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.

TABLE 640 : Napoli – Reggio di Calabria

(Part 3)

From Maratea, the railway sticks to the coast as we head to the busy transport hub of Lamezia Terme. Here there is an international airport as well as rail connections to the eastern Ionian coast at Catanzaro and Crotone (Table 634).

Further along the line at Villa San Giovanni, there is the opportunity to indulge in an unusual train journey. The train ferry to Messina in Sicily is one of only three passenger train ferries still operating in Europe. It’s a fascinating experience as the entire train is shunted onto the tracks onboard deck. Passengers have the option to stay in their carriage for the 30-minute crossing or head up to the deck to enjoy the view across to Scilly and Mount Etna. At Messina, the train is split into two parts, one heading south to Siracusa and the other west to Palermo (Table 641). For a video showing the train being loaded see this link from the Man in Seat 61 https://youtu.be/9grLtdPWYhg

If you don’t head for Sicily, the next and final stop on this journey is to the “toe” of Italy at Reggio di Calabria. Its national museum is the region’s most important tourist destination, and many travellers visit purely to see the museum which houses the world famous Riace Bronzes, Greek statues of heroic warriors. The city also has a long panoramic seafront, a pleasant place to stroll while admiring the view over to Sicily.

(Part 2)

Travelling south from Salerno the train makes its scenic run towards Villa San Giovanni in around four hours, make sure to sit on the right-hand side to make the most of the fine coastal views. There are several intermediate stops which are worth exploring if you have the time. The first being Battipaglia, famous for its production of mozzarella di bufala which can be sampled in many stores and restaurants around the city. Next is the pretty seaside town of Agropoli which has quiet beaches, a tourist marina as well as ancient ruins and a Byzantine castle on the top of the promontory. Agropoli is a central point for exploring the Cilento coast and National park. It’s just a few minutes from the splendid ruins of Paestum and the delightful town of Castellabate.

Continuing south, the train winds through the national park into the province of Basilicata and its only town on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Maratea. Here a huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, which can be easily seen from the train, towers over the town from the top of Monte San Biagio. Maratea is a chic coastal town, known as the ‘Cannes of Southern Italy’, with a historic centre, elegant harbour and pebbled coves and caves which can be explored by boat.

(Part 1)

This large table shows timings for a very pretty coastal route to the southern tip of Italy.

There are many high-speed connections to our starting point of Napoli from the major cities of Torino, Milano, Venezia and Bologna and Roma (shown in table 640) and it is possible to complete the entire journey from Roma in just under five hours. However, as usual, we suggest breaking the journey to appreciate some of the sights along this glorious coastline.

Between the glittering Mediterranean and soaring Vesuvius, Napoli has Europe’s largest UNESCO-listed historic centre and a wealth of cultural and artistic sites to explore. Highlights include two royal palaces, three castles, and ancient ruins that include some of Christianity’s oldest frescoes, whilst the city’s museums exhibit works from the great Italian masters, not to mention the famous ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum a little way out of town.

Napoli Centrale is located in Piazza Garibaldi which is the main terminal of the city’s transport network. From here you can reach anywhere in the city and the entire province, through the railways, buses and underground network. Many of the city’s metro stations are noted for their modern decorative architecture and public art.

Travelling south, trains skirt the towering Vesuvius and head to the port city of Salerno with its beautiful architecture, gorgeous gardens and sun-kissed promenade and where the best views along this route really start.

TABLE 1500 : Sofia – Ruse, Burgas – Varna

(Part 3)

This complex table shows timings for three possible routes across the breadth of Bulgaria. These routes offer travellers a variety of pretty mountain scenery and some of the oldest history in Europe, before arrival into the beach resorts of the Black Sea coast.

Following the most scenic route, last week we reached the town of Sliven. We now arrive into the large port city of Burgas. The city is well-kept with a neat, pedestrianised centre, a long, uncrowded beach and some interesting museums and provides a good base for exploring the southern Bulgarian Black Sea resorts such as Sunny Beach. One of the prettiest parts of the city is the 600-acre Seaside park, one of the most beautiful parks in Bulgaria. The gardens display exotic plants from all over the world and a walk through the park provides lovely views of the sea, the pier and the port. Besides a nice walk, there are numerous little relaxation areas, restaurants and a theatre and cultural centre where the city hosts multiple literature, musical and folklore festivals. The city is surrounded by Burgas Lakes, protected wetland areas that are inhabited by many locally or globally endangered species of birds, fish and mammals which attract birdwatchers and nature lovers from all over the world.

