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

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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.

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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.

TABLE 18: London/Paris – Amsterdam

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After Antwerp the line travels through the southern Netherlands, stopping at Breda, a popular destination due to its rich history. In the city centre you’ll find lots of interesting architecture and cultural delights but Breda is also a fun-loving town with many cafés, terraces and excellent restaurants as well as a range of specialty shops and boutiques.

The next stop is the modern Centraal station with its striking slanted roof, in the maritime city of Rotterdam. The Netherlands second biggest city is famed for its futuristic architecture and has a wealth of top-class museums and galleries. Split by the vast Nieuwe Maas shipping channel, Rotterdam is crossed by a series of tunnels and bridges, notably the dramatic Erasmusbrug – the swooping white cable-stayed bridge dubbed de Zwaan (the Swan). Many day trips are possible from Rotterdam either using the frequent trains and buses or by following one of the well-marked cycle routes. Historic and scenic Delft is nearby, home of the world famous ceramics, its an unspoilt traditional town with pretty canals. Bicycles can be hired from the railway station and are the ideal way to explore.

Onwards through the largely urban landscape the next stop is the administrative capital Den Haag (The Hague) home of the Dutch parliament and the royal family. The Hague offers a unique mix of small lively beach resorts and a historical city centre. Many of the attractions such as the royal palaces and eye catching buildings around ‘The Plein’ are within walking distance of the station. Rather than having canals like other Dutch cities, The Hague has wide streets and avenues and plenty of areas of green space, giving the city a more continental feel.

After a stop at Schiphol airport the final destination on this route is reached, the vibrant capital city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam Centraal Station is the primary station, providing quick access to the city centre. This terminus not only offers train services in all directions but is also directly connected to local bus, tram, metro and ferry services. The city centre is very easy to navigate and compact enough to be walkable or canal cruises are a popular way to get a different perspective. If you’re planning to head out into the Amsterdam Area during your trip to Amsterdam, it makes sense to use the Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket – a special public transport pass valid on bus, tram, metro and train in Amsterdam and the entire region. The ticket is valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and comes with a useful public transport guide for the Amsterdam area filled with sightseeing tips.

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Following on from Brussels the next station is Mechelen which lies approximately 25 kilometres between Brussels and Antwerp. This picturesque city is one of Flanders’ prominent cities of historical art and has some wonderful museums and hundreds of listed monuments, churches and renaissance buildings. The imposing Catholic church in the centre of the town is visible from nearly everywhere so is a great compass point from which to explore. Its unusually shaped Rumbold’s Tower is a wonder to behold and a spectacular view can be reached by climbing its 514 steps. Also not to miss is the newly renovated majestic renaissance palace that houses the Museum Hof van Busleyden with its impressive collection of artworks.

Onwards now to Antwerpen Centraal, widely regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. There are three levels of tracks and a shopping centre which includes a diamond gallery with more than thirty diamond shops. The station is conveniently located within walking distance to the historic city centre where there is plenty to see for lovers of art, architecture or fashion. Belgium’s second biggest city has two museums showcasing the best of avant-garde fashion as well as plenty of shopping in the surrounding fashion district. The city also displays plenty of references to its most famous resident, the 17th century painter Rubens. The artist’s palatial home Wapper Rubenshuis is a must see, together with the Royal Museum of Fine Art, displaying works from masters such as Magritte and Van Dyck. To experience renaissance works in a spectacular environment visit the iconic cathedral which towers over the skyline. The city has plenty of options for eating and drinking with trendy restaurants and bars where you may sample the local speciality Antwerpse Handjes, little biscuits or chocolates in the shape of a hand.

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We are going to begin in Brussels, easily and quickly reached from either capital city. Brussels has enough art, culture and cuisine to keep even the most ambitious explorer busy for days. Combining French, Dutch and Flemish traditions the city has a mixture of old world grand and art nouveau buildings alongside modern skyscrapers.

The Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) is the hub to which all visitors to Brussels inevitably flock. The busy World Heritage listed square is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world, with architecture from all eras. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but there are many interesting buildings and elaborate statues. A short walk away you will find Brussels most famous statue, the Manneken Pis (Peeing boy!) embraced by the people of Brussels the statue often has a different outfit for every occasion.  Another statue worth a visit is the space-age Atomium. Towering over north Brussels’ suburbia the 9 glittering spheres are topped with a panorama-level restaurant with some great views of the surrounding area and ‘mini Europe’ below where you can see models of famous sites such as Big Ben and the Berlin Wall.

Apart from its famous chocolates and beers, there are almost 90 museums, extravagant shopping arcades, stunning churches, beautiful parks, and wonderful cafes and restaurants to explore. Most of the museums are within the city centre or easily reached by public transport. Apart from the usual arts and scientific museums, there are quirky ones like theToy Museum, Belgium Chocolate Village and also Train World, a modern attraction displaying an impressive collection of old and new locomotives. Due to its excellent rail links there are many day trips possible if using Brussels as your base. Liège or Bruges (Table 400) can both be reached in under an hour and a little further afield you can reach Lille on the French/Belgium border.

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We have a new Table for July, this time we will be taking a look in detail at Table 18 from our International section. This table covers the popular route from London/Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels.

There is a now a choice of three train connections between Brussels and Amsterdam – The fast Thalys and new Eurostar connections or the slower (and cheaper) InterCity service that runs every hour during the day time. Thalys operate high speed trains running every one or two hours and make intermediate stops only at Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam and Antwerpen, making the journey in under 2 hours. The slower IC service goes via Den Haag and other local stops and does not allow seat reservation, which means greater flexibility (tickets are valid all day so you can hop on and off at will) but trains can be full during peak periods. Tickets for Eurostar and Thalys must be pre-booked and offer different classes of travel. Thalys offer Standard, Comfort or Premium class, with Premium tickets including food and drink as well as access to Thalys lounges. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass, you won’t need to buy a ticket but you will pay a seat reservation fee.

The slower IC route takes us through the cities of Antwerp, Den Haag and Rotterdam as well as serving both Schiphol Airport and Brussels National Airport. An extra stop at Breda was added in April 2018. Using the slower service, the entire journey can be taken in just 3 and half hours meaning it can make an interesting day trip particularly if you stop off along the way.

The Brussels Capital-Region has three main train stations, Noord/Nord is best for connections to Liège or Luxembourg, Centraal/Central for the city centre and the busiest station where the majority of international trains and Eurostar services arrive is Midi/Zuid (Brussels South Station) where there are numerous connections to Gent and Brugge as well as Lille, Paris and London. Due to Brussels-Capital being bilingual, both the French and Dutch names of the station are official, hence the Midi/Zuid shorthand used in the ERT.

TABLE 1200: Budapest – Zagreb

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We now reach the final leg of the journey. Departing from Keszthely we first pass through the border town of Nagykanizsa. For centuries the town has been an important trade and transport link between Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and the Adriatic and Italian harbours. There is a pretty town square in the recently renovated city centre and a thermal baths with indoor and outdoor pools to relax in.

Next, we cross over the border towards the capital of Croatia, you can expect to have your travel documents checked which can take a while if the train is busy. The train arrives in the glorious Glavni Kolodvor station of Zagreb, a beautiful neoclassical building which was once used as a stop for the Orient Express service. The station offers plenty of international trains for extending your holiday, with daily departures for Belgrade, Frankfurt, Ljubljana, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Zürich as well direct services to Croatia’s beautiful coastal cities.

