Europe by Rail reflects the authority and insight that Thomas Cook brought to his own explorations of Europe by train. When Thomas Cook escorted his first tours through continental Europe, train travel was slow and uncertain. Today, the railway has become the most consistently reliable means of transport across large parts of Europe. The railway is not just a way for Europeans to commute to work or travel on business. Every day, millions of Europeans use trains for fun, exploring their home regions or embarking on long journeys across European borders.
If the mid 19th century was the heyday of railway development, the early 21st century is a new golden age for leisure travel by train. Rail travel is modestly priced, often very comfortable and appeals to the pieties of a new generation of travellers concerned about environmental issues. It was surely not chance that the very first public Eurostar train to leave London’s magnificently refurbished St Pancras International station in November 2007 was powered by two engines with the names Tread Lightly and Voyage Vert. The train comes with impeccable green credentials.
Over the past few years, we have criss-crossed Europe by train, from fast journeys on sleek expresses (such as TGV and ICE services in France and Germany respectively) to memorably slow meanderings on remote branch lines. We have written about slow trains through Bosnia, slow trains through Bohemia and even about the humdrum suburban trains that shuttle through our home city of Berlin.
We have swapped stories with strangers on trains in Russia, we have been on trains marooned in deep midwinter snow in Scandinavia and we have slept soundly on trains that crept by dead of night around the back of factories in unnamed towns.
The train is fun — even when things do not always go utterly to plan. But planning is important on any journey and in this book we present 50 rail routes that between them cover the full gamut of European rail travel. There are routes where trains speed across great plains, routes where slow trains dawdle from one small town to another and there are routes where trains traverse harsh tundra and great mountain ranges. In addition to our 50 routes, we present 17 short sidetracks — bite-size teasers that invite you to venture into lesser-known regions beyond our 50 routes. You can read more in the book spec.
Travel by train across Europe and you will inevitably be struck by the sheer variety of our continent. The 50 routes described in detail in Europe by Rail reflect that mix. We include some highspeed hops, where you can cover a lot of ground fast. And wherever we can, we highlight slow trains that follow less-frequented rail routes. It is on such journeys that the texture and detail of European life is most easily appreciated, whether it be in the changing landscapes outside the carriage window, the architecture of villages you pass through along the way or in the faces and the accents of folk with whom you find yourself sharing a railway carriage. The opening of new rail routes has slashed journey times. Today’s traveller can take a breakfast-time departure from London with Eurostar and by late afternoon be standing on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Yet savvy travellers realise that the journey is something to be savoured in its own right. Exploring Europe by rail is a great way to put slow-travel principles into practice. The pleasure of the journey need not be eclipsed by the anticipation of arrival. A lot has to do with choosing slower trains on at least some parts of your journey. Find out more about the concept of Slow Travel at www.slowtraveleurope.eu.
The routes described in Europe by Rail will take you far beyond the Arctic Circle and on mountain railways across the Pyrenees and the Alps (like the route in Switzerland pictured on the front cover of this book). We shall lead you to great cities in eastern Europe and through Balkan byways to the shores of the Bosphorus.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, Europe by Rail)