The World’s Most Scenic Autumn Rail Journeys
Autumn is well and truly here – the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (John Keats).
Who doesn’t love the autumnal landscapes as the trees start to shed their leaves, the days get shorter and we long for comforting warmth to envelope us.
Why not soak up these amazing landscapes from the comfort of a train. A train window is a great way to soak up the glorious colours of passing natural landscapes.
Here are some of our favourite journeys.
Travel from Locarno to Domodossala along the valley of the River Melezza watching forests of larch and chestnut turn an amazing palette of yellow, gold and brown with the autumn chill. The valley has such steep slopes that there is no major road to detract from its beauty, so this narrow-gauge two hour railway journey between the Swiss canton of Ticino and Italy is the best way to enjoy it. The name comes from the hundred side valleys that the train has to leap over by often spectacular bridges and viaducts, and the railway serves a series of stone villages huddled round Italianate church towers. From Intragna, a cablecar ascends to Costa for a delightful walk though walnut woods to Cremaso, and another stretches from Verdasio station to the unspoilt hill village of Rasa, which cannot be reached by car.
The Moselle Valley
From Koblenz to trier, less well known than the famous lines that go through the Rhine valley between Cologne and Frankfurt is the two hour railway that turns southwest from Koblenz along the north bank of the Moselle Valley to Germany’s oldest city, Trier. Leaving Koblenz, the Eltz Forest nature reserve surrounds Eltz Castle, one of Germany’s most dramatically sited fortifications. Neat ranks of vines climb above the railway and add to the colours of the trees. The villages stretch along the river with steep slopes of vineyards behind them.
Sagano Romantic Train
This shorter 25 minute journey from Japan’s Kyoto station to Saga-Arashiyama station is just as popular in autumn as it is in spring. The colours of the Japanese maples are intense in their richness. The open-sided or windowed carriages crawl along during the most scenic parts of the journey, some sections of line burrowing through an avenue of trees. The line crosses the Hozukyo ravine in the river valley, offering a view over an unbroken mass of autumn colour smothering the valley sides. The best time is mid-November to early December. The journey can be done both ways or by taking the train back to Kyoto from Umahori station, about five minutes’ walk from Kameoka Torokko station.
The 10 hour return trip on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train into the roadless wilds of northern Ontario is all about autumn colours. Operating from early August to mid-October, the train heads north for 114 miles beside lakes and rivers to reach the spectacular canyon carved by the Agawa River. It threads the mixed forest of the Canadian Shield and passes impressive granite rock formations. At the journey’s end, there is a 300-step climb to a viewing platform over the gorge.
This six and a half hour journey from Oslo to Trondheim highlights that although Norway doesn’t have the widest variety of trees, it makes up for them in vast numbers. The Dovre Railway is named after the range of mountains it crosses at 1,006m to reach the Dovrefjell mountain plateau, home to a population of 300 wild musk ox. Birch, spruce and fir populate the forests flanking much of the railway to Norway’s former capital at Trondheim with farm buildings dotted in among them. The railway skirts Norway’s largest lake, Mjøsa to reach the winter sports centres of Lillehammer and Vinstra in the Gudbrandsdalen Valley. A steep, winding descent of a gorge lined with waterfalls that will soon freeze leads to the Trondheim lowlands.
Mount Washington Cog Railway
This three and a half hour return journey from Marshfield Base Station to Mount Washington is rightly famed for its autumn colours between mid-September and late October, and the world’s first rack railway is a great way to see them. Opened in 1868, the railway scales the highest peak in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, climbing above the tree line to highlight a 360-degree panorama and dramatic sunsets. Tree species and colours change as the train ascends, beech, birch and sugar maple giving way to red spruce and fir before reaching the sub-alpine zone of dwarf trees.
The Loire Valley
From Orléans to Nantes and beyond to Le Croisic, the Interloire line is seldom far from the river and its 15 châteaux. There is even an app to keep you company with information on what you’re looking at out the window (le Val de Loire vu du train). Local stopping trains allow the free carriage of bikes for those planning a linear journey between châteaux, many offering paths through their wooded estates for walking or cycling, such as the 15km of cycle paths around Chambord.
Travelling from Seoul to Busan, this journey shows how few countries can rival South Korea for the brilliance of autumn foliage in October and November. The country’s longest railway journey links Seoul and its second largest city, Busan on the south coast, and a good way to cross the country, perhaps breaking the journey at Darjeon to visit the Jangtaesan Recreational Forest for its gingko and metasequoia trees and jaw dropping suspension footbridge across a gorge. Unless you’re in a hurry, skip the KTX high-speed route and take a slower train over the older Gyeongbu Line to enjoy some of the country’s best views and autumn colours along Korea’s busiest corridor. This journey can take between two and a quarter hours on the high speed route or a more leisurely five and a half hours on the slower train.