The alternative endpoint on the routes from Sofia in Table 1500 is Varna, Bulgaria’s second largest city and maritime capital. There is a connecting train service between Burgas and Varna or a faster bus link. The impressive Art Nouveau style station is one of Bulgaria’s oldest and has previously been a stop for the Orient Express. Varna is an interesting combination of a port, naval base and seaside resort. It’s an exciting city, packed with history yet thoroughly modern and has a lengthy beach.  In the city center, you’ll find Bulgaria’s largest Roman baths complex, a naval museum, and an archaeological museum which exhibits the impressive Gold of Varna – some of the oldest gold treasure in the world.

(Part 2)

This complex table shows timings for three possible routes across the breadth of Bulgaria. These routes offer travellers a variety of pretty mountain scenery and some of the oldest history in Europe, before arrival into the beach resorts of the Black Sea coast.

Travelling on the most scenic of the three routes, we depart Sofia towards the picturesque and historic town of Karlovo. The town is famous as the birthplace of Vasil Levski, leader of the revolution against the Turks, an important time in the history of the country which is detailed in his museum here. The town has a traditional charm with narrow cobbled streets with local crafts on display. Karlovo and the next stop Kazanlak form part of the ‘Valley of the Roses’ as they are major producers of rose oil for the cosmetics industry. When the roses bloom each May and June, visitors flock to this area to see the huge fields and experience the aromas. Kazanlak is an attractive town and amongst its attractions boasts the world’s only museum dedicated to the production of rose oil and water. The region around Kazanlak is chequered with important ​archaeological monuments. A short walk from the centre stands a 4th-century-BC tomb of a Thracian ruler, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tomb is situated near the ancient Thracian capital of Seuthopolis and the Valley of the Thracian Kings where more than a thousand tombs of kings and members of the Thracian aristocracy can be found

The next major stop is the town of Sliven, situated at the foot of a unique rock formation that now forms Blue Rocks Nature Park. Despite the name, you’d have to look hard to see more than a bluish haze here (thought to originate from a concentration of quartz). The hills have an interesting history, they were once a place of refuge for the hajduks (foot soldiers) fighting against the Ottomans. Visitors can take the chairlift to the top for spectacular views of the valley and access to the many paths and caves. There are also opportunities to practice various sports such as mountain climbing, paragliding and skiing.

(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a complex table, offering timings for three possible routes across the breadth of Bulgaria. These routes offer travellers a variety of pretty mountain scenery, a view of stark industrial towns and some of the oldest history in Europe, before arrival into the beach resorts of the Black Sea coast. Bulgaria is one of the most budget-friendly countries to travel around and there is plenty to offer the more adventurous traveller. Exploring Bulgaria by train can be rewarding but don’t expect modern railway comforts like air conditioning or fully stocked restaurant cars; most passenger accommodation is generally very dated with a post-communist feel and services are often slower than buses, but this can add to the unique experience!

Trains are operated by Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ) and are classified as either ekspresen vlak (express trains), bârz vlak (fast trains), or pâtnicheski vlak (slow trains) with most long-distance services offering first and second class seating. Reservations are compulsory on the express services (marked with ‘R’ in our tables) and there are also a small number of overnight services offering couchette or sleeping cars.

From the capital Sofia, there are three options for travel shown in Table 1500, ending at the coastal resorts of Burgas in around 6 hours 30 minutes or Varna in around 7 hours 30 minutes.

1. Through Mezdra and Pleven to Varna, with an optional sidetrack connection to Ruse
2. Our recommended route via Karlovo and Tulovo to Burgas (the scenic area is shown in green on the map extract below)
3. An alternative route to Burgas via Plovdiv and Stara Zagora

Christmas Markets by train

This week we are taking a look at a small selection of the wonderful markets worth visiting around Europe this December to stock up on Christmas presents and festive food and drink! All of these cities can be easily reached by train on major routes from all over Europe.

  1. Vienna, Austria.

This beautiful and atmospheric city is perfect for a Christmas visit. Christkindlmärkte is the name for the many markets that pop up all over the city in the cobbled streets adorned with hundreds of fairy lights. Rathauspark in front of City Hall is the largest market with its giant tree, ice rink and fairground rides. You can also listen to international choirs singing carols to get you in the spirit.

  1. Brussels, Belgium

At the largest Christmas market in Belgium, Winter Wonders’ 240 stalls sell a wide variety of Christmas items, from traditional gifts to delicious Belgian delicacies against the backdrop of a giant Ferris wheel. When the sun goes down, make your way to the Grand-Place for a dazzling sound and lights show.

  1. Berlin, Germany

The German capital boasts 60 Christmas markets, so there’s something for everyone! You can expect everything from elaborate illuminations to live entertainment such as a nativity with real animals, crafting demonstrations, magical attractions for children or even medieval processions.

