground walk from the mainline station platforms. Also, many of the TGV services can be 20 carriages long, so it can be a long walk to your seat! Therefore, please make sure you allow plenty of time to arrive before your scheduled departure time.

The first stop, just 50 minutes from Paris is Vendôme-Villiers, a transport hub allowing easy access to the Loir-et-Cher region. Nearby is the picturesque town of Vendome which has various monuments, a historical abbey, and several parks. The town is overlooked by the remains of a ruined 12th-century castle which gives lovely panoramic views over the town below which is divided by the river Loir into islands connected by waterways. Not far from Vendome there is a tourist train which takes a leisurely return route through the Loir Valley from Thoré la Rochette to Trôo aboard a 1950s railcar.

PART 2

From Vendôme-Villiers it’s a short hop to St Pierre des Corps, a major station on the outskirts of Tours from where frequent shuttle services operate to the city’s central station. Often referred to as the capital of the Loire Valley, Tours has a lovely historical quarter which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are narrow cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and the grand medieval Saint-Gatien Cathedral to explore as well as attractive parks and gardens. The city is famous for its chocolate production and the wonderful indoor market offers a variety of other tempting delicacies from around the Loire region including cheeses and wines. Flat-bottomed sailboats, known as “toues”, ferry passengers along the Loire and Cher for sightseeing trips and even dinner cruises, or you could hire bikes and follow the well-marked Loire à Vélo cycle trail.

The Loire is famous for its many beautiful Châteaux and there are many to visit in the surrounding area which can be reached with a short bus or train ride. From Tours, it is a short journey to Blois (Table 296) with its magnificent former Royal Château towering over the town and the nearby Maison de la Magie which is a museum dedicated to magic and the art of illusion. Below the castle is a lively old town with narrow streets, traditional restaurants, and ancient buildings. The largest castle in the Loire region and one of the most recognisable is Château de Chambord not far from Blois. Bus services are available from the railway station during the summer months or excursions can be arranged in the town.

Further along the same line is Orléans, which can be reached from Tours in just over an hour. The city is one of the oldest in France having been liberated by Joan of Arc. Scenes from her life are depicted in the windows of the Gothic Cathedral and statues of her can be found around the city’s main squares.

Other worthwhile day trips from Tours include Le Mans (Table 271), most famous for its 24-hour racing spectacle every June but also boasts a fantastic old town. Angers is another easy day trip (Table 289), an attractive wine-producing town dominated by the massive and ancient Château d’Angers with its 500 metres of ramparts and 17 towers.

PART 3

The next stop is the quiet market town of Châtellerault on the River Vienne followed by a station for the popular futuristic theme park: Parc du Futuroscope, which is based on multimedia and virtual-reality. The next major stop is the historic city of Poitiers. The station is in a valley to the west of the old town which is built on a hill, with narrow roads winding down into the valley. The city centre is quite small and very easy to navigate thanks to the red, blue and yellow lines painted on the pavement for visitors and the signposts along the way. The lines all start outside the Romanesque Notre Dame church and guide you around the city’s historical sites and museums as well as to Blossac Park with its pretty gardens and a small zoo. Regular rail services run from Poitiers to Limoges (Table 309) arriving in the city’s grand art deco Gare des Bénédictins which is worth a visit in itself. The city is famous for its production of excellent porcelain which is displayed in the many museums in its historic centre and makes an ideal day trip from Poitiers.

Table 300 shows services from Poitiers to picturesque La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast which can be reached in around 1 hour 20 minutes. Once one of France’s foremost seaports, the historic port has been beautifully preserved and is dominated by three 14th and 15th-century towers, whilst the old town has arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses, and boutique shops. There are some interesting maritime museums as well as one of the largest aquariums in Europe. Just off the coast of La Rochelle are three picturesque islands: Ile de Ré is connected to the mainland by a toll bridge whilst Ile d’Oléron and Ile d’Aix can both be reached by boat. All three have lovely sandy beaches and pretty scenery to explore as well as some impressive lighthouses.

PART 4

We depart Poitiers for the final leg of the journey and the first stop is Angoulême, a fortified hilltop city on a plateau overlooking a meander of the Charente River. Around the beautiful historic centre, many of the city’s ramparts remain intact and once a year are used as the circuit for a classic car race. The International Comic Strip Festival is also held here every January and the city has murals of comics and illustrations on buildings in almost every neighborhood around the city, as well as decorated buses and post boxes.