The city’s oldest and most beautiful quarter is the upper town which can be reached via the very short and steep funicular railway. At just 66 metres it’s the shortest in the world and affords some lovely views of the lower town. If you can, time your arrival for midday when the cannon from Lotrscak Tower is fired. The busy Ban Jelacic Square is the central square of the city and from where most of Zagreb’s key sights such as the cathedral can easily be reached on foot or you can hop on the blue trams which will transport you to the more distant parts of the city. The city has around 30 museums to choose from, including the quirky ‘museum of broken relationships’ and some delightful parks, or you could just relax in one of the many cafes and restaurants to sample the local specialities of štrukli (a rolled dough with various fillings) and sip on one of the many varieties of Rakija.

(Part 4)

This month we have been looking at Table 1200 Budapest – Zagreb. Continuing along the southern shore of Lake Balaton from Balatonfenyves, the next stop along our route is the town of Fonyód, famous for its bottled mineral water. The town’s railway station is one of the most beautiful and best preserved along the lake. Fonyód commemorates Hungarian history with a medieval drama festival in early August.

The next stop is Balatonfenyves which has one of the last remaining narrow gauge railways in Hungary, transporting tourists to and from Somogyszentpál over a distance of 13 km. It is a pretty trip through a nature reserve along marshy land which was originally part of the lake.

The next stop is Keszthely which is the most westerly and oldest of the towns along the lake. Central Keszthely is the site of the stunning Festetics Palace, built by the wealthy Festetics family in 1745 who also built the first agricultural college in Europe here in 1797. The white 101 roomed mansion is now a museum and conference centre with exhibits on the formation and history of Lake Balaton as well as rare paintings from the area. Its pride and joy is its library with over 100,000 volumes including some very rare books. During summer concerts are held weekly in the pretty grounds of the castle. The town itself is compact and easily explored on foot or via the small tourist train which circulates the town. Another popular attraction is the model railway museum, housed in a former military building, it has a 40 metre layout including reproductions of the railway stations around Lake Balaton.

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Continuing our exploration along Table 1200 Budapest – Zagreb, we now arrive in the first of several towns along the southern shores of Lake Balaton. For the best views of the lake make sure to sit on the right side of the train.

The lake itself is 48 miles long and around 8 miles wide and is a major holiday resort in landlocked Hungary. The water is warm in summer and becomes Europe’s biggest ice rink in winter. The lake is surrounded by rolling hills with rich soil which produce some great wines.

Balaton’s southern shore is almost entirely built up with a continuous chain of resort towns, the lake is shallower on the southern side which makes these shores popular with families. The largest and most popular destination is Siófok, which is the first stop on our route. The Water Tower, which stands in the centre of the town, is the most well-known symbol of Siófok and the café at the top offers some nice views of the area. Boats leave from the harbour frequently so you can easily hop on a boat for a day trip to the lovely towns on the northern shore.

The next few stations are all resort towns along the lake. First is Zamardi, which has been the site of Balaton Sound, an electronic music festival since 2007. Next is Balatonföldvár, one of the prettier towns. It’s popular because of its natural beauty, impressive promenade and flowery parks. The views of the north shore from here are breath-taking, you can see the flat, table-like mountain of Badacsony, a famous wine producing area and the hills covered with the purple haze of flowering lavender fields during the summer season.

The next 3 stops have almost merged together into one resort. The towns of Balatonszemes, Balatonelle and Balatonboglár all provide the usual mix of tourist accommodation and entertainments. The towns are trying to undergo some renovations with many of the ugly dull buildings being repainted, but a lot of work is left to be done.

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Budapest is the amalgamation of two historic cities lying opposite each other on the river Danube (Buda on the western bank and Pest on the eastern). With its interesting mix of heritage and architecture it is one of Europe’s most delightful and enjoyable capitals to visit. The central area of the city is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has many notable monuments, including the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gresham Palace, Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Liberty Statue. The urban area is well covered by metro lines which are an excellent way to get around, the Millennium Underground Railway is actually one of the oldest electrified underground railways system in the world, opening just a few years after the London Underground. For the best views of the city take the Budavari Siklo (Buda Castle Funicular) to the top of castle hill, this historic cable car has been in service since 1870 and runs every 10 minutes, saving the legs of many passengers. Rail enthusiasts may also enjoy the Hungarian Railway History Park which has a fleet of steam and electric engines as well as other interesting exhibits

The early morning train to Zagreb is called the Agram, leaving Budapest Deli it passes through Kelenfold on the outskirts of the city then onto the former royal seat of Székesfehérvár. Today the city is an important rail and road junction between Lake Balaton and Lake Velence but this historic city has had a turbulent past, at one time it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary and several Kings were crowned and buried here. There are good walking tours of the city where you can see the remains of the coronation basilica and medieval castle walls or the baroque architecture of the city centre. A site worth exploring is Bory Castle, built as a piece of art by a sculptor and architect following his own imagination and plans. It has seven towers, thirty rooms in different sizes including three studios, and there are statues, paintings, antiquities and works of art all over the quirky castle.

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For June we will be focusing on Table 1220 from our timetable which covers an interesting and very scenic route between two capital cities in central Europe.

The route starts at Budapest in Hungary and travels 352km to Zagreb in Croatia. The entire journey could be completed in around 6 and a half hours on one of the two daily direct trains which leave from Budapest Deli (Southern railway station) and Budapest Keleti (Eastern railway station).  However, there are lots of interesting places to stop and explore along this route so we recommend breaking up the journey with a few stops.

It’s relatively easy to travel from Hungary to Croatia, especially if you’re travelling to or from Budapest which is a great starting point for many rail journeys with connections all over central and eastern Europe. One of the most popular options is the overnight train from Budapest to Split via Zagreb (Table 89) but this train only runs between June and August.

Apart from the very interesting cities and towns along this route there is some wonderful scenery. Of particular interest is Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in central Europe and one of the region’s foremost tourist destinations. This route passes through several pretty lakeside towns and resorts including Siofok and Fonyod on the southern shore and Keszthely on the western shore with its grand town houses and shallow beaches. Then onto the Roman city of Nagykanizsa, a connecting point for several routes due to its location between the western corner of the Lake Balaton and the Croatian and Slovenian border.

TABLE 672: Barcelona – Valencia

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On this final section of our route we leave Valencia passing through its other station Joaquin Sorolla, named after the Spanish landscape painter. Our first stop is the handsome town of Xativa where you are immediately met with views of the magnificent medieval castle. The station is just 10 minutes from the historic centre which has a wealth of gothic buildings and churches, museums and several ancient fountains dotted around. There are two 20-minute tourist train tours a day through the old quarter that include an ascent to the castle which has impressive views over the city.

Next is the popular holiday city of Alicante. This lively, easy-going city attracts lots of tourists eager to walk its pretty marble tiled waterfront promenade. The city has plenty of attractions for visitors including its hilltop castle, interesting old quarter, and Mercado Central, the main market hall which is a feast for the senses. There is also the usual mix of sandy beaches, good restaurants and interesting shopping streets and plazas to explore. There are also daily boat trips to the nearby island of Tabarca which gives great views of the coastline

The railway line now veers slightly inland to Murcia where passengers can either continue west onto Lorca or head back towards the coast to the historical naval port of Cartagena. Catagena’s layers of Roman and Carthaginian history mixed with modernist architecture make it a fascinating city. Most places of interest are contained in an area enclosed by the city walls – long stretches of which are still intact. There have been several new attractions opened in the city in recent years, bringing in tourists to view its varied historical treats, such as the recently restored Roman theatre and Museum of Underwater Archaeology. There is also an elevator to the castle, the highest point in the city.

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Travelling south from Tarragona the first stop is the huge theme park and resort of Port Aventura. If rollercoasters are not your thing then it’s a short hop to the next station, Salou.  A popular resort with families and young Brits, Salou also has some fine, tree lined streets, lovely beaches and parks. The line continues through the popular seaside destination of Vinaròs which has a beautiful promenade, a working port and some much quieter beaches. The town is particularly well regarded for its prawns, so there are a great number of fine seafood restaurants here, they even hold a festival dedicated to their seafood in August.

The next stop is Benicassim, a lovely seaside town with some spectacular mountain scenery. The town is most famous as the venue for Spain’s top music festival which takes place annually in July when the population of the town can swell by up to 50,000. Along the town’s historical La Ruta de las Villas are 51 wonderful 19th century villas built for wealthy families by important architects of the time. Nearly all are now privately owned but they can be admired from the outside and tours can be arranged which explain their history.

Continuing, we arrive in the fine modernist masterpiece that is Valencia Nord station, the first of two main railway stations in the city. Valencia combines an amazing old quarter, with its spectacular medieval castles and towers, with the stunning modern part of the city with a string of striking futuristic buildings, combine this with great shopping, great food (it is the home of Paella) and clean beaches, and you have a destination where you could easily spend a few days exploring. One of the city’s more controversial claims to fame is that it has what is claimed to be the Holy Grail in its cathedral. It is also worth a climb to the top of the Miguelete bell tower to admire great views of the city.

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Barcelona has direct railway links with a number of important cities, including Paris and Madrid as well as southern and eastern Spain. The city has excellent rail, bus and metro links ensuring that visitors can get around all of the main tourist sites and further afield without any difficulty. Our route begins at Barcelona Sants, the city’s main transport hub with most high-speed services and airport trains terminating here. Sants has eclipsed the much older França Station in terms of visitor numbers, however, França is worth a visit in its own right as it is agreed to be the city’s most attractive station. Its buildings are a mix of classical and modern design with marble floors and Art Deco decoration.

As Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and with its irresistible combination of history, excellent food, nightlife and Mediterranean beaches there is something to suit all tastes. As you would expect it is packed with outdoor markets, restaurants, shops, museums, and churches and it is a fantastic city to walk around. The city will be extremely busy this weekend (11th – 13th May) as it plays host to a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Last year over 47,000 people used the regional train service over the three day period. The most famous landmark and must-see attraction in Barcelona is La Sagrada Familia, the incomplete church and world heritage site designed by Antoni Gaudi but there are plenty more amazing buildings and streets to discover away from the queues of tourists!

The next major stop south along this line is the port city of Tarragona. The biggest lure in this medieval city is its wealth of Roman ruins which include a mosaic-packed museum, Colosseum and a seaside amphitheatre. All of Tarragona’s sites are within walking distance of the railway station; a stroll through the old town near the cathedral is definitely worthwhile or take a panoramic tour through the streets in the city’s tourist train.

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For May we are going to be looking at Table 672 in Spain which connects the vibrant cities of Barcelona and Valencia along the Mediterranean coast and onwards to the popular holiday resort of Alicante.

This Table covers a total of 679km starting in Catalonia from Barcelona Franca through to terminus stations in either the major naval town of Cartagena or Lorca in the region of Mercia in south-eastern Spain with some wonderful coastal vistas to enjoy en-route. The stops along this route offer travellers a wealth of history to explore, with many fine examples of Roman architecture, ancient walled towns and stunning cathedrals. There are also opportunities to extend your journey with possible connections to some of Spain’s AVE high speed lines which can transfer you onto Madrid and Seville, or options for ferry crossings to the nearby Balearic islands from Barcelona and Valencia (shown in Table 2510).

Journey times and ticket prices can vary enormously on this route as there are several options for train types and carriers as can be seen from the size of table 672. Tickets can also be purchased in different classes, Turista which is second class, Turista Plus, a premium second class option which has a more spacious carriage layout or Preferente which gives access to the Sala Club lounges at the major stations and also offer reclining leather seats and a hot meal. All of the services are reliable and comfortable and frequent throughout the day (between 8-12 a day) but travellers will need to bear in mind that whether you choose the high speed operators or the regional trains, most will require advance seat reservations as carriages can sell out during peak times.