SPRING RAIL TRIPS
This is the season for some spectacular journeys, says
1 NICE-TENDE -CUNEO
Nice is delightful in spring, and Nice-Ville station is the starting point for the rail car that winds into the mountains over many viaducts and through even more tunnels. It is justly known as Train des Merveilles – train of marvels – for the complete loops and horseshoe curves in its dramatic progress. The SNCF train climbs as far as Tende where passengers change to an Italian train for the onward climb to the summit at Limone and descent to Cuneo. English-speaking guides are on the morning train, June-September.
Nice-Tende from £18, TendeCuneo from £24. But in JuneSeptember buy the SNCF TER Summer Day Pass for £14, which allows unlimited travel for the day around Nice, including Nice-Tende. SNCF (0844 848 5848; uk.voyagessncf.com).
2 RÜGEN NARROWGAUGE RAILWAY
Spring is regarded as the best time on this Baltic island, where Caspar David Friedrich painted many of the coastal landscapes. The narrowgauge “Rasender Roland” (Racing Roland) steam railway links many tourist sites, including the resorts of Binz and Sellin favoured by Thomas Mann and Bismarck, the huge brick Granitz hunting lodge and the island’s oldest resort of Putbus with its elegant Neoclassical square and circle.
Putbus-Göhren £20 return (0049 38 301 88 40-12; ruegenschebaerderbahn.de). Weekly passes are available.
3 EUROSTAR TO KEUKENHOF
Eurostar has begun its new twice-daily service to Amsterdam in perfect time to see one of the world’s most beautiful spring gardens. Seven million bulbs representing 800 varieties of tulip provide a riot of colour in Keukenhof ’s 32 hectares of flower beds. This year’s theme is “Romance in Flowers”, reflecting the site’s mid-19th-century design as an ornamental garden for Castle Keukenhof. Open until May 13.
From £78 return. Eurostar (03432 186186; eurostar.com). From Amsterdam city centre, bus 397 to Schiphol for the Keukenhof Express bus 858; £26 combi ticket, including admission to Keukenhof, which avoids queuing.
4 CLERMONT FERRAND-BÉZIERS
This magnificent line is down to one train a day and under constant threat of closure, despite it being the French equivalent of the Settle-Carlisle railway. Spring, before temperatures rise in southern France, is a perfect time to appreciate the Garabit Viaduct, designed by Gustave Eiffel, and the Lot and Tarn rivers before reaching Millau and Norman Foster’s viaduct, the world’s highest road bridge. Above Tournemire station is the village of Roquefort and the limestone caves where the cheese is aged. Hillsides of vines flank the lines on the approach to the wine centre of Béziers. Go before it’s too late! Clermont Ferrand-Béziers, from £18.50 one way or £37 return.
5 FORT WILLIAM TO MALLAIG
Stupendous views across the Western Isles are enlivened by the bark of steam locomotives on the Jacobite train, which runs on weekdays from April 9. Azaleas and rhododendrons line much of the route, which passes the Glenfinnan Monument and crosses “Concrete Bob” McAlpine’s famous Glenfinnan Viaduct in an amphitheatre of mountains before reaching Mallaig.
Fort William-Mallaig: £35 return by the Jacobite (0844 850 4685; jacobitetrain.com); ScotRail off-peak day return £14.70 (0344 811 0141; scotrail.co.uk).
6 TOKYO-KYOTO AND THE SAGANO TOROKKO
Cherry blossom in the Arashiyama district has been delighting tourists for more than a millennium, and the best way to enjoy it today is the Sagano Scenic Railway. It starts from Saga Torokko station, reached by a 15-minute journey from Kyoto to JR Saga-Arashiyama station, and ends at Kameoka Torokko. Boughs of pink blossom wave above the train as it runs beside the Hozugawa river in a steep valley. The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto is scenic too, passing Mount Fuji and green tea fields.
Tokyo-Kyoto £189 return, Saga Torokko-Kameoka Torokko £9 return. Seven-day Japan Rail Pass from £189. Inside Japan Tours (0117 370 9730; insidejapantours.com).
7 PALMA-SOLLER. MALLORCA
Most people travel the length of this historic electric railway from the fin de siècle station on Palma’s Plaça d’Espanya to Sóller, and continue by the open tram to the port. Before the long summit tunnel, the line dissects olive groves full of spring flowers, but to enjoy the wild flowers of the Serra de Tramuntana, try a walk from Bunyola, where herb-based liqueurs are made at the Túnel factory. Among the glories of the countryside are white mignonette and wild orchids.
Booking office at station. PalmaSóller £22 return, Sóller-Sóller Port £12.50 return, combined return ticket £29.
8 BLUEBELL RAILWAY, SUSSEX
Named after the bluebells that carpet the lineside woods, the Bluebell Railway begins at East Grinstead station (trains from London Victoria) and ambles through idyllic Sussex countryside, pausing at stations restored to different historic periods. Its steam locomotives also haul carriages from different eras. National Trust gardens of Sheffield Park are a short walk from Sheffield Park station.
East Grinstead-Sheffield Park adult return £19. Bluebell Railway (01825 720800; bluebell-railway.com). London Victoria-East Grinstead, from £15.70 return. Southern Railway (southernrailway.com).
9 SHREWSBURY TO HEREFORD
Beginning at Shrewsbury’s splendid neo-Tudor station, this journey through the beautiful rolling hills of the Welsh Marches and woods of pale-green spring leaves has barely a dull moment. From Church Stretton the Long Mynd and Stiperstones shuttle bus offers walkers an hourly service to the Shropshire Hills. The train flashes past medieval Stokesay Castle, and Ludlow offers a market, celebrated restaurants and the ruins of the Marcher Lords’ castle, briefly home to Catherine of Aragon.
Shrewsbury-Hereford adult day single £22, anytime day return £23.70. Arriva Trains Wales (03333 211202; arrivatrainswales.co.uk).
10 INTERLAKEN-SCHYNIGE PLATTE
Trains resume the dramatic climb to the mountain ridge overlooking lakes Thun and Brienz on May 26. Close to Schynige Platte summit station and hotel of 1899 is an Alpine garden dating from 1929 with about 650 species, including edelweiss, black lobelia and paradise lily. Two-thirds of all flora can be enjoyed on a ⅔-mile (1km) walk through the garden. An easy circular walk from the summit passes the bizarre domed rock known as the Daube.
Interlaken Ost-Schynige Platte, £55 return, changing at Wilderswil. Switzerland Travel Centre (020 7420 4900; switzerlandtravelcentre.co.uk).