The next stop is the small winemaking town of Libourne, a medieval bastide town on the Dordogne which has several Château and wine estates to explore in the area as well as a huge open-air market in the town square. Then it’s on to our final destination, vibrant and elegant Bordeaux, the world’s largest urban World Heritage Site. The city’s top attractions are La Cité du Vin, a futuristic cultural centre dedicated to the living heritage of wine and the spectacular
‘water mirror’ at La Place de la Bourse. It is the largest reflecting pool in the world and alternates between the effects of fog, mirror, and pool which reflects the beautiful buildings that surround it. Most of the main sites are within walking distance from the station but there is also a high-tech tram network. If you want to explore some of the great wineries in the area, bus tours are available as well as a local rail service to Le Verdon (Table 307) which stops at some of the main vineyards.

There are plenty of beautiful locations around Bordeaux that can be explored by train. The seaside resort town of Arcachon is one of the most popular summer destinations in the southwest of France and is just 55 minutes by local train
(Table 306). Further afield the elegant seaside resort of Biarritz can be reached in around 2 hours (Table 305). Located along France’s Basque coast, Biarritz is famous for its long, sandy beaches, surf, casinos, glitzy atmosphere, and its cuisine.

TABLE 505 – Genéve – Lausanne – Bern – Zürich

PART 1

Switzerland is one of Europe’s most beautiful and train-accessible countries with excellent international links and breathtaking scenery around almost every corner. In Switzerland, the journey is definitely as great an experience as the destination.

The national railway company is SBB (Schweizerische BundesBahn), there are over a dozen other operators, but one ticketing system covers the entire country. The Swiss have one of the top-rated rail systems in the world, known for their punctuality and frequency they are also very eco-friendly (most trains use ultra-clean hydroelectricity, and some even generate energy-saving electricity when travelling downhill). Swiss Travel Passes are a money saving option as they not only provide access to the SBB railway mainline network but also dozens of local, private companies that operate mountain trains, cable cars and buses as well as providing free entrance to some Swiss museums.

The train journey between the great cities of Genève and Zürich offers visitors the opportunity to experience a little bit of everything that Switzerland has to offer. Although it’s feasible to enjoy this journey in one day, we would argue that it is more beneficial to split the journey over several days as there are plenty of places along the way that are worth exploring.

Switzerland’s second largest city Genève is located between the Alps and the hilly terrain of the Jura and alongside the largest lake in Western Europe, making it perfect for scenic treks into the mountains as well as gentle lake-side promenades. The city centre boasts extravagant shopping, hotels and restaurants but there is also plenty of cultural activities and a thriving art scene. The Cathédrale St-Pierre twin towers can be climbed for a small fee which is worthwhile for the great view over the city and its iconic water fountain Jet d’Eau. Nearby there is also the Palais des Nations where some of the many international organisations that shape our world have their headquarters.

PART 2

We begin our journey departing from Genève-Cornavin, the city’s main railway station. The train skirts the edge of Lake Geneva before reaching the pretty little town of Nyon on the banks of the lake, set amongst the La Côte vineyards. The town has an array of Roman ruins to explore as well as a striking castle which is now a local history museum and includes an interesting display of porcelain. From the castle terrace, visitors can enjoy a magnificent view over Lake Geneva and the Alps.

The next stop is picturesque Morges, the “City of Flowers”. The town has an elegant lakeside promenade and a car-free old town with numerous boutiques and cafes as well as the historic Morges Castle which houses four museums. Morges is also the starting point of the 30-kilometre narrow gauge railway to the villages of Bière and L’Isle Mont la Ville in foothills of the Jura mountains (ERT Table 502). This short picturesque route passes through one of the main wine-growing regions of Switzerland and there are various marked hiking and bicycle trails to help visitors explore this corner of Switzerland, as well as the opportunity to sample some of the local delicacies.

Continuing around the shores of the lake, the train now arrives in the city of Lausanne, renowned as the Olympic Capital. Built on three hills, surrounded by UNESCO-listed vineyard terraces and with a wonderful lakeside setting, Lausanne is a popular holiday destination with plenty to offer. The useful metro system connects the various parts of the hilly town to the main railway station. Dominated by the cathedral, which is often regarded as Switzerland’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture, the attractive old town is small enough to explore on foot. As you might expect, there are also plenty of boat cruises on offer which will give you an alternative view of the beautiful surroundings.

