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Great European Holidays by Train

While travelling Europe is by train you can relax and watch the world goby instead of driving or spending too much time at airports - without seeing the real Europe as it's been for centuries.Nice

European trains are so fast and well-connected in the 21st century that a flexible Eurail pass can give travellers a wonderful, good value European holiday.

1. South of France - The Riviera to Biarritz

Nice is a great place to start your European adventure as you check out the famous beachfront Promenade des Anglais, including the landmark Negresco Hotel. Head south to Cannes for its glamorous French lifestyle which includes the famous film festival in May.

And a little further south, Marseille is the perfect port to travel by train from the west coast right across to the east coast to the famous wine region of Bordeaux, and glamorous Biarritz on the Spanish border.

Travelling by Eurail inland from Marseille near the French Riviera

As you head east from Marseille, you'll see the fortified French town of Carcassonne, with its pretty waterways and boats.  It's beautiful provicial French countryside here, with bright yellow sunflowers reaching for the sky, reminiscent of a Monet painting

Pretty soon you're in fascinating Toulouse, between the Dordogne region and the Pyrenees mountains to your left, dividing France from Spain.  You're half way across France in less than four hours on a smooth, comfortable train.

Make sure you get off at Lourdes, the famous religious town at the centre of a number of apparitions of the Mother of Christ in 1868. Lourdes is a fascinating experience to walk from the train station down the hill through the small market town to the sacred grotto.

Our Lady of Lourdes grotto at Lourdes

Here you'll find pilgrims from around the world at the end of their journey, many with crosses they've carried for many miles.  At the entry to the church built on this religious site, you can see just a few of the hundreds of thousands of crosses that have been carried to Lourdes over the years.
Many hundreds of crosses at the end of the pilgrimage to Lourdes

The atmosphere here is uplifting to say the least, and everyone is friendly. In town, you'll find all manner of religious icons to remind you of a special place.

Aboard your train again, it's three hours to the famous French wine region of Bordeaux on the west coast, passing through superb vineyards in comfort before you arrive in this big old French city with its landmark cathedral.

Only two hours south is the famous French beach playground of Biarritz, a great place to finish your trip across France.  Make sure you finish in style by staying at the famous Hotel du Palais, the former palace of Emperor Napoleon III.

Biarritz's famous main beach

The Hotel du Palais is the iconic standout in this Basque town on the Spanish border, and your accommodation is near Biarritz beaches.

Biarritz's magnifique Hotel du Palais

Hotel du Palais' L'Hippocampe restaurant with fine French cuisine

2. Overnight Eurail adventure from Krakow to Lake Bled

How exciting...flying into the pretty cobbled Polish town of Krakow to take the overnight sleeper train through Austria and the Czech Republic to one of the world's most beautiful destinations at Lake Bled in Slovenia.

This the perfect overnight train trip for both scenery and scheduling.Eastern Europe is opening up to tourism and the countryside and little towns are still pristine, compared with the now-crowded western European tourist destinations.

Krakow in Poland - main square

Krakow has a historic square that still features horse drawn carriages and top hats.  For something more modern, try the electric city tour carts, the only vehicles allowed in the pedestrian-friendly square. Everything is inexpensive tours are only $40 an hour for an electric cart that takes up to 4, with 1 Polish zlotny equalling 3 dollars US.  

You can also visit the Krakow Jewish ghetto and the infamous Auschwitz prison camp nearby. A great place to stay in Krakow at the start of your train trip is the stylish Hotel Stary on the edge of the cobbled main square, run by the friendly Danuta Barcik.

Eastern European scenery from your Eurail train

Your overnight sleeper train departs at the perfect time of 9.57pm from the main train station just outside the square. These are Polish trains that aren't part of the Eurail network, and tickets for the sleeper on to Budapest, Prague or Vienna aren't expensive.

Your sleeping room will have 2 or 3 bunks and it's memorable to pull out into the Polish countryside with the wind in your hair as you look out the window at night.  Be careful you don't use a spare pillow or blanket if the other bed is spare because you may be charged, although it's not much.

Eurail train scenery near Vienna

There's something romantic and nurturing about being rocked gently to sleep as you efficiently move through the night to your next destination by train.  When you wake in the morning, your InterCity train is pulling into Vienna train station around 6am.  

