Airport chaos driving you mad? Don’t go off the rails – take the scenic route instead and discover nine beautiful rail travel adventures awaiting you instead
If you’ve been within even five miles of an airport recently, you’re probably well acquainted with the ongoing travel disruption. Lost luggage, cancelled flights and ruined holidays – airports have become a hub of chaos as of late. However, not all is lost. Take the leisurely route instead and opt for a UK or European destination via the magic of trains instead.
Flight-free travel not only often provides a more efficient and reliable means of transportation, but certain routes also offer a much more scenic, eco-conscious and comfortable alternative. And yes, plenty more leg room too. We take a look at nine rail travel adventures worth booking for an end of summer trip that’ll keep you on the right track.
1 Enjoy a Great Garden Escape at The Newt in Somerset
A day trip with some serious decadence. Journey back to nature on The Great Garden Escape, a First Class adventure to The Newt in Somerset. Departing from London Paddington in a Great Western Railway First Class carriage, the day begins with a scenic journey to the old market town of Castle Cary, complete with a freshly prepared estate breakfast picnic created by The Newt’s Estate Head Chef, Alan Stewart.
Hosted from start to finish by The Newt’s ardent team of gardeners, chefs, and cyder makers, the unique day trip is ideal for garden and nature enthusiasts alike. The latest incarnation of The Newt’s gardens has been created by Italo-French architect, Patrice Taravella, who believes a garden should be both beautiful and useful. Mixing ornamental and productive elements, the gardens are a feast for the eyes and the stomach.
In the glass-walled Garden Café, day trippers can savour a nourishing three-course vegetable-led lunch, delighting in the knowledge that ingredients have been plucked from the gardens beneath their feet. The centuries-old tradition of cyder-making is also celebrated during a tour of the Cyder Cellar in the afternoon, followed by a lip-smacking tasting at the on-site press. Hiccups in tow, head back to Paddington in time for supper, the return journey includes a delicious afternoon tea picnic, fresh from the bakery at The Newt.
Getting there: First Class Great Western Railway return train from London Paddington to Castle Cary in Somerset
How: The Newt in Somerset’s Great Garden Escape is priced at £335 per adult and £260 per child, running on Fridays and Saturdays until 24 September 2022. Book via thenewtinsomerset.com
2 Don your finest kilt for a Scottish getaway with Gleneagles
Bonny Scotland is calling. In less than five hours from London, domestic travellers can arrive at Edinburgh Waverley for quick check-in at the brand-new Gleneagles Townhouse, the first venture from Gleneagles in its almost 100-year history. Having officially opened its doors in June 2022, the 33-bedroom hotel, members’ club, and all-day restaurant is based at 39 St Andrew Square and was originally home to the British Linen Company, before later becoming the Bank of Scotland.
At its heart lies The Spence – an airy, social space which offers modern style brasserie-dining, with a central bar sitting underneath an extraordinary glass-domed ceiling. Down in the bank’s former vault, guests and members will have access to a dedicated training, treatments, and spa therapies space, where innovative technologies such as a cryotherapy chamber and infrared sauna can be found.
Those wishing to extend their Scottish adventure can leave the city behind by embarking on a 1.5-hour train journey to the rolling Ochil Hills at Gleneagles. Nature enthusiasts can explore miles of Perthshire countryside, accompanied by Henry, the property’s resident Labrador. Walking is far from the only country pursuit on offer at Gleneagles; daredevils can head to the 100m Zip Wire experience across the Trail Yard, or perhaps try gundog handling or horse-riding lessons.
Getting there: Direct 4.5-hour LNER Train from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley, followed by a 1.5-hour ScotRail train to Gleneagles
How: Rates at Gleneagles Townhouse start from £495 per night, room only; rates at Gleneagles start from £575, B&B. gleneagles.com/townhouse / gleneagles.com
3 Enjoy an enchanting cultural escape with University Arms in Cambridge
One for the literary lovers. If it’s culture you adore, it’s time to trek to landmark hotel, University Arms in Cambridge. Easily accessible via a short 55-minute train journey from London, the property is situated in the historic heart of Cambridge, overlooking Parker’s Piece. Following an extensive two-year £80m transformation, University Arms reopened in 2018 with the literary and academic spirit of Cambridge at its beating heart.
