By Will Hawkes,
Glacier Express AG
The Glacier Express between Moritz and Zermatt in Switzerland is billed as the “slowest express train in the world.”
The day before our vacation in France, I asked my three children what they were most looking forward to. Was it the swimming, the sunshine, the beach or — and I would have put my house on this — eating ice cream every day? “The sleeper train,” said the oldest. His brother quickly concurred. And the 3-year-old? Also the train.
In this, they’re model Europeans. According to European Union statistics, rail use grew for the sixth consecutive year in 2018, the most recent year for which figures are available. The Eurostar, which links London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, recorded a 7 percent year-on-year rise in passenger numbers in 2018. Trains are popular in Europe, and increasingly so.
Growing public awareness of air travel’s environmental cost is clearly a factor, but more important is the extent of Europe’s rail network. The continent is a complex tangle of train tracks. Among the very best services, in my view, are those that are genuinely slow. Trundling across Europe at a snail’s pace offers many simple pleasures: the landscape gradually opening up in front of you, a warm summer breeze blowing through an open window, and clocking each sleepy provincial station as they come and go.
[Los Angeles to Seattle by rail aboard the Coast Starlight]
I haven’t been on all of Europe’s rail lines, but I’ve experienced enough to know what a pleasure it can be. Here are 10 of my favorite slow-train journeys through Europe.
Bilbao to San Sebastian, Spain