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The Joys of Train Travel Through Europe

From Old World elegance to towering snow-covered peaks, train travel takes you there.

There are probably as many travel styles as there are people in the world. But when it comes right down to it, traveling through Europe by train is a category all its own. And it’s all about the experience. Travel agent Kim Huber shares her tips for choosing a rail vacation that will have you reminiscing for years to come — whether it’s treating yourself to the height of luxury, crafting an independent tour, or simply hopping from city to city.

One of Europe’s top luxury travel experiences is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. For those looking to experience the opulence of the “Golden Age of Train Travel,” it’s the real deal. “They basically took the vintage rail cars from the 1880s and 1890s and brought them back, keeping a lot of the Old World elegance,” Kim notes. “The wood-paneled interiors, beautiful lush tapestries, antique fixtures and sumptuous upholstery transport you to another world.”

The current-day luxury rail line that travels between London and Paris, Verona, Venice and Rome features luxurious accommodations, world-class cuisine and the romantic mystery of days past. Another, even more popular excursion is the original east-west route from Paris to Istanbul, with stops in Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. All of the itineraries include guided private tours, as well as exclusive activities such as a private concert at a castle.

“These are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you can customize in any number of ways,” she explains. “Add extra nights in any destination, experience a trip in reverse or take a round trip. You can combine set itineraries or create your own.”

Kim’s personal favorites are a handful of Switzerland train excursions. “These are more of what I’d call ‘middle ground’ as far as cost. The country’s trains serve as transportation, of course. But they’re also a great option for guided independent tours.”

The five-day, four-night Bernina Express journey begins and ends in Zurich, traveling south through eastern Switzerland to Chur and Tirano, Italy, then west to the gorgeous lakeside town of Lugano and back to Zurich. “Along the way, you’ll be awed by the mountainous backdrop, pristine lakes and panoramic views,” she notes.

The Glacier Express, on the other hand, is a totally different experience. “On the five-day, four-night route from Zurich to Geneva through western Switzerland, the train will cross over 291 bridges, go through 91 tunnels, wind through the Swiss Alps and traverse the countryside. You’ll also stay in St Moritz and Zermatt — home of the Matterhorn — along the way,” Kim explains, noting that these excursions include hotel accommodations, meals and some guided activities.

“One of the more fascinating trips is the Express through Switzerland’s Centovalli, which means ‘a hundred valleys.’ It takes you through the Swiss Alps as well as northern Italy. It’s visually stunning, and there are tons of twists and turns and tunnels. This one’s on my personal bucket list,” she shares. “Besides being appealing for its views and infrastructure, it’s even more interesting from an engineering standpoint. The route includes 83 bridges and 34 tunnels!”

For travelers who are planning a trip to Europe and just want to go from city to city, Kim highly recommends using a travel agent. “Typically, when we’re helping clients plan travel for Europe, we decide where they want to go and where they want to stay. And we look at the train as their transportation,” she explains. “Nobody has to deal with rental cars or driving, or worry about taxis. And they have an amazing system there.” She also notes that trains are an easy, economical way of getting around. “I went to Germany in the summer and it was €9 for as many train rides as I wanted to take.”

Of course, when you’re traveling by train you have to plan accordingly. “I always guide people not to overpack. A carry-on bag and a backpack are ideal. There’s just not enough space for a suitcase,” she cautions. “I’ve experienced traveling with someone who insisted on bringing a large suitcase and took up one of the train seats with it. We got a lot of dirty looks. Plus, there’s always the possibility that a conductor will ask you to pay for the extra seat.”

LEARN MORE: Travel is Kim Huber’s passion and her expertise. Her personal experiences, travel knowledge and preferred access to special offers have helped hundreds of clients create stress-free vacation plans at no extra cost to them. Thinking about travel again? “Let’s talk,” Kim offers with enthusiasm. “What story do you want to tell? We’re here to make those travel dreams a reality.”

Instagram: #adventuresandcruises

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There are also shorter and less expensive options for booking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. If someone just wants to test out the experience, these options can be a little more pocket friendly.

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Apps are a must for train and bus travel. Rail Europe’sis an easy way to check timetables and maps, find out what platform or location to go to, when it’s arriving, if it’s late.