The hotel is home to 192 beautiful and ‘playfully’ designed rooms and suites, with impressive period features throughout. Bookworms will delight at the hotel’s spacious suites, all of which are named after famed Cambridge alumni and come with a bespoke library curated by London’s leading bookshop, Heywood Hill. For a moment of calm and reflection, guests can either head to the hotel’s library complete with a wood-burning fire, or to its serene treatment rooms in partnership with one of Britain’s finest wellbeing brands, Aromatherapy Associates.
Beyond the hotel, visitors can discover all that the much-loved city has to offer thanks to a wonderful array of complimentary outdoor activities, including private walking tours, cycling adventures, or a special punting experience down the River Cam. A trip to Cambridge would not be complete without stopping by University Arms’ destination dining restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, helmed by local Chef, Tristan Welch. The restaurant is inspired by the communal dining halls synonymous with Cambridge Colleges and is an English tavern serving the finest locally sourced, seasonal food. With something for everyone, cultural city getaways don’t get much better.
Getting there: Direct 55-minute train from London Kings Cross to Cambridge
How: Rates at University Arms start from £209 per night, B&B; suites start from £419 per night. universityarms.com
4 Head to the City of Lights for a stay at Le Bristol Paris
Paris (and its wine) is always a good idea – and there is nowhere more glamorous to stay than Le Bristol Paris, part of the prestigious Oetker Collection. As well as being utterly beautiful, this was the first hotel in France to be awarded ‘Palace’ status when the classification was invented. In just over two hours, travellers can be transported from the centre of London to the centre of Paris, where romantic rendezvous await.
Whether it be for a leisurely stroll along the River Seine, relaxing in the Jardin de Luxembourg, or simply watching the world go by from outside bustling cafés, Le Bristol Paris offers the perfect base for those looking to explore the city of lights.
Located on the iconic Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré (amidst Hermès, Givenchy, and Saint Laurent’s flagship boutiques), Le Bristol exudes Parisian joie de vivre. Created in grand Parisian style, guests immediately feel at home, taking the magnificent wrought-iron elevator and crossing the plush corridors to discover spacious and chic rooms and suites, all of which were recently renovated.
Also freshly transformed by world-renowned landscape designer, Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd, Le Bristol’s adored Jardin Français is a renewed green sanctuary for guests to explore, over morning coffee, afternoon tea, or an evening tipple. Visitors may also be lucky enough to meet sweet little Socrate, the son of highly treasured Birman cat named Fa-raon, who retired from his role as the hotel’s permanent feline resident and iconic mascot last year.
Getting there: Direct 2-hour 20-minute Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord
How: Rates at Le Bristol Paris start from €1,220 (currently pprox.. £1,028) per night, room only. oetkercollection.com
6 Glug a taste of the good life with Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa
Champagne, darling? Just a mere 40-minute TGV train journey from Paris Gare de L’Est, Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa offers a beautiful alternative to the over-crowded tourist traps in the Mediterranean. Embracing the lush bounty of the wineries and the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the Champagne region’s first contemporary luxury hotel, located in the middle of the vineyards that stripe the hills of Épernay and the historic city of Reims.
Guests visiting this summer can delight in a range of bespoke packages, including a brand-new Champagne Chauffeur experience and a celebratory partnership with Philipponnat Champagne. The hotel’s ‘Champagne Chauffeur’ service includes a personalised itinerary, created by the hotel’s Concierge team prior to arrival, with a dedicated driver on hand to transport guests through the scenic region to sample the very best Champagnes.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of renowned Philipponnat Champagne, enthusiasts have exclusive access to the Philipponnat domaine for the first time ever this year. Visitors can enjoy a stroll in Clos des Goisses, a magical walled vineyard with perfect sun exposure and spectacular slopes, and the first in the region to have become a single plot cuvée.
Guests will be greeted at the hotel with a bottle of limited edition Philipponnat Champagne, a special book celebrating the House’s 500th anniversary, and a mouth-watering dinner at Michelin-starred Le Royal, accompanied by the 1522 L.V. “Long Vieillissement” cuvée from Philipponnat Champagne.
Getting there: Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, followed by a 40-minute TGV train from Paris Gare de L’Est to Champagne-Ardenne TGV
How: Rates at Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa start from €635 (currently approx. £538) per night, B&B. royalchampagne.com
7 Meander through the picturesque French countryside to Domaine des Etangs
Fairytale adventures do exist. Travel across the Channel Tunnel and meander through the picturesque French countryside onboard a scenic train journey to Angoulême to reach exquisite fairy-tale castle, Domaine des Etangs. Set over 1,000 hectares of protected nature-filled countryside comprising forest, grassland, and lakes, Domaine des Etangs is a converted private home that has been transformed into a unique hotel.