This is one of Europe's grand old train stations, and it's a quick connection to your train heading east to the Austrian border. Your new train is exactly that - sleek and spacious with big leather seats that recline, full height panoramic windows to take in the spectacular scenery, power sockets for lap top computers, and even hair dryers in  the toilets which are much bigger than the cramped comparisons on planes.

As you head to the Austrian border, you'll pass through beautiful green fields and picture postcard little villages which continue as you cross into Slovenia.

Beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia

Your Eurail train travel finishes a the wondrous Lake Bled as you pull into Lesce-Bled station at 11.48am.  Just 4 kilometres away is the beautiful lake with aquamarine water similar to Lake Louise in Canada.

Lake Bled has a beautiful little island in the middle featuring a historic chapel,  Make sure you take the traditional local pletna, similar to a gondola, out to the island.

The other landmark here is the historic castle at the top of the cliff, where you can enjoy what's possibly the most beautiful view in the world overlooking the lake below.

The grand castle overlooking Lake Bled in Slovenia

3. Northern Italian lakes to alpine Zermatt

There is no better place in Italy than Lake Como to start your exciting train travel around the Italian Lakes. After you've explored the wonders of Como including Villa d'Este, Bellagio and Menaggio, head north and west by train towards Lake Maggiore. Lake Maggiore also supports wonderful little towns around its banks.

Many pretty towns on the Italian lakes heading to Zermatt

Make sure you stop at Stresa with its pretty cobbled streets and cute ferries to three islands on the lake, including Isola Bella owned by an old Italian family which allows visitors to see its grand buildings and grounds. Isola Bella is listed as one of the thousand places in the world to see in your life.

Take the little blue train through pretty little Italian villages as you cross into Switzerland for more of the same beautiful scenery.  The little train stations are a wonderful reminder of the simple things in life as you watch the locals in action in the traditional way it's always been. The scenic trip on the smaller blue train is only a little longer than the non-stop yellow train.

Eurail train travelling into the northern Italian alps

As you venture onwards by train through this beautiful scenery, you'll find the attractive lake town of Lugano, Switzerland but so close to Italy that it still feels Italian in atmosphere and temperament.  Lugano is even prettier than nearby Locarno because of its location at the bottom of a mountain on the lake.

Next stop is Locarno, a bigger lake town on the Swiss side but with an Italian name, Italian signs and Italian speaking locals. The views across the lake are very pretty and you can take ferries to other lakeside towns.

As you continue on your train travel north, get off at Domodossola at the foot of the Italian alps and near Simplon pass. From here it's a quick trip to the little town of Visp, where you change trains to the narrow guage little train that takes you to the end of the line at the famous Swiss alpine resort of Zermatt.

This is a pretty pedestrian-only alpine village surrounded by stunning mountains including the mighty Matterhorn mountain. Take the Gornergrat cog railway up toward the top of this 3089 metre summit for a spectacular view of some of the world's best scenery.

The end of your great train journey at Zermatt in the Swiss alps

In Zermatt, stay at the new Cervo Hotel, an alpine lodge with a fantastic restaurant serving fresh local produce.  Cervo is the Italian name for deer, and here you'll meet the charismatic owner Daniel F. Lauber, who is as charming as he is talented.

The fresh venison in the restaurant here is literally out of this world, while the fish is also locally sourced and superb. You can also relax by the roaring open fire as local musicians entertain you. Daniel's partner and chef Seraina Muller uses organic produce where possible, and this really adds to making a stay at Zermatt one of the world's best holidays.

The 5 star Cervo Hotel is the best in Zermatt

Cervo Hotel restaurant produce is fantastic, overseen by owner Daniel F. Lauber

From Zermatt, you can take the famous Glacier express from Switzerland's west right across the Swiss alps to the ski resort of St Moritz on the other side of Switzerland in the east.  This is a spectacular European alpine train travel through some of the world's best scenery, with huge panoramic windows that even allow you to look up through glass to see the mountain tops above you.

In the fast pace of Europe in the 21st century, with congested roads and wasted time at airports, the romance of European train travel through some of the world's most beautiful countryside is still the best way to experience Europe.

Top of the mountain on the cog railway with the mighty Matterhorn behind to right

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