  1. Strasbourg, France

France’s oldest Christmas market sells a variety of traditional items, sweets and mulled wine from around 300 wooden chalets dotted around different areas of the picturesque Alsatian town. The markets each have an individual feel and showcase different products or themes including one from a guest country, with a different one invited every year to display its Christmas wares.

  1. Stockholm, Sweden

For a guaranteed snowy Christmas, head north to Stockholm’s Skansen’s Market which has been held annually since 1903. Pretty red huts sell traditional sausages, cheeses, spices and other homemade delights. The markets also sell an array of Swedish crafts alongside traditional Christmas ornaments and hand-dipped candles.

TABLE 60: Hamburg – Praha – Budapest

(Part 4)

This month we are looking at Table 60 which crosses Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Table 60 provides a summary of the principal trains with more detailed services in the country sections. The entire route can be completed in one day by using the single direct EuroCity service, named Hungaria. But, with four capital cities and some beautiful scenery to explore, it is worth breaking the journey at one or more of the stops.

For the last part of this journey, we depart Bratislava hlavná stanica and head towards our final border crossing at Štúrovo. The section of the journey leaving Slovakia offers some lovely views across the Danube towards Hungary. The train passes through some pretty little villages and hillside vineyards as we make our way towards our final destination, Budapest.

The grand capital city of Budapest is a popular destination for millions of tourists every year keen to enjoy its indulgent spas, fairy tale architectural sites and cultural attractions. The Danube divides the city into its two parts; the photogenic old district of Buda on the west bank and the more modern and commercial Pest on the east bank. Exploring the city is easy on foot, but those with limited time should consider the Budapest Card (€22,00 for 24 hours) which grants unlimited travel on public transport and discounted or free admission to museums and baths. There are also plenty of sightseeing tours available by bus or, for some unique views of the city from the river, opt for a boat tour. Other highlights in the city include a trip on the Castle Hill funicular (dating back to 1870) which climbs slowly to the pedestrianised district of Old Buda for some spectacular views from Fishermen’s Bastion or why not simply relax in one of the many grand thermal spas? It’s also worthwhile taking a walk along the famous Chain Bridge, the first permanent link between Buda and Pest, for picture perfect views of the enormous, iconic parliament buildings.

(Part 3)

This month we are looking at a large Table from the International section of the timetable which crosses Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Table 60 provides a summary of the principal trains on this route but more detailed tables for each section can be found in Tables 840, 1100, 1150 and 1175. The 1291 kilometre route can be completed in one day by using the single direct EuroCity service, named Hungaria, which leaves Hamburg Altona at 06.36 and arrives at Budapest Nyugati at a reasonable 20.19. However, with four capital cities and some beautiful scenery to explore, it is worth breaking the journey at one or more of the stops.

Last week we were in Brno in the Czech Republic from where we now depart, travelling south-east towards Břeclav, located at the border with Lower Austria on the Dyje River. From Břeclav there is an easy connection over the border into Austria to Vienna (Wien) and Graz. Those that have travelled directly from Hamburg on the 06:36 EC service will have just under an hour to wait for the 17:55 RJ service into Austria meaning you can squeeze yet another capital city into your journey (on top of the four on the main route) and arrive in Vienna in time for an evening stroll and dinner.

Travellers choosing to continue on the Hungaria service, now head towards the Slovakian border at Kúty before arriving into capital city number three, Bratislava. Fans of the Slovakian capital will argue that this is a better stopping off point than Prague, having just as many highlights but without the crowds. The pretty historical city centre is very compact and cosy, and it is easy to walk from one side to another in a few minutes, so it is a perfect location for exploring in just a day or two. The cobbled streets are packed with lovely cafés and traditional restaurants, whilst in December be sure to indulge in the aromas and flavours of the traditional Christmas market in the hlavné námestie (main square). The market is much more traditional and less overtly commercialized than others in the region. There are many baroque palaces and notable churches to explore as well as the prominent Bratislava Castle on the hilltop where there are some great views over the city and the Danube river.

(Part 2)

This month we are looking at a large Table from the International section of the timetable which crosses Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Table 60 provides a summary of the principal trains on this route but more detailed tables for each section can be found in Tables 840, 1100, 1150 and 1175. The 1291 kilometre route can be completed in one day by using the single direct EuroCity service, named Hungaria, which leaves Hamburg Altona at 06.36 and arrives at Budapest Nyugati at a reasonable 20.19. However, with four capital cities and some beautiful scenery to explore, it is worth breaking the journey at one or more of the stops.

