THE INSIDERS GREAT RAIL JOURNEYS
MOST EXCLUSIVE: At 10am on Saturdays, a special Trenitalia train departs from the Pope’s Platform in the Vatican gardens, bound for Castel Gandolfo. The train travels on Mussolini-era tracks, rarely used, as it heads over the viaduct out of the Vatican, crosses the international border into Italy and slides up through tunnels to the Pope’s Summer Palace. Enjoy the extensive gardens and a long lunch at Ristorante Pagnanelli (which has strong Australian links); biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets. MOST PUNCTUAL: This has to be the Bernina Express on narrow gauge from Tirano in northern Italy, located near Lake Como and Sondrio, up over the Alps and into Switzerland and St Moritz. The vistas are spectacular, the rolling stock excellent. Timetables are always adhered to, right to the second; rhb.ch/en/home. BEST COASTAL: In Britain that would be along the old Brunel mainline to Penzance through Dawlish, easily accessed from Paddington in London or Bristol Temple Meads. Even more spectacular in Europe, though, is the route from Genoa through the Cinque Terre stations and tunnels to Pisa and ultimately Termini at Rome. Brilliant engineering means you are diving in and out of tunnels and crossing above the five coastal heritage fishing villages. BEST ANDES: Narrowly I favour Peru and the trains in and near Cusco, but the competition is building in Ecuador and elsewhere. There’s a busy set of services to Machu Picchu but the gourmet delight is in the other direction down to Lake Titicaca by daylight express; Cusco to Puno now running three times a week. LONGEST TRANSCONTINENTAL: Enjoy about 10 days travelling from Vladivostok to Moscow, best done in the westerly direction. There are many services now but the Golden Eagle is the most luxurious and a day hauled by steam around Lake Baikal is very memorable. Tatiana, a manager on the Golden Eagle, is a cut above the average and, dare I say, would make a great Russian president; goldeneagleluxurytrains.com. AT HOME: Enjoy The Ghan between Adelaide and Darwin, best done southbound with a bonus stop at Coober Pedy. The top-level Platinum Class is terrific and you will be sad the experience has come to an end, mark my words; greatsouthernrail.com.au. TIPS: Travel lightly; big hard suitcases inevitably have to be stored away, better a couple of smaller cases that can be easily placed in your cabin. Identify card players early so a few rounds can be played if that it your wish. As always, try and sit on the side looking away from the sun; maybe swap around noon, if you can. And always enjoy it; it beats walking even when the carriage is cramped and the train is late.
Tim Fischer was deputy prime minister in the Howard government (1996-99) and served as ambassador to the Holy See (2009-12).
Graham Erbacher Graham. Erbacher@news.com.au