There might be a more exciting way to explore Europe than by train, but I’m screwed if I know what it could be. On a train you weave your way through a mosaic of landscapes, through rivers large and small, nameless towns and magnificent towns, cathedrals and castles, hills and afar in the company of travelers sharing the same ideas.
January is therefore a great time to plan your next rail adventure in Europe.
Now, as I write on Tuesday afternoon, even trying to cross the Channel risks hitting the buffers. The most obvious international rail destination for UK travelers, France, is closed to arrivals from the UK.
But changes are underway to remove this futile and absurd travel ban for fully vaccinated visitors. With rules relaxed across the continent, I asked experts what excites them most about train travel in Europe in 2022.
No doubt about the first choice: the new Trenitalia Frecciarossa service from Paris to Turin and Milan, which started a month ago. This high speed train (Frecciarossa means “red arrow”) of the Italian railways competes directly with the existing TGV service of the SNCF.
He was nominated by Susanne Kries and Nicky Gardner, editors of Hidden europe magazine as well as Mark Smith, the international rail guru known as The Man in Seat 61.
Experience in Italy shows that when express trains compete, the passenger is the winner. Mark recommends: “Executive class super seats with free food and prosecco as you cross the Alps into Italy. “
Susanne and Nicky say that it is “particularly nice to see the Frecciarossa train stopping at Lyon Part Dieu, now in direct competition with SNCF TGVs on France’s busiest business route from Lyon to Paris ”.
Sleeper services are the order of the day: a new Nightjet train from Paris to Salzburg and Vienna, as well as the European Sleeper / Regiojet night train project which is due to start this summer from Brussels and Amsterdam to Berlin, Dresden and Prague. . Mark points out that they are “ideal for travel from the UK with Eurostar to Paris or Brussels”.
These brand names may seem unfamiliar. Nightjet is the Austrian railway company that set out to reverse the decline of sleeper trains, while Regiojet is a Czech company and European Sleeper a Dutch start-up.
I am sensing welcome resonances from the early days of the “no-frills” revolution in European aviation, where competition reduced prices and greatly expanded opportunities.
In the offices of the European railway timetables, Reuben Turner takes up the theme, citing Railcoop, a French “free access” operator which plans to link Bordeaux to Lyon from December, and Iryo from Spain. Like our own Lumo service from London to Edinburgh, Iryo is a silly four letter brand offering more competition between two big cities: in this case Barcelona and Madrid using Italian high speed stock.
The SNCF does not weaken to innovate and will launch soon Ouigo Classic Speed. And what is it? A range of traditional 20th century French rolling stock on the Paris-Lyon links on the old track via Dijon, as well as from the French capital to Nantes on the Atlantic coast via Tours or Le Mans.
The idea is to swap high speed for a cheaper ticket – a maximum of € 30 (£ 25) even for a last minute booking – and stay on track rather than being tempted by the new wave of ‘bus operators, including FlixBus.
Reuben’s programming colleague John Potter points out that the Spaniards continue to expand what is now Europe’s most extensive high-speed network, with the section in Extremadura – southwest of Madrid – set to open between Plasencia and Merida later this year.
The prize for the most niche plan for 2022 goes to Susanne and Nicky: visiting the central Austrian town of Bruck an der Mur “to see if anyone out there really realizes that for a town of modest size (around 15 000), theirs is the best. small town served by rail in Europe? “.
And from there it’s only a short hop for a new direct night train from Vienna to Cluj-Napoca in Romania. “Perfect for Bram Stoker Dracula fans ”, say the Hidden europe pair.