PART 3

Last week we reached the city of Lausanne with its spectacular setting overlooking Lake Geneva. From here there are a variety of options for rail travellers wishing to explore this region. A popular choice is to continue along the shoreline of Lake Geneva to Montreux (Table 570) from where you can join the scenic Golden Pass route through the Simmen valley to Interlaken (Tables 566, 563, 560).

Table 505 presents us with two choices of route from Lausanne to Olten and beyond. The first option is the direct route via Palézieux and Romont to the Swiss capital, Bern, from where there is a high-speed link to Olten. The other route via Yverdon is definitely the more scenic option traversing the Jura foothills and also closely following the shorelines of both Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Biel. The choice is therefore some wonderful lakeside scenery or the chance to visit Switzerland’s charming capital city. On our journey today we are taking the scenic option.

Yverdon-les-Bains is located in the Jura mountain region at the southern tip of Lake Neuchâtel. The town is famous for its thermal springs as well as its rich history, with ruins of the Roman town and a 13th-century castle to explore. The town also boasts Europe’s only science fiction museum, Maison d’Ailleurs! Continuing to take in the lovely scenery along the lake shore, we reach the small town of Neuchâtel located at the northern end of the lake. In the historic Old Town, there is a medieval castle and a gothic church as well as a colourful market and lakefront promenade.

From Neuchâtel, it’s a short hop to the city of Biel / Bienne located at the north-eastern tip of Lake Biel. The city is officially bilingual with German and French equally spoken and is renowned as the hub of Swiss watchmaking with Swatch, Rolex and Omega all located here. There are boat trips along the Aare river as well as lake cruises, locations for swimming and multiple mountain hiking trails. From Biel / Bienne there is a direct rail route to the city of Bern (Table 513) from where you can continue your journey via the high-speed route.

TABLES 1030, 1065 – Gdańsk – Warszawa – Kraków

PART 1

Polish cities are becoming increasingly popular as holiday destinations thanks in part to considerable urban renovation in recent years. Add to that reduced journey times and sleek modern commuter trains and there has never been a better time to travel around Poland by train. In this month’s journey, we travel from Gdańsk in the north to Kraków in the south, which now takes just over five hours (it used to take more than eight). We will also mention some of the detours and side-tracks along the way.

Most travellers arriving by train will use the city’s main railway station, Gdańsk Główny, a beautiful brick 19th-century structure located just a few minutes east of the city centre. Long-distance intercity trains are operated by the national rail company PKP. Shorter trips are managed by rail companies from each region so the type of train you travel on can vary from ultra-modern to older traditional carriages. If you are travelling with a Eurail or Interrail pass it may not be valid with certain operators so it is worth checking in advance.

Poland’s largest port, Gdańsk has a unique feel that sets it apart from other cities in the country due to its interesting history and switched allegiances between Germany and Poland. The Old Town has been smartened up in recent years and is full of characterful restaurants, cafes and amber shops (the surrounding area is the rich source of this semi-precious stone) set amidst the picturesque Burgher houses that line its streets. Although substantial parts of the city were reconstructed following mass devastation during the Second World War, the Main Town still looks much as it did 300 years ago and one of its primary attractions is St Mary’s Basilica, one of the three largest churches in the world. Head to the top for breathtaking views over the candy-coloured houses and cobbled lanes below​

The city has several interesting museums detailing the city’s varied history as well as pleasure-boat cruises and expansive beaches spread along the coast of the Gulf of Gdańsk, making it a popular summer destination for Poles and foreign visitors alike.

PART 2

Departing from Gdańsk Główny the first stop is Tczew on the Vistula River, known for its attractive old town and impressive 19th-century bridges. The city is a major river port and railway junction with links to Warszawa, Bydgoszcz, Poznań and onwards to Berlin. The next section is particularly scenic as you pass the turreted road bridge of Tczew and the equally breath-taking bridge across the River Nogat at Malbork. The quiet, rural town of Malbork boasts the largest Gothic castle in Europe, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is well worth a visit. Malbork’s railway station is also a sight in itself having been beautifully renovated and has wonderful wood panelling, embossed ceilings and pseudo-medieval decor.