After a change to a Czech locomotive we leave Dresden and head towards the border. This part of the journey through the hills of the Elbe Valley to Děčín has some of the finest scenery on this route. Walkers and climbers keen to explore the area can stop at the frontier station of Bad Schandau to gain access to Saxon Switzerland national park which straddles the German/Czech border. The two countries work together to manage and protect the entire region of sandstone cliffs, steep canyons, and heavily forested slopes.

We now arrive in our second capital city, beautiful Praha. First stop is Praha Holešovice in the north of the city which is connected to the centre by the metro, however most passengers disembark at the art nouveau station of Praha hlavní nádraží which is just a short walk from the main attractions in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. This city attracts thousands of visitors every year to its maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards, keen to experience its famous beers, art and fairy-tale architecture. The city is served by an efficient, fast and clean public transport system including metro lines and trams to transport you easily around the main attractions.

The next stop is the second largest city of Czech Republic, Brno. Home to experimental architecture, such as the Unesco-protected Vila Tugendhat, the city also has several more ghoulish attractions such as the fascinating crypt in the Capuchin Monastery or the notorious prison inside the spooky hilltop Špilberk Castle. Brno also has its fair share of vibrant cafes and bars, many picturesque buildings, churches, squares, sculptures and fountains making it a worthwhile alternative to avoid the tourist hordes in Praha.

(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a large Table from the International section of the timetable which crosses Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Table 60 provides a summary of the principal trains on this route but more detailed tables for each section can be found in Tables 840, 1100, 1150 and 1175. The 1291 kilometre route can be completed in one day by using the single direct EuroCity service, named Hungaria, which leaves Hamburg Altona at 0636 and arrives at Budapest Nyugati at a reasonable 2019. However, with four capital cities and some beautiful scenery to explore, it is worth breaking the journey at one or more of the stops.

The Hungaria is one of the oldest express trains still in operation, but today uses Hungarian Railways’ latest air-conditioned coaches, including a restaurant car and seats with power sockets and free Wi-Fi. The train departs from Altona, a smaller terminus station, 10 minutes west of Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. The short hop affords some interesting views of this fine city before the train heads out into pretty countryside and forests of eastern Germany. The train arrives in Berlin Hauptbahnhof in under 3 hours, leaving plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and sightseeing in this bustling capital city where there is always something going on. It’s possible to walk between the main sights, or if you have a Eurail Pass valid in Germany, you can use the S-Bahn metro lines around Berlin for free.

You can re-join the train at either Berlin Hauptbahnhof or the smaller Südkreuz station where we depart for Dresden. The historic Dresden Hauptbahnhof was built in 1898 but like much of the city, it has been extensively redeveloped in recent years to rectify wartime damage and neglect. The station has a unique layout on two levels. The main station building and terminal platforms are located centrally on the lower level, flanked by through tracks on either side raised on viaducts. The classic view of the city’s baroque spires, towers and domes, is from the banks of the river Elbe but there are equally stunning vistas from the spire of the cathedral or the Residenzchloss (Royal Palace) which now houses five museums.

TABLE 766: Kristinehamn – Mora – Östersund – Gällivare

(Part 4)

Gällivare is the northernmost stop on the Inlandsbanan line, one of the few towns of any significant size in the central part of Lapland, making it a natural place to break the journey before heading back down south or extending your travels further north or into Norway. The Laponiaentrén Gällivare is located on the second floor of the railway station building and contains an exhibition about the Laponia World Heritage Site. It contains about a fifth of the full exhibition which is housed in the Naturum Visitor Centre Laponia, a bus ride away. The lakes and forests in this area are beautiful and there are plenty of options for trips into the surrounding countryside or for a nice stroll along the marked Cultural Trail in the city where you can enjoy the great views. A popular activity in summer is to hike up Mount Dundret to one of Sweden’s most spectacular viewpoints, particularly for those wishing to experience the midnight sun.

From Gällivare there are several options to extend your travels. It’s possible to catch the sleeper train on the main east coast line to Stockholm (Table 767) or there are InterCity services on the Malmbanan (“Iron Ore Railway”, in Norway known as Ofotbanen) to Boden and Luleå on the coast or over the Norwegian border to Narvik (Table 765). Narvik is the northernmost point on the planet that can be reached by train on electrified standard gauge railways from the rest of Europe. From here there are bus connections further into Norway with more spectacular scenery to enjoy, such as the journey to the beautiful Lofoten Islands. Inlandsbanan also offer a combined ticket for the spectacular Hurtigruten ferry (Table 2240), one of the most beautiful sea voyages in the world through the Norwegian fjords down to Trondheim.

