Journeying by rail through Europe offers flexibility, breathtaking landscapes and a slow pace of travel. We round up new trips across the continent.
Rail travel in Europe is seeing strong bookings, perhaps driven in part by an increasing desire from clients to enjoy “slow” travel that’s close to home.
Sunvil has recently expanded its European rail programme, with new routes from London to the Scandinavian cities of Copenhagen and Malmo, as well as several Greek destinations including Corfu, with the Greek options travelling via Milan.
Managing director Chris Wright says the take-up has been “surprising” for these itineraries. “Since launching the Corfu rail trip at the end of 2019, we have been taken aback by the volume of interest and bookings confirmed. As a result, we’re working on many more ‘slow travel’ itineraries.”
Here, we look at five new European rail tours to recommend to clients in 2020.
On Sunvil’s new nine-night Greece by train – Corfu itinerary, clients will travel from London St Pancras on Eurostar to Paris, then through Italy, reaching Corfu by ferry.
“Sunvil has seen an increasing desire from its clients to minimise their carbon footprint by using alternative modes of transportation to reach Greek holiday destinations,” says Wright, adding that rail travel is a more relaxing alternative to flying.
“Rail travel allows customers to unwind before the holiday begins – it’s a mini-adventure in itself, with the chance to stop and explore places en route. This new option will include stays on Corfu, Paxos, Parga, Sivota or Lefkas, with each trip tailored to suit individual requirements.”
BOOK IT: Sunvil offers the tour from £1,099pp based on two sharing, with one night’s B&B in Milan and seven nights’ self-catering at the Kalami Bay apartments in Corfu.
Clients with an interest in ancient Roman history should find plenty to marvel at on Inntravel’s new Provincia Nostra six-night rail tour in the south of France. The French region was part of the Roman Empire for more than 500 years.
“Many of the finest remnants of the Roman Empire are to be found not in Italy, but in France’s sunny south,” says Inntravel product manager Emily Bailey. “Narbonne, Nimes and Arles in particular have a treasure trove of ancient sites – from temples to impressively well-preserved Roman amphitheatres.”
After setting out from London St Pancras, clients can explore these relics for themselves, with the option to add extra nights in the city of their choice.
“Rail journeys offer a more authentic travel experience, with more time to admire the surroundings and engage with locals. Another advantage is flexibility: the tickets we book often enable customers to catch a later train if connections are missed, or to rebook if plans change,” adds Bailey.
BOOK IT: The tour is priced £925pp with return rail from London St Pancras and inter-city train connections included.
Fans of the BBC’s modern retelling of Dracula can sink their teeth into locations that inspired the original 19th-century Gothic novel on Arena Rail Holidays’ new Fairytale Castles and Railways of Transylvania tour. During the 11-day trip, clients will experience a guided visit of Bran Castle – regarded as the inspiration for Count Dracula’s home, before journeying through the Vaser Valley onboard a narrow-gauge steam train and enjoying a candlelit dinner on the Carpathia Express.
“Our new rail tour to Transylvania appeals to well-travelled clients who have ticked off typical rail destinations such as Germany and France, and are looking to go further afield,” explains sales and business development manager Tim Fleming. “While European rail travel remains a lesser-known market for agents, it offers good commission and is a strong alternative to coach tours or river cruising.”
BOOK IT: Arena offers two departures of the tour in June and September 2020, from £1,499pp with flights.
Great Rail Journeys’ new Sicily and The Aeolian Islands tour is an appealing choice for travellers seeking a combination of Italian culture, cuisine and history, advises marketing executive Adam Barton.
“This tour is part of our Small Groups collection, which is limited to a maximum of 20 people and appeals to travellers who still want to travel as part of a [smaller] escorted group. Benefits of rail holidays for clients also include seeing a panorama of changing landscapes right from their seat, making the journey a part of the adventure and witnessing the sights from a unique vantage point.”
Highlights of the eight-day experience include time exploring the port town of Lipari, viewing the active volcano at Mount Etna from the Ferrovia Circumetnea narrow-gauge train and a chance to sample Sicily’s famed wine and street food.
BOOK IT: Sicily and the Aeolian Islands is priced from £1,845pp including flights. Package is based on a 14 May 2020 departure.
The heyday of steam trains may be long gone, but passengers travelling onboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express will be able to relive the romance of this era for a section of their trip.
The operator’s new Central European Classics itinerary features a steam-hauled train for the first leg of the journey between Budapest and Keszthely, where clients will tour Festetics Palace and cruise on Lake Balaton.
“The concept of ‘cruising by train’ in Europe is becoming increasingly popular, not only due to its environmental credentials, but [also because] it offers clients a far more relaxing and leisurely paced exploration of the continent,” says Golden Eagle head of sales and marketing Ian Lomas.
“All our luxury European rail tours carry no more than 64 guests and offer a completely hassle-free way of discovering Europe’s best-loved cities.”
BOOK IT: The eight-day tour, departing 5 July 2020, costs from £5,295pp based on two sharing, with guided off-train excursions and all meals included. Flights are extra.