From Malbork there is a side-track to the historic city of Olsztyn (Table 1035) with its imposing 14th-century cathedral and red-brick castle. The city is situated on the banks of the Lyna River and is surrounded by a network of forests and lakes making it a popular leisure location.

Continuing on our route south from Malbork it’s a short 2-3 hour journey through the towns of Iława and Działdowo to the capital, Warszawa the hub of Poland’s rail network. International trains run direct to Praha, Wien, Budapest, Hrodna, Berlin, Moskva and many other cities. The main station for tourist purposes is Warszawa Centralna Station which is located next to Centrum Metro Station and a number of tram and bus stops for easy transport around the city. Other large stations in the city are Warszawa Wschodnia in the east and Warszawa Zachodnia in the west.

PART 3

Last week we reached the capital Warszawa. Having been almost completely destroyed during World War II, the city has been rebuilt and is now an interesting mix of diverse architecture with modern skyscrapers, royal palaces and the charming narrow streets of the reconstructed Old Town which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

There are two options for trains from Warszawa to Kraków: the modern high-speed line with a journey time of just 2-3 hours (Table 1065) or you could take the slower route via Radom and Kieice which takes just over 4½ hours (Table 1067). The fastest trains are branded Express Intercity Premium (EIP) on which seat reservation is compulsory. The scenery is not that inspiring on either line so we recommend enjoying the comfort and speed of the sleek pendolino trains as you travel towards Poland’s second largest city

The historic city of Kraków offers plenty to see and do including some appealing day trip options beyond the city boundaries. Its main sights are concentrated on the north bank of the Vistula River where historic buildings and monuments abound. The main draws for tourists are the hilltop Wawel Castle and Cathedral as well as the Old Town which contains soaring churches, impressive museums and the vast Rynek Główny, Europe’s largest market square. Local tour companies offer an eclectic mix of day-long excursions where you can explore the high Tatra peaks, lakes with inland beaches and national parks in this beautiful corner of Europe. Two of the most popular day trips from Kraków are visiting the sombre remains of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp located in the town of Oświęcim and the remarkable underground Wieliczka Salt Mines (see Table 1099). Trains depart frequently but some visitors may find the organised bus tours more convenient as the price usually includes travel, entry and a guide.

PART 4

Following last week’s journey to the historic city of Kraków, we now head south on the scenic route through the Tatra mountain range to Zakopane.

Just three daytime services run from Kraków to Zakopane’s small railway station, together with one overnight train (Table 1066). Readers should note, however, that engineering work means buses are replacing trains until June 28. Trains take a leisurely route through the hills and valleys with some spectacular mountain scenery, stopping at many small towns on the way. Frequent buses are also available and offer a faster option if you are short on time.

Zakopane is Poland’s best-known mountain resort, famed for its hiking and winter sports. Well-marked hiking trails criss-cross the land in all directions with some extending into Slovakia, although they can become crowded in the summer months. For the less energetic there is a funicular railway from the centre of the town up to the Gubałówka Hill summit from where there are spectacular views over the town and the surrounding Tatra mountains. Just outside the town, there is also a cable car to Mount Kasprowy. At the summit there is a restaurant and, in good weather, it is well worth the climb to the meteorological observatory, the building with the highest altitude in Poland.

Zakopane’s pedestrianised centre is one of its main features and the main street is lined with a variety of shops and restaurants. Street performers, portrait artists and horse-drawn carriages all compete for space and attention. River rafting is also popular with tourists and you can be gently ferried in boats guided by raftsmen decked out in the traditional embroidered folk costumes of the local population, known as the Gorals.