At the heart of the property lies a fully renovated 13th century château designed by Isabelle Stanislas – designer to French president, Emmanuel Macron – where numerous pieces of contemporary art from Matisse and Picasso to Richard Long and Irina Rasquinet can be found. On the property grounds are a further six farmhouse cottages ranging from one to five bedrooms, perfect for those looking for a truly secluded escape where the only other being they might see is a local Limousin cow.
The cottages are so generously spaced apart that they come with their own electric car, enabling visitors to explore the estate to their hearts’ content. The hotel is also home to a spa in a working water mill, longère, on-site art gallery, a vegetable garden, Gallo-Roman baths, two swimming pools, a floating tennis court, and gastronomic restaurant, that uses fresh, organic produce grown on-site. During their stay, guests will reconnect with nature and can take boats out on the lake, go horse riding around the estate, discover the flora and fauna with the on-site forest rangers, forage with the gardener, and learn about the local birds.
Getting there: 2-hour 20-minute Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, followed by a 2-hour 21-minute TGV train from Paris Montparnasse to Angoulême
How: Rates at Domaine des Etangs start from €400 (currently approx. £333) per night, B&B. domainedesetangs.com
8 Bite into Bordeaux brilliance with Château Troplong Mondot
One for the wine aficionados. With the new high-speed train from Paris, oenophiles can now leave London and be whisked to Bordeaux in under seven hours. From the moment passengers step on the Eurostar, a picturesque holiday begins, travelling from the English countryside and across to France, where the route speeds past some of the country’s most breath-taking scenery. Arriving in the elegant city of Bordeaux, guests take a final 30-minute train to Saint-Émilion, where Château Troplong Mondot, the renowned Premier Grand Cru Classé wine estate, is located.
Situated on top of a picturesque hilltop, Troplong Mondot is the highest estate in the area, and offers some of the best views onto the neighbouring UNESCO World Heritage village of Saint-Émilion. The estate recently affirmed its position as a leader in luxury wine tourism in the region, after becoming the first French Silver Member of the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) organisation.
As well as the state-of-the-art winery, there is also a destination restaurant, Les Belles Perdrix, which has just been awarded a Michelin star, as well as a Green Star for its sustainable practices. Wine enthusiasts can stay at The Keys of Troplong Mondot, a 19th century white-stoned boutique hotel on the Mondot hilltop, housing two individually decorated bedrooms and one suite, each narrating the estate’s history in its own way; however, the estate’s 18th century Château is also available for exclusive use for up to 10 guests. By day, visitors can take a dip in the private swimming pool, hit the running trails that wind through the vines, or explore the local area on the estate’s electric bikes.
Getting there: 2-hour 20-minute Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, followed by a 2-hour TGV train from Paris Montparnasse to Bordeaux St-Jean, and a final 30-minute SNCF train to Saint-Émilion
How: Rates at Château Troplong Mondot start from €250 (currently approx. £210) per night, B&B. troplong-mondot.com/en
9 Lap up luxury on the shores of Lake Geneva
When it comes to breathtaking scenery, Switzerland is almost unrivalled. Positioned perfectly on the shores of Lake Geneva to offer awe-inspiring views of majestic Mont Blanc, is The Woodward, part of the prestigious Oetker Collection, that opened in late 2021. The post-Haussmann-style hotel dating back to 1901 was meticulously transformed by world-renowned architect, Pierre-Yves Rochon and is the first suite-only hotel in the city.
As Lake Geneva, the largest body of freshwater in both Switzerland and France, is right on The Woodward’s doorstep, visitors can enjoy countless water-based activities including a brand-new bespoke private boat experience. One can soak in beautiful sunsets surrounded by the famed Alps and the impressive Mont Blanc, admire the Jet d’Eau fountain, or, venture further to reach Cologny, famed for its prestigious private villas.
Further ashore, visitors can appreciate the glamour of a typical medieval village and experience the pristine waters of Yvoire, all in the luxurious surrounds of their private boat charter. After immersing oneself in the astonishing natural scenery close to shore, passengers can cruise out for a range of thrilling watersports including paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing, and water skiing.
The Woodward will offer the finest cuisine on-board, including canapés served with Champagne, wine, cocktails, beer, and soft drinks to accompany a sensational sunset, while light snacks are available throughout the voyage. After an activity-fuelled day, it’s back to retