The Best Train Journeys for a Long Weekend

we’re not talking about riding a train back and forth
between London Victoria and Croydon. But there’s only so much
Stansted Airport on a Friday that one can take, while an hour taxi
to the city centre on arrival in your destination is neither money
nor time efficient. So why not put the nostalgic romance back into
travel and take a train instead? Channelling timeless elegance,
it’s also a lot kinder on your carbon footprint. Make it about both
the journey and the destination with six of our favourite train
routes from London.

1. London to Fort William on the Caledonian Sleeper

Leaving London every night bar Saturday, ScotRail’s Caledonian
Sleeper snakes its way to the emerald-green Scottish
. Forget the cardboard paninis found on low-cost
flights; here it’s about hearty portions of haggis and tatties in
the dinner carriage. Knock back a wee dram to send you to sleep
before waking up to an Aysir bacon butty. Pass by the craggy
mountains that border Loch Lomond, whizz through the flatlands of
Rannock Moor and roll into Dalwhinnie at sunrise when you’ll catch
deer scampering across Cairngorm National Park. Blurring the lines
between overnight train and boutique hotel, spring 2019 will see
the sleeper trains get a full makeover; double beds will be
introduced and en suites installed.

2. London to Amsterdam on the Eurostar

It takes just over three and a half hours to get from desk to
‘dam on the twice-daily service from London St Pancras. Head to the
“Paris of the North” to swap train tracks for cycle paths and pedal
along the winding waterways in search of kitsch cafés. Those more
into health than hash should head to Europe’s first all-avocado
café, The Avocado Show, for a Boomerang-ready portion of runny
yolks and avo on toast. Check in to the
Pulitzer Hotel
where suites reveal bathtubs big enough to throw
a party in alongside well-curated libraries because it’s all about
balance. Word to the wise, your return journey requires a little
more planning as you have to take a Thalys train to Brussels to go
through passport control before switching to the Eurostar service
to London.

3. London to Antwerp

Belgium’s capital of cool has built on its storied history and
transformed itself into a fashion-forward, bustling metropolis.
Easily reachable from London, take the Eurostar to Brussels before
jumping on a train to Antwerp.
All Eurostar tickets are automatically valid for 24-hours to any
Belgian station. Often billed as the “world’s prettiest railway
station”, pull in to Antwerp-Central Station for a grand arrival
into a decadent main hall complete with domed-glass ceiling.
Archi-addicts will want to stroll the streets of Cogels-Osylei
where mismatched style ranges see art nouveaux meet gabled
townhouses and street art. Beer costs less than water here and
there’s nowhere better to enjoy a cold one than at one of the many
dockside restaurants that litter the recently revived Het

4. London to Rome

Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day and it would take an
eternity to see all of what the “Eternal City” has to offer in just
a weekend – so don’t try. Instead, loosen your waistbands and
embark on a gastronomic journey. Catch the lunchtime Eurostar from
London St Pancras to Paris, then the Palatino sleeper to Rome,
passing through classic Italian landscapes seemingly lifted
straight out of a Renaissance painting. Skirt past the dome of St
Peter’s as you arrive at the Stazione Termini at 10am the next day.
After squeezing in some of the sights, it’s time to sip Aperols and
sink negronis at Piazza delle Copelle. As the Vespa-lined cobbles
begin to clear, seek out the “Le Derrière” – a clandestine
late-night haunt accessed via a hidden cupboard.

5. Venice to London via the Simplon-Orient-Express

The 1883 advert proudly announced “there’s even soap in the
loos”, and this is still the most luxurious train journey in the
world. As a star of the silver screen, the Simplon-Orient-Express
conjures up images of whisky-fuelled debates, late-night romances
and the occasional murder mystery. If you’re starting the 36-hour
journey to Venice
at London Victoria then you’ll board the vanilla-coloured Belmond
Pullman first, before transferring to a VIP bus to make your way
across on the Channel Tunnel (serenaded by a jazz band at
Folkestone). Then, it’s all aboard the main event as cabin
attendants dressed in sapphire-blue, gold-piped finery lead you to
your private cabin quarters. After a sumptuous dinner, slink off to
the Piano Bar for a Guilty 12 – the intoxicating tipple contains 12
secret ingredients inspired by Agatha Christie’s characters. Rise
early to catch the Austria Alps blurring past your window; the
stretch between Brennero and Innsbruck is one of the best.

6. London to Avignon

Summer is the season for
, as festivals fill café-lined squares, rosé glasses
are topped up with wanton abandon and the heady scent of lavender
drifts across the Rhône. But as quickly as the sun soars, so do air
fares and budget they are no more. Opt instead to travel from
London St Pancras to Avignon TGV via the Eurostar, which even in
high season can be a cheaper (and calmer) way to travel. Chug past
pale-pink chateaus, rolling green hills and valleys covered in
vineyards before drawing into Avignon, where you’ll see the iconic
Palais des Papes appear on the horizon. Picnic in the hills of
Provence at the Parc Rocher Des Doms after picking up a box of Les
Papalines d’Avigonon, a chocolate filled with oregano liqueur, for
dessert. For something more substantial, head to the
industrial-chic bistro Le Barrio for superb bouillabaisse washed
down with a dry white.

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