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Travelling by plane from A to B might offer some convenience to the time-strapped traveller, but the days of non-stop flying seem best resigned to the past. Travelling by train provides a welcome – and planet-friendly – antidote, allowing you to see the world that lies between take-off and landing and proving that sometimes the journey is better than the destination. Here, we choose five of the world’s most magnificent routes to explore first – from a winding trip into the Himalayas to a coast-side cruise along the French Riviera
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway might be short in distance – at just 88 kilometres, it is less than some commuter trains – but travellers will be hard-pressed to find another journey by rail quite like it (part of the reason why, in 1999, it was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site). Known as the ‘toy train’ for its diminutive size, the railway runs from New Jalpaiguri at sea level to the city of Darjeeling, its twisting course offering expansive Himalayan vistas en route. Wes Anderson fans might notice some similarities to his fictional long-distance train, The Darjeeling Express, star of the 2007 film of the same name – not least the colourful blue carriages and intricately decorated interiors.
This vast railway travels over 1,726 kilometres along the length of Vietnam, beginning in Hanoi in the country’s north and ending in Ho Chi Minh City in the south, lending dramatic vistas of the country’s changing landscape en route – from teeming cityscapes to paddy fields with grazing buffalo, thick jungle and golden beaches. The entire journey will take you 30 hours – choose the VIP Cabins which have two private beds for the most comfortable journey, though luxury trappings should not be expected – or divide your journey by disembarking at the numerous stop-off points, from the historic city of Hue to the pristine beaches of Da Nang.
A travel price of under ten euros might not immediately suggest a glamorous mode of travel, but this brief train journey – which runs from Nice in the south of France to the Italian border town of Ventimiglia every half hour or so – amply makes up for first-class comforts with an hour of uninterrupted Riviera views, passing through the glittering locales of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Monte Carlo (on the way to Italy, sit on the right-hand side of the train to look out at the coastline). For those who wish to travel further, simply change trains at Ventimiglia to head to Sanremo and beyond.
The evocatively named Tren a las Nubes – which translates in English to Train to the Clouds – departs once a week from the populous city of Salta, in northwestern Argentina, taking tourists on a round trip through the splendour of the Argentinian Andes. As the name suggests, the route is particularly vertiginous – it ascends 13,842 feet, crossing 29 bridges and viaducts in the process – seeing it deemed one of the most terrifying rail journeys in the world. Those with a head for heights will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the region’s colourful, Mars-like rock formations – and the feeling that you are floating through air.
The rickety mining trains which once ran through the Rocky Mountains have provided endless inspiration for theme park rides the world over – but the Rocky Mountaineer, which runs on three lines through the Canadian Rockies, offers an altogether more sedate (and luxurious) mode of travel. Whether travelling from Vancouver to Jasper, where you will discover the range’s highest snow-dusted peaks, or through the rugged Fraser Canyon, land of the Cariboo gold rush, this is train travel at its most impressive. Gold-class tickets offer the traveller glass-domed carriages and outdoor viewing platforms – though any seat will see you immersed in the region’s dramatic landscapes.