Cookies on this website We use cookies on our website to make sure we can give you the best experience while browsing. If you are happy with this, please continue to use this site as normal or learn more

 

Rail travel the Inntravel way

Rowena Quantrill, 22 January, 2018
For Inntravel regular Rowena Quantrill, rail is the only way to travel. And when you read about some of the fantastic adventures she's had over the years, you'll soon understand why...
 

The woman at the tourist information office at Chamartín station shrugged her shoulders. There was, it appeared, nothing of interest to do in this part of Madrid. We were on the way home from the Coast of Many Colours walk in the Algarve and had six hours to spare before our onward train. We had deposited our luggage and were determined not to waste those hours – luckily, what the tourist office did have was free maps of Madrid and leaflets about an exhibition by the Spanish portrait artist, Zuluega. So, we quickly headed for the metro and enjoyed a couple of hours with the paintings of this most vivid and touching of Spanish artists… A totally unexpected treat.

It is the unexpected and the unplanned that I love so much about rail travel. Our walk in Portugal was our 12th holiday with Inntravel, all reached by train and, when needed, ferry. We've been to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia and the Apennines in northern Italy, as well as France, Spain (including Mallorca) and Switzerland. Along the way we've stayed in Barcelona, Vienna, Geneva, Paris and Lisbon, and even made a detour from Santander to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim. And there have been so many serendipitous events along the way: changing trains in Munich and finding ourselves in the middle of the beer festival, sharing a table on the Elipsos Train Hotel to Madrid with a delightful young Chinese couple who talked remarkably frankly about their government, joining a motley international crowd on a German station to watch a World Cup game between England and France on a big screen, watching whales spouting from the ferry to Santander. Another bit of serendipity – on the last day of our holiday in the Jura, we spotted an art exhibition in the hotel by an old friend of ours that we had lost touch with long ago. The hotel contacted Claudine (pictured with me above, on the right) and we had a lovely reunion.

Since we are getting on a bit, we go for comfort and book the well-equipped sleeper compartments on the trains, letting the comforting sound of the carriages clacking over the rails lull us to sleep, before we wake to the sun rising over the plains of central Spain or distant views of snow-capped mountains.

So, apart from having so much fun, why are we addicted to travelling by train? Well, according to the website The Man in Seat 61, you can cut your CO2 emissions by up to 90% by taking the train rather than flying. This is certainly not an exact science and other sources will claim 50% (or lower) but what is undoubtedly true is that avoiding a flight when there are easy alternatives is probably the biggest single thing that an individual can do to cut their carbon footprint. We have sweltered in record October heat in Portugal, seen the shrinking glaciers in Switzerland, and heard locals everywhere complain that the seasons are all upside down. Climate change is happening and we have to take it seriously.

Another huge plus is the real sense of journey – you are not whisked from one world to another but have chance to appreciate the gradual changes between landscapes and cultures, food and climate. And so much time to read and relax, what luxury.

There are drawbacks of course: it takes longer and costs more. The trick to overcoming both is to think of your journey not as an uncomfortable experience that has to be endured (like most air travel) but as a stimulating, thoroughly enjoyable, part of the holiday.

So, how do we go about planning our journeys? We start with a quick look at the excellent Man in Seat 61 website to get an idea of the possibilities and then we put ourselves in the hands of the wonderful Kylie, Inntravel’s rail travel expert (pictured hard at work above!), who comes up with the most amazing itineraries for us. If we decide to spend a day or two in a city en route, a hotel will be booked and city information, often including sightseeing routes, provided. Whatever we want to do, Kylie will make it work and add lots of little touches to our plans. Her enthusiasm is boundless – I always remember her excitement when we decided to travel to Slovakia by rail as we were the first Inntravel clients to have done so.

And if things go wrong, Inntravel doesn’t let you down. A couple of years ago, we were walking in the Dordogne when the incessant rain of our last two days plunged much of France underwater, coinciding with a widespread rail strike. But Inntravel rang us and calmly told us that we were being switched to a station that was not on strike. They then kept in touch throughout our journey through the floods, providing instructions on what to do if we missed our Eurostar connection (we didn’t), and giving us their 24-hour emergency helpline number in case we needed further assistance after the office had closed.

So, where next? Well, we’re really excited. We’re off to Norway via Germany and Denmark and Kylie has plans for us along the way. Lots of plans. Oh, in this grey English January I’m so looking forward to steaming up the coast of Norway on the Fjord Line ferry and arriving in Bergen in style.
 

Holidays by rail

Travelling by rail from the UK is a very relaxing (not to mention environmentally friendly!) way to reach your holiday. As you cross from one country to another, the subtly changing landscape outside your window creates a real sense of journey, and there is ample opportunity to explore some fabulous cities on the way, such as Paris, Madrid and Munich. It really is better by rail!
More about travelling by rail in Europe >
Last fetch time is : 9/18/2019 1:21:58 PM