(Part 3)

We begin this week in Östersund which marks the end of the southern section of this route and where an overnight stay is necessary. Östersund is a pleasant and compact city with a proud food heritage. There are many upmarket restaurants and cafes together with a heritage museum within easy walking distance from the centre. The city sits next to Lake Storsjon, Sweden’s fifth largest lake where plenty of outdoor activities are on offer all year round. Every year the city becomes a winter sports village, with one of northern Europe’s best ski resorts offering daily prepared routes for ice skating and skiing.

We now begin travelling north through the forests of southern Lapland. The train makes regular stops at several small towns for meals or sight-seeing, where you can re-join after the short break or set off on your own explorations. Many of the towns hold markets and events throughout the summer or you could set off into the wilderness of Europe’s largest nature reserve, Vindelfjällen, either by bus or hiking the well-marked trails. In Sorsele you could visit the Inlandsbanan museum, located in the old goods shed in the station building, or you could take a trip on the tour boat Älvkungen, moored at its jetty in the centre throughout the summer.

Just before reaching Jokkmokk, we cross the Arctic Circle, where the train makes a stop for photographs. Jokkmokk is known for its traditional food culture, wilderness and beauty, where you can try reindeer meat and local produce from one of the world’s oldest markets as well as learning about Sámi culture. There are several exciting activities on offer here, such as horse riding in the midnight sun, helicopter rides or husky walks. However, if you decide not to spend time here, the train continues to the terminus of the line at Gällivare.

(Part 2)

The southern section of this route begins in Kristinehamn which is located on the shores of Lake Vänern in Värmland county. The railway station is located centrally and has regular connections to Stockholm, Göteborg and Oslo. Dotted with thousands of small islands, Lake Vänern is Europe’s largest freshwater archipelago, all of which can be explored by waterbus or chartered boat tours. There are plenty of attractions for tourists including pleasant shopping and cafes along the waterfront, historical walking trails and its most famous landmark, the Picasso sculpture. Situated on a peninsula seven kilometres from the town centre, the 15-metre tall sculpture is one of Picasso’s largest works of art.

We now travel north through the province of Dalarna, through wild and unspoilt landscapes stopping at some small Swedish towns and cities. The surrounding countryside has extensive forests, mountains, valleys and more than 360 lakes, with plenty of resorts offering outdoor activities throughout the summer season and ski facilities during the winter months. The GrängesBergsBanornas Järnvägsmuseum (railway museum) is also located nearby.

Around 3½ hours from Kristinehamn we reach Mora, located between the northern shore of lake Siljan and the southern shore of lake Orsasjön. Mora is the southern terminus of the Inlandsbanan and, as there are regular trains to the major Swedish cities all year round, you could choose to begin your journey here. Mora is most famous for hosting a cross-country ski race called the Vasaloppet, but it also has plenty of museums and beautiful gardens to explore. For the next section of the route, there is only one service available from Mora to Östersund which takes around 5½ hours including a meal break. Along this section of line the train runs through areas of untouched wilderness and bear forests. If you have time, it is worth stopping off at some of the towns along the line; Orsa is a good choice with its beautiful lakes, beaches, restaurants and interesting wildlife park.

To see more of the scenery take a look at this video of Inlandsbanan made by railcc
https://vimeo.com/227623674
(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a challenging but very rewarding route through central Sweden. This 1363 kilometre route is one of Scandinavia’s great rail journeys, taking you through some very interesting towns and varied landscapes all the way to the Arctic Circle, but it does require some careful planning.

The Inlandsbanan is a privately run inland railway for tourist travel set up by the local communities to save it from closure and has now been in operation for 80 years. They offer a range of rail packages that include meals, photography stops and commentary by knowledgeable hosts. The full route from Kristinehamn (halfway between Stockholm and Gothenburg) to Gällivare (60 miles north of the Arctic Circle) can only be enjoyed during an eight to ten week summer season (usually from mid-June to mid-August). However, on the southern part from Mora to Östersund there are additional services aimed at the local population that run throughout the year. In the winter months, there are also night trains running from Malmö via Stockholm to Östersund and Röjan. The terminus stations Mora, Östersund and Gällivare can be reached by regular trains from Göteborg, Stockholm and other Swedish cities all year round (see Tables 758, 761 & 767).

The pace of the journey is slow and relaxed and is split into a northern and southern section with an overnight stop in the lakeside town of Östersund, but with a wealth of wildlife such as Reindeer and Moose and spectacular scenery to enjoy, this trip is certainly worth the effort. Regular tickets for part or all of the journey can be purchased from Inlandsbanan or if you plan to make several stops along the route the Inlandsbanan Card is the best choice as it is valid for 14 days unlimited travel between Mora, Östersund and Gällivare. Eurail and Interrail passes are also valid on this route with reservations not required.

TABLE 951: Salzberg – Innsbruck – Lindau

(Part 4/4)

For the final section of this very scenic route, we leave behind the Arlberg Railway and reach Feldkirch, a pleasant medieval city on the border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is nestled in a picturesque place where three valleys meet and includes a well preserved old town and the dominating edifice of the ancient Schattenburg Castle. It is also the best jumping-off point for exploring Liechtenstein which can be easily reached by bus. The buses are reasonably priced and transport you up into the hills for wonderful views to the sounds of cowbells, and onwards into Switzerland if you wish.

Next is Bregenz, the capital of the Vorarlberg region, which lies on the eastern shores of Lake Constance, the third-largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. From April to October, Vorarlberg Lines offer a number of sightseeing lake cruises, which can be especially beautiful at sunset. Just off shore is the city’s floating Lake Stage, home of the famous Bregenz Festival held each July and August. The festival is one of Europe’s most popular, featuring prominent operatic figures and major musicians and orchestras. The city itself lies at the base of the Pfänder Mountain. A six minute ride on a panoramic gondola takes you to the summit from where you enjoy fantastic views of the Swiss Alps, Lake Constance, and surrounding mountains. On a clear day, some 240 mountain peaks can be visible.

The final stop on this route is Lindau. This historic town is actually an island on the eastern side of Lake Constance and connected to the mainland by a road-traffic bridge and a railway dam leading to Lindau Hauptbahnhof. Full of medieval and half-timbered buildings it’s a popular tourist attraction, especially during summer. Boat tours are available from the pretty harbour, home to a famous lighthouse which is well worth a visit, or you can just sit and admire the view of Austria and Switzerland and the Alps across the lake. Lindau also provides you with a connection to another scenic railway, the Bavarian Allgäu railway (Table 935) which runs through southern Germany to Munich.

(Part 3)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top ten of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Tyrolean Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

Following on from Jenbach the route now heads to the stunning city of Innsbruck and the start of the Arlberg Railway. Innsbruck Hbf is one of the busiest stations in Austria with around 450 trains passing through the station daily. As soon as you step onto the platform you are met with views of the mountains on one side and the Bergisel Olympic ski jump on the other. The delightful old town (Altstadt) offers access to the main tourist attractions, including the famous Golden Roof, a balcony which gets its name from the 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles that adorn its roof. Nearby is the elaborate Gothic Imperial Palace and Imperial Gardens with its giant chess boards and diverse plants and trees. Reaching the mountains is easy, with a ride on the spectacular modernist Hungerburgbahn funicular from the city centre followed by a series of cable cars to whisk you to the summit of the Nordkette range for one of Europe’s most impressive vistas.

The 157 kilometres from Innsbruck to Feldkirch are the most spectacular of the entire route. The line climbs to over 1,200 metres above sea level (one of the highest lines in Europe) following the course of the Inn River to the busy hub of Landeck where we then enter the mountain section of the Arlberg Railway. In this section trains pass through 14 tunnels and 20 galleries that serve as protection from falling rocks and avalanches. One of the most iconic moments is crossing the iron arch of the Trisanna Bridge, just outside Landeck. Raised 87 metres over the river valley, the bridge is overlooked by Schloss Wiesberg, a 13th-century castle set on a woodland cliff. Between the major ski resorts of St. Anton and Langen a popular playground for Europe’s Royal families, is the 10,249 metre long Arlberg tunnel, where we leave the Tyrol and enter Vorarlberg. If skiing is not your thing, or you are visiting in the Summer, this area offers plenty of spectacular walking routes, boating, bathing lakes and other sporting options.

(Part 2)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top ten of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Tyrolean Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

Leaving Salzburg, we travel 120 kilometres through pretty Bavarian countryside directly to the border town of Kufstein. As there are no stops within Germany there is no requirement for border controls. Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrol”, the medieval town of Kufstein is situated between the Brandenburg Alps and the Kaiser Mountains. Its greatest landmark is the Kufstein Fortress situated high above the city and is reached via the Festungsbahn funicular railway. The fortress now houses a museum and is worth a visit for the stunning view over the town and nearby mountains.