TABLES 780, 785 and 787 – Norway

(PART 4)
In this final part of the journey, we travel along Norway’s longest rail route, the spectacular Nordlandsbanen from Trondheim to Bodø. From the comfort of your carriage seat, you are treated to a variety of landscapes including forests, spectacular fjords and majestic mountain scenery. If you are very lucky you may also be able to experience the beautiful Northern Lights (from September to March).
Two hours from Trondheim is the town of Steinkjer, a good jumping off point to explore The Golden Road – a dedicated route through beautiful scenery in the municipality of Inderøy where participating businesses along the route offer culinary, cultural and artistic experiences.
After Mo i Rana, the railway skirts Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park which has some of the finest scenery along the route. Then the green trees begin to give way to more rocky terrain and barren peaks. One of the main highlights of the journey is the Saltfjellet mountain range where you cross the Arctic Circle. The train does not make a stop here but the passing point is marked by two pyramidal cairns on the side of the track (summer services on the Swedish Inlandsbanan do actually stop at the Arctic Circle – see ERT Table 766). Certain rituals often occur to mark the crossing such as a hoot of the train’s horn and there is often a party spirit on board with passengers charging a glass or sharing a kiss as though it were New Year’s Eve!
The train now drops down past Skjerstad Fjord to the small town of Fauske where you can join a connecting bus to Narvik from where there are onward bus links to the far north. The terminus of the Nordlandsbanen is the coastal city of Bodø which has a lively cultural centre and offers a variety of outdoor activities. It is a great base to explore other parts of Northern Norway including taking a ferry to the idyllic Lofoten Islands (ERT Table 2239) known for their distinctive scenery with dramatic mountains, sheltered bays, beaches and untouched landscapes.
(PART 3)

Last week we reached Dombås, the junction for the branch line to Åndalsnes. Continuing North beyond Dombås on the main line towards Trondheim (known as the Dovre Railway), the train cuts through the wild terrain of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, home of wild reindeer, musk oxen, golden eagles and arctic fox. The whole trip from Oslo takes up to 7 hours, but there is the opportunity to break your journey at Oppdal to explore the local landscape on foot.Trondheim is Norway’s third largest city and its historic capital. This vibrant city is modest in size and fairly flat so it’s easy to explore on foot. Trondheim station is the region’s transport hub, the starting point for journeys on the electrified Dovre line described above (ERT Table 785) and also the diesel operated Nordland route heading north to Bodø (ERT Table 787) which will be described in next week’s Friday Flyer. There are also two daily services in each direction on the Meråker line which links Trondheim with the Swedish border town of Storlien (ERT Table 761). It is also possible to purchase a ‘ticket to Hell’ and take a local train to Hell station where many tourists like to be photographed under the famous sign “Hell Station – God Expedition”. Note that the station is a request stop meaning you must inform the guard if you wish to disembark or clearly indicate to the driver if you want the train to pick you up.

The city’s most famous site is the impressive Nidarosdomen cathedral but there are also plenty of museums, galleries, independent shops and quality restaurants serving local food. You may wish to take a ride on the world’s northernmost tram, Gråkallbanen, which transports you to Bymarka, a popular recreation area ideal for walking and viewpoints of the city and surrounding fjords.

From Trondheim, we join the Nordlandsbanen for the 10-hour journey across the Arctic Circle to Bodø. This journey is an experience not to be missed and is just as beautiful in winter as in summer. There are two daily departures, one by day and an overnight journey with seats and sleeping cars.

(PART 2)
This week we begin again in the capital, Oslo. A modern, laid-back city surrounded by mountains, forests and sea, it is fairly compact and easily walkable with plenty of green areas and parks to explore. There are a number of world-class museums with displays including famous artworks and preserved Viking ships. However, visitors need to bear in mind that it has been voted the most expensive city in the world on three occasions, so if you are stopping to explore it may be worth investing in an Oslo Pass which offers discounts at various attractions together with access to all forms of public transport.
Oslo Sentral is at the centre of Norway’s railway network. All routes, including the airport express train and the city metro lines, pass through here and the local buses and trams stop outside. Heading north-east out of the city we begin the journey to Trondheim (ERT Table 785) along the eastern shore of Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake which extends all the way to Lillehammer. The lake area is best explored on one of the heritage paddle-steamers which run throughout the summer. Lillehammer is a major winter sports resort having once hosted the Winter Olympics but is also a picturesque town surrounded by mountains with a rich offering of museums and cultural attractions and national parks all within easy reach of the town centre.
Continuing north the train stops at Dombås, the junction for the branch line to Åndalsnes. Known as the Rauma Railway, it is undoubtedly one of Norway’s wildest and most beautiful train journeys. Regular departures are available throughout the year and, from May to August, there is a tour guide on board and passengers receive a helpful brochure describing the journey. During the 1 hour and 40-minute trip the train will cross 32 bridges, among them the famous Kylling Bridge, and will also pass the vertical Trollveggen cliff face, the highest in Northern Europe. From Åndalsnes there are several buses to Ålesund (also shown in ERT) famous for its fairy-tale Art Nouveau architecture.

