Southern Africa: Pride of Africa
At fifteen days this is one of the world’s longest and most spectacular train journeys. Starting in Cape Town on the southern tip of the continent, the train travels north, taking guests to the historic village of Matjiesfontein, the diamond town of Kimberley and on to South Africa’s capital Pretoria. This is followed by two nights in the Madikwe Game Reserve.
The journey continues through Botswana and on into Zimbabwe where guests overnight at the stunning Victoria Falls Hotel. After crossing the mighty Zambezi River, the train climbs to the Tanzanian border. It then descends into the Great Rift Valley negotiating the tunnels, switchbacks and viaducts of the spectacular escarpment. Climbing again, it traverses the Selous Game Reserve, the largest on the continent, before reaching its destination, Dar es Salaam.
The journey can also be taken the reverse direction. The fare includes all meals, drinks on the train, hotels and excursions.
Wales: Welsh Highland Railway
The Welsh Highland Railway is the UK’s longest heritage railway. The 25-mile journey provides visitors with captivating views as it chugs along from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. It’s comfortable too, with options that include first class Pullman seating and freshly-cooked food delivered to your seat.
Starting in historic walled town Caernarfon with its famous castle, the line climbs to Dinas then inland to the pretty village of Waunfawr. It continues through the upper Gwyrfai valley with glorious views, crossing the foothills of Snowdon. Approaching the village of Rhyd Ddu, look back and admire the route the train has taken. Surrounding mountains are reflected in the clear waters of the lake far below. Take a return trip or make a day of it by breaking your journey as often as you like. If you want to admire more Welsh scenery, the station at Porthmadog allows you to transfer to the 200-year-old Ffestiniog Railway www.festrail.co.uk
Canada: Rocky Mountaineer
For over 25 years the Rocky Mountaineer has been transporting passengers through the Canadian Rockies, its glass domed carriages giving travellers every opportunity to enjoy some of Canada’s finest scenery. The towering mountains, glassy lakes and cascading rivers make a fabulous backdrop, providing passengers with great memories and enviable pictures. The original journey between Banff in Alberta and Vancouver in British Columbia lasts two days with an overnight hotel stay in Kamloops, so you travel only during the day. However, some add-on routes are available so you can explore more of this beautiful area. Destinations include Quesnel, Whistler, the much-photographed Lake Louise, and Seattle, just over the US border. You can even add a seven night cruise to Alaska with Holland America but don’t forget that Alaska is also in the USA so you’ll need relevant travel documents.
France: Little Yellow Train
Dating back to 1909, The Little Yellow Train of the Pyrenees takes in some of the country’s most dramatic scenery. It starts at the walled city of Villefranche de Conflent, a UNESCO Heritage site, some thirty miles from Perpignan. From 1400ft above sea level, the line climbs to an impressive 5200ft at Bolquère Eyne before descending to Bourg Madame. The station here is close to the Spanish border, an easy walk to the old Spanish town of Puigcerda. The train reaches its terminus at Latour de Carol where it connects to the French line from Toulouse and the Spanish line from Barcelona. The twenty-two stations along the forty mile track include fourteen request stops. The route is jam-packed with things to see and trains have several open carriages from which to enjoy impressive gorges, forested mountains and rolling lush pastures. Don’t forget a hat and sun cream in summer!
Australia: The Ghan
Covering 1,850 miles, three day train crosses the country on a North/South journey between Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north , via Alice Springs and the red centre of Australia. The journey includes off-train excursions at Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy, famous for its Opals. Much of Coober Pedy is built underground because of the extreme daytime heat, making it a truly memorable stop. www.greatsouthernrail.com.au
Australia: The Indian Pacific
Cross this huge country on the East/West route between Sydney in the east and Perth in the west on the other major train journey in Australia. The four day trip via Adelaide covers over 2,700 miles and you will experience all that Australia has to offer, from the Blue Mountains to vast plains and gold mines, big cities to ghost towns. www.greatsouthernrail.com.au
Norway: Flam Railway
The tiny village of Flam in Norway, sandwiched between the Fjord and the mountains and with a population of just 400, attracts 400,000 visitors a year to experience its railway. The line connects Flam to the mountain-top Myrdal station, some eight miles away and 2,850ft above sea level, where passengers can connect to the main Bergen to Oslo line. It is the world’s steepest railway using normal traction. The journey offers some spectacular views and there is a short stop to admire one of Norway’s many waterfalls.
Passengers are placed in carriages based upon their language and screens display videos about the railway and its route. You can take a return trip on the train, but a popular and scenic option is to take the train up and then cycle 12 miles back along the old service road that was used in the railway’s construction; there’s hardly any pedalling to do!
China/Tibet: Qinghai-Tibet railway
Also known as the Lhasa Express, this is the world’s highest train trip. The 21 hour journey links Xining in the province of Qinghai, China, already 7,500ft above sea level, to Lhasa in Tibet, at around 12,000ft. On the way it negotiates the Tang Gu La Pass at over 16,500ft. Tang Gu La station is the world’s highest. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that there is oxygen available for all passengers. On part of the journey hot food is not available as it is too high to cook, but cold food and drink trolleys make regular rounds. A couple of days spent in Xining acclimatising to the altitude can help to combat possible altitude sickness.
The train leaves Xining at 14.56 and arrives in Lhasa at 11.39 the following day. The return journey leaves Lhasa at 09.45 and arrives in Xining at 07.15 the next day, allowing you to see more of Tibet in daylight.
This is a train for the locals, not a luxury tourist train, but the scenery is great and the experience unforgettable. The three levels of accommodation include hard seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. Don’t even think about the first two!