The next stop is Wörgl Hbf, an important railway junction where the line from Salzburg via Zell am See meets the main Munich to Innsbruck route. More than 12,000 travellers pass through this station daily, nearly as many people as live in Wörgl itself! The area is a popular alpine ski region and also home to a huge water park and spa. There is also a vast network of hiking trails where you can explore the spectacular Tyrol mountains

Next is Jenbach, the starting point for two narrow gauge railways. This makes an unusual station as there are tracks with three different gauges: the standard gauge railway line of the ÖBB, the 1,000 mm gauge Achenseebahn (Europe’s oldest steam cog railway) which transports tourists along seven kilometres to Lake Achensee (Table 956) and the 760 mm narrow gauge Zillertalbahn (Table 955). At Lake Achensee timetables are co-ordinated so that passengers can transfer to the steam boat ferry to continue their scenic exploration of the area.

(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top 10 of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Bavarian Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

There are two rail routes between Salzburg and Innsbruck, the other route, shown in Table 960, remains entirely in Austrian territory but is slower and trains are less frequent. With both routes offering some wonderful scenery travellers are spoilt for choice and could perhaps chose the alternative route for a return journey.

Salzburg Hbf our starting point is a 20 minute walk from the city centre. This major rail hub has a wealth of domestic and international connections including to Wien (Table 950) and Munchen (Table 890). Because it lies on the border with Germany, the station is administered jointly by Austrian Railways (ÖBB) and German Rail (DB). Seat reservations are optional on most trains but cheaper tickets can be purchased by pre-booking.

Salzburg is a tourist favourite, famous as the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music the number of tourists can outnumber locals by a large margin in peak times. The city is also internationally renowned for its baroque architecture with the historic centre being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The must see Hohensalzburg Fortress towers over the town and is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Reach it via the Festungsbahn, Austria’s oldest funicular railway. At the top visitors get fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountains.

TABLES 330 and 333: Paris – Nîmes

(Part 5/5)

For the final week of our look at Tables 330 and 333 from Paris to Nîmes, we are looking at the options for day trips from Nîmes by train.

Travelling south-west, the stylish metropolis of Montpellier can be reached in around 25 minutes (Table 355). The city boasts many elegant buildings, artistically decorated tramways, grand mansions (hôtels particuliers) and gorgeous white sandy beaches so there is plenty to occupy the day-tripper. Further along the line is the large fishing port of Sète. Known as the Venice of Languedoc, it is criss-crossed by canals and bridges. Boat trips along the coast are available from the harbour and there are some wonderful seafood restaurants to indulge in. The larger towns of Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan are also possibilities along the same line with frequent services available from Nîmes, starting from as early as 5.06am for early risers!

Travelling east from Nîmes you could visit the ancient walled city of Avignon. Home to some great museums and beautiful architecture and its most famous landmark, the huge Palais des Papes (Papal Palace). It is also a short hop to Marseille (Tables 351 and 355), France’s busiest port, known for its harbour, sunny climate and beautiful coastline. The city often gets some bad press, but its historic old town and port area are full of treasures if you are prepared to overlook its more unattractive industrial features. The famous Notre Dame de la Garde, which overlooks the city from the top of the hill, is not to be missed.

For a less touristy destination, the walled medieval city of Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue region can be reached in under an hour using frequent regional TER trains (see SNCF for timings).  Fortified into a Mediterranean port in the 12th century, Aigues-Mortes’ massive walls have been wonderfully preserved. With a ticket to the ramparts you can walk around the entire town in around 45 minutes and get some great views of the surrounding red salt marsh lagoons and the mountains of salt produced here.

(Part 4)

Nîmes is one of the most attractive cities in France and is just the right size for exploring on foot. Established by the Romans, and often referred to as the ‘French Rome’ it retains some of the finest Roman remains in the Mediterranean, including its famous amphitheatre, one of the best-preserved in the world. Other Roman sites include the Maison Carrée (Square House), a small, wonderfully preserved Roman temple and the nearby Pont du Gard (approximately 20 kilometres north-east of the city), a very picturesque aqueduct built during the first century AD to supply water to the city.

Apart from its Roman remains, the city has an attractive old town to explore with quaint markets, a wealth of museums and beautiful gardens such as the Jardins de la Fontaine, one of the oldest city parks in France which contains further Roman remains.

Nîmes is also an ideal base for exploring further afield using regional rail connections, such as the Cevennes national park to the north or the renowned wetlands of the Camargue to the south. Its main railway station offers easy connections to the nearby cities of Montpellier, Avignon and Marseille from where you can connect to other scenic rail lines along the coast to the Cote d’Azur or north into Provence.

(Part 3)

We now travel through the beautiful Auvergne region and the most scenic part of the route, through the Gorges de l’Allier.

Firstly the train pootles through the Romanesque towns of Issoire, Brioude and St Georges d’Aurac before we reach Langeac. Here you can choose to leave the modern SNCF train and board the older and slower Cévennes tourist train which runs on selected days throughout the summer months between the towns of Langogne and Langeac. The train follows the famous “Cevenol” railway track, that was originally built to directly link Paris to Marseille. Following the meanders of the river, hugging the rock face, the train offers some unbeatable views of the gorges carved out from the rock as it passes through the many tunnels and crosses several amazing bridges. The tourist train includes a running commentary and takes just over 2 hours 20 mins, compared to the SNCF train which covers the same distance in about 1 hour 40 minutes, so there is plenty of time to appreciate the scenery and take ample photographs. For tickets and timings see their website

Travelling south, the line crosses some of the most impressive viaducts on French railways, such as the edifice at Chapeauroux, the near-semicircle of Chamborigaud Viaduct and Villefort, the highest stone viaduct in France. Along this spectacular stretch long sections of track are built on a masonry ledges high above the River Allier with glorious views along the valley. The highest point of the journey is at La Bastide, where the line crosses the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, from here the line drops down, passing mostly through tunnels towards our final stop, Nîmes.

(Part 2)

The next stop on this route is the town of Vichy in the Auvergne region, most famous for its historic spa facilities. The pedestrianised town centre offers no shortage of heritage and architectural attractions to attract passing tourists, plus a choice of pretty parks and gardens, covered walkways and attractive shopping streets. Architectural sights of interest include the art-nouveau Opera house, the casino and the Hall des Sources where you can sample the naturally fizzy healing waters.

After a brief stop at Riom – Châtel-Guyon, we continue to Clermont Ferrand where a change of train is necessary. The capital of the Auvergne region has exceptional surroundings, between the Puys Mountain Range and its chain of volcanoes, it is the starting point for several scenic rail journeys. The city is overlooked by the imposing, dormant Puy de Dôme. Visitors can ascend the mountain via a rack railway, at the top there is a restaurant, paragliding, hiking and lovely views along the Parc des Volcans.

The city was originally two towns, Clermont and Montferrand, and still retains two distinct historic centres: Clermont contains the key historic sights and Montferrand is one of the best historically preserved towns in France. Take in the religious architecture and buildings built from elegant grey lava stone, such as the city’s most imposing landmark, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption with its black spires visible from almost every part of the town. The global tyre company Michelin established their corporate headquarters here more than 100 years ago in the city. The history of the company is displayed in the modern Aventure Michelin museum, one of several interesting museums in the city.

From here we follow “La Ligne des Cévennes” to Nimes but there are other scenic long distance options across the Massif Central. “La Ligne des Causses” which is frequently plagued by rumours of closure, follows a 394 kilometer route across the top of the mountain plateaux through Neussargues to Béziers (Table 332) and there is more beautiful scenery on the Arvant – Aurillac – Figeac line (Tables 331/317)

(Part 1)

It’s a new month and a new area of the timetable to focus on. This time we are looking at one of our editorial favourites from the list of many scenic rail routes that we list in the timetable (see page 42 of the timetable). We have chosen a route in Central France, starting at the capital city Paris, travelling to the beautiful Clermont Ferrand (Table 330) then onwards through one of Europe’s finest stretches of railway, to the vibrant city of Nimes (Table 333)

The journey begins in the heart of Paris at the unattractive Gare de Paris-Bercy, a relief station for the nearby Gare de Lyon. Unusually, the station features an area for loading cars and scooters onto trains used for overnight long distance services for passengers wishing to travel with their vehicle to destinations such as Avignon, Marseille, Nice, St Raphaël and Toulon. It is possible to complete the 723 km journey to Nimes on this route in around 9 hours, but with an abundance of fine scenery including mountains, gorges and rivers we recommend breaking your journey at some of the interesting towns along the way.

The two hour journey to the first stop, Nevers follows one of the more interesting routes radiating out of Paris and one that has only been electrified since the mid-1990s. The line weaves its way through forests, hugging the river and affording some lovely views over the famous vineyards of the Loire Valley. The picturesque town of Nevers on a hill on the bank of the river Loire has a varied and interesting history and is renowned for its high quality porcelain which can be purchased in many shops around the town. There are several interesting buildings to explore in the town centre, of which the 15th-century Ducal Palace (now occupied by the courts of justice and an important ceramic museum) and the Cathedral of Saint-Cyr and Sainte-Julitte are the most important. Nevers is also internationally renowned as the burial place of Saint Bernadette and thousands of pilgrims come each year to meditate before her body which is displayed at the Chapel of her name. The train then continues on through the pretty Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region stopping at the smaller towns of Moulins sur Allier and Saint-Germain-des-Fossés.