 

(PART 1)

For the next 4 instalments of the newsletter, we will be looking at the stunning rail routes of Norway all beginning in it’s vibrant capital, Oslo. Norwegian State Railways (NSB) operates most passenger train services in Norway and offers modern, comfortable trains from which you can enjoy the changing panoramic views of pretty towns, mountains, lakes, and fjords.

The most famous of Norway’s railway journeys is the Bergen Railway (ERT Table 780) which has been voted one of the world’s best and connects its two largest cities, Oslo and Bergen.  There are four daily departures from Oslo for the 7-hour journey across the mountain plateau Hardangervidda on the highest mainline railway line in Northern Europe. The season in which you take this journey will have a major impact on the scenery, but it is equally beautiful in summer & winter. If travelling in winter, take an early train as the hours of daylight are much shorter.

Departing from Oslo Central through a long tunnel under the city, the train emerges to views over the Dramsfjord and its islands. After Hønefoss the line skirts a shelf of rock high above Lake Krøderen. Then onto Finse, the highest station on the route where the view of the glacier is breathtaking. More active travellers can stop to cycle, ski or hike.  Next is the junction at Myrdal, where you can board the incredible Flåm Railway branch line (Flåmsbana), the world’s steepest standard-gauge railway line (ERT Table 781). Only 20 kilometres long and taking around an hour, tourists from all over the world visit Norway to experience this train ride with its superb views over Norway’s deepest and longest fjord and the spectacular Kjofossen waterfall.

Continuing from Myrdal the rail line descends towards the large town and ski resort of Voss where the landscape opens out then passes through numerous tunnels hewn out of the solid rock before we finally arrive in Bergen. One of Norway’s prettiest cities, Bergen is encircled by seven mountains and seven fjords. The city is famed for its waterfront, fish markets and coloured waterboard houses. For a panoramic view of the city from above take the “Fløibanen funicular” up Mount Fløyen, where there are pleasant walks and picnic spots.

Rail routes of Wales

This week, in celebration of St David’s Day we are taking a look at some of the very fine rail journeys to be found in Wales. Full of beautiful rivers, lakes, rolling hills and scenic mountains it is easy to explore this great country by rail. Here are some of our favourites:

Firstly there is the historic ‘Heart of Wales’ line which celebrated its 150th-anniversary last year. Said to be one of the most picturesque journeys in Britain, the track travels from Swansea cutting diagonally across the rolling hills of mid-Wales to Shrewsbury, passing sights such as the viaducts at Cynghordy and Knucklas, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Llanwrtyd Wells, the smallest town in Britain. (Table 146)

Our second choice is the short ‘Conwy Valley Line’ which runs from Llandudno on the North Wales Coast to the Heart of Snowdonia at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The journey provides views of historic castles, wildlife-rich estuaries and crosses the dramatic Gethin’s viaduct as well as great views of the rugged peaks of Snowdonia national park. (Table 160). The line also allows you to connect to the heritage Ffestiniog Railway to continue your travel south.

For a view of the country from south to north, you can travel in style from the capital city Cardiff all the way to Holyhead aboard the ‘Gerald of Wales’ which features a restaurant car (one of only two trains in the UK that still has an onboard chef cooking full breakfasts and three-course dinners), so you relax and dine as you are treated to the stunning country and coastal views. (Table 149)

Finally, the picturesque Cambrian Railway which is made up of two lines, one running west from Shrewsbury through rugged mountain terrain, quaint market towns, and castles to Aberystwyth on the western coast. At Machynlleth, the line connects into the Cambrian Coastal route which runs north to Pwllelli offering spectacular views, coastal walks and places to visit along the length of the Gwynedd coast.

TABLE 690 Porto – Lisboa

(Part 4)

For our final leg, we depart Entroncamento and our first station is Santarém. The town overlooks the winding Tagus River from its ridge-top position affording magnificent views of the district’s plains and river. The best view is from the popular Jardim das Portas do Sol – a garden encircled by the city’s medieval walls.

Our final stop is one of the oldest cities in the world, the capital, Lisbon. Full of diverse architecture with superb food and a fascinating history. There are two main railway stations; all services pass through the ultra-modernist Gare do Oriente which links to the city’s efficient metro, trams and buses and then it’s on to the more central and older Santa Apolónia.

Lisbon extends over seven hills so there are many wonderful panoramic views to be found from a steep hill walk through the narrow cobbled streets or on a gravity-defying tram ride.  There are plenty of attractions and activities here to fill several days and as the city is close to a stunning coastline, beautiful sandy beaches in resorts such as Cascais can be easily reached with a short bus or train ride. The delightful town of Sintra is also a 40-minute train journey away (Table 699) and makes a worthwhile day trip. Nestled in the hills above Lisbon, the town was the summer residence of Portugal’s royal family. The charming pastel-coloured buildings, extravagant palaces, opulent mansions and castle ruins can be easily explored in a day using a circular bus route running from the train station.

To extend your journey further, there are regular fast services to Faro on the Algarve (Table 697) or an overnight service across the border to Madrid (Table 45)

(Part 3)

Continuing from last week, we depart Aveiro, southbound to Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital and home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. The city is the halfway point between Porto and Lisbon so it’s a good stopping off point if you are breaking your journey. The city’s upper old town’s narrow streets are packed with impressive academic buildings, libraries and museums as well as the interesting 12th Century Old Cathedral. Coimbra also boasts the largest botanical gardens in Portugal with beautiful terraced formal gardens and many exotic trees.

From Coimbra, we follow the more scenic main line through the towns of Alfarelos and Pombal, dominated by its medieval castle. Next is the world famous city of Fátima, visited by millions of religious pilgrims each year particularly in May and October on the anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Even if you are not Catholic, there are some beautiful things to see in Fátima such as the shrine and basilica. However, the station is around 12 miles away from the city centre so a taxi ride would likely be required.

The next stop is Entroncamento, an important railway town whose name translates to ”junction’ owing to its development at the junction of the Northern and Eastern railway lines. The town is now home to the modern national railway museum. From Entrocamento there is the option of branching off to another scenic line, into the stunning mountain scenery to Covilhã (Table 691), ideal for those fond of hiking or skiing.

(Part 2)

A worthwhile side-track from Porto is the wonderful journey aboard the Linha do Douro Railway which runs through the Douro Valley to Pocinho (timings are shown in table 694). This journey is an ERT favourite, with the later section of the route between Pinhão and Pocinho considered to be one of the most scenic in Europe. There are regular daily departures from Porto (São Bento and Campanhã) with the entire journey taking around 3hr 30min, so it’s possible to make the return trip in a day if you take a morning train. During the summer months, there is also the option of a steam-hauled tourist train between Régua and Tua or you can combine your trip with a boat cruise.  Make sure you sit on the right-hand side of the train as you travel towards Pinhão and have your camera at the ready!
NB – There are currently engineering works on this line until the end of February 2019
Back to our main route and leaving Porto we depart south, passing the port lodges in the district of Vila Nova de Gaia and stopping at the seaside resorts of Espinho and Aveiro, dubbed the ‘Venice of Portugal thanks to its small network of picturesque canals and lagoons. The city offers a nice mix of historical attractions and attractive beaches making it popular with visitors. The canals are lined with a mixture of brightly painted art nouveau houses and are best explored by one of the ornate fishing boats or ‘moliceiros’. From the train, you may catch glimpses of the beautiful old station building, ornamented with blue and white tiles of regional scenes. It is currently fenced off and requires some much-needed renovation, but worth a visit by foot if you are exploring the city.
(Part 1)

This month we are focusing on a very scenic route from north to south along the coast of Portugal. This route takes in the country’s two largest cities and offers a number of interesting, worthwhile sidetracks to explore some of the country’s beautiful and dramatic scenery.

CP offers two standards of train service on this route; the cheaper Intercidades (Intercity) which takes around 3hrs 15 to complete the direct journey, and the faster, high-quality Alfa Pendular. Both require advance seat reservations.

Porto is a historic and varied city, famed for the production of Port, which is still matured in the vast cellars that stretch along the banks of the Douro River and with most of its old centre designated a world heritage site there is plenty to explore. Most high-speed trains depart from Campanhã station but its worth a visit to the more central São Bento station to admire its interior lined with elaborate blue and white tiles. Another icon of the city is the impressive arched Dom Luís I Bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. You can cross the highest section of the bridge either on the metro or as a pedestrian if you have a head for heights! To get a unique view of the bridge, ride the funicular down the steep cliff from Batalha to the quayside at Ribeira.