Travel

Rail travel could be the best way to holiday

Quality time is what counts for travellers these days, and they’re turning more and more to rail operators to find it. Come along for the ride!

Rail travel is set for a renaissance and the engines driving it are powerful. Politicians want it, the environment needs it, investors are punting on hydrogen and clean trains to replace diesel locomotives, and there’s money to be made in opening up new rail routes and reviving existing ones. Just as crucial, travellers are yearning for slower, more meaningful experiences, preferably in something more comfortable than a car, bus or plane!

“We’re seeing travellers seeking more immersive experiences which includes more stops and slower and longer itineraries,” says Rail Europe’s Chief Commercial Officer, Florence Pasquier. “They are venturing beyond the big cities and spending more time exploring and understanding the destination’s people, history, culture, landscape, culinary scene and other experiences on offer.”

Rail travel, she tips, is set for a “revolutionary transformation” over the next five to 10 years. Here are fantastic places and ways to join the revolution.

Train travel in Italy

Europe

Europe has an enviable rail network, linking some of the most beautiful historic railway stations in the world. Wherever you want to go, most likely Rail Europe has got it covered – it sells about 2.5 million European train tickets a year, and Australia is its second-largest market after the US. “Australians are curious – they like to go and see places,” says Florence. “They spend a lot of time planning and researching
and are so creative in their travel.”

WE LIKE: Rail Europe’s Swiss Travel Pass, which gets you on the entire travel network in one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. It covers intercity services; famous scenic trains such as the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt; free boat travel on most Swiss lakes; most local urban transport and more.

TRY ALSO: The Golden Eagle Danube Express for enticing itineraries like the seven-day Castles of Transylvania (Istanbul to Budapest) and its eight-day Christmas Markets of Central Europe between Budapest and Munich with stops in Salzburg and Vienna.

The Americas

Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer is a strong drawcard for Australians, with three spectacular scenic journeys out of Vancouver: Two to Jasper and one to Lake Louise or Banff, as well as the Rockies to the Red Rocks from Denver to Moab. US operator Amtrak has stunning routes too, such as the Coast Starlight between Seattle and Los Angeles; the California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco, and the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

TRY ALSO: South America has one luxury sleeper service of note, but it’s a beauty: Belmond’s Andean Explorer, which covers some of the most spectacular terrain in Peru. There’s a two-day ride between the ancient Inca capital, Cusco, and Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and a three-day trip that continues south to Arequipa, a city renowned for its cuisine and colonial era charm. Belmond’s luxury day train, the Hiram Bingham, covers the route between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Combine it with stays at Belmond’s hotels in Cusco, Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley.

Journey Beyond's train that travels between Sydney and Perth.

Australia

Journey Beyond, Australia’s premium multi-day rail operator, is responding to the demand for slow travel. “We’ve had a lot of feedback showing interest in longer rail trips,” says Group Communications Manager Giselle Whiteaker. “Next year, we’ll be introducing an extended, five-day, four-night itinerary on the eastbound [Perth to Sydney] Indian Pacific to cater for this. This will make it the longest train itinerary in our portfolio.” The changes will give passengers more daylight hours to explore Kalgoorlie, and they’ll be treated to a signature dinner in the Barossa Valley.

Journey Beyond’s other iconic multi-day trains are The Ghan, which runs between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs, and the Great Southern, linking Adelaide with Brisbane via Melbourne and Coffs Harbour. Its one-day service, the Overland, takes a very scenic route between Adelaide and Melbourne.

TRY ALSO: The Spirit of Queensland service between Brisbane and Cairns and other routes operated by Queensland Rail Travel; Vintage Rail Journeys’ popular tours out of Sydney into regional NSW.

Slowly does it

“There’s no doubt that an all-inclusive train journey where everything is taken care of for you aids wellbeing,” says Journey Beyond’s Giselle Whiteaker. “While we don’t have any specific data on this, we have anecdotal evidence from guests – we can see the sense of peace that train travel brings written on their faces as they slow down on board and enjoy each moment; we can see it in the genuine smiles they leave with; and in the kind words they leave for us in their feedback forms.”

The passengers aren’t the only ones who benefit. “Our train journeys have a significant impact on local economies – both urban and remote,” Giselle says. “We work with a broad range of suppliers in the destinations we travel through – more than 200 across our three multi-day train journeys – which contributes to making their businesses sustainable.”

THE WAY AHEAD: For the public, train travel can only get better, says Rail Europe’s Florence Pasquier. “With more advanced high-speed rail and electrification, travellers can look forward to shorter travel times, better facilities and enhanced efficiency. And as rail networks introduce new routes and destinations, passengers will have more places to explore.”

Train travel in Japan.

Best of the rest

NEW ZEALAND’S stunning scenery is yours for the taking on Railbookers’ latest deals using the Northern Explorer (Auckland-Wellington), TranzAlpine (Christchurch– Greymouth) and Coastal Pacific (Picton–Christchurch).

JAPAN’S scenic routes are highlighted on the national tourism organisation’s website. It’s hard to beat Seven Stars luxury sleeper train on Kyushu. The four-day itinerary covers the entire island, the two-day itinerary ain’t bad either!

SOUTH AFRICA’S luxury trains, The Blue Train and Rovos Rail, show stunning scenery and wildlife. The main route is Cape Town to Pretoria, but add-ons include Kruger National Park and the mighty Victoria Falls.

Walking the walk

The ultimate in slow travel is a walking holiday, and if you can combine it with a rail journey, even better. For some, the Camino trails in Europe are life-changing, but they require stamina! Thankfully, many companies offer more leisurely guided walking tours, requiring you to carry only your day pack: your main luggage is sent ahead. We prefer selfguided options (best done with friends for companionship and safety in numbers). They’re more flexible and you can adapt them to your body clock. Most go through gorgeous countryside and tranquil towns.

WE LIKE: On Foot Holidays’ 30-plus self-guided walks through unspoilt parts of Europe. The Weekly’s done the Northern Portugal route through Peneda-Geres National Park and we didn’t get lost! New for 2024 is the eight-night Slovenian Highlands route from the Julian Alps to Lake Bled. It’s a medium-grade route with walks of up to just five hours a day – perfect for anyone who likes a long lunch in a lovely village! There are 11 countries to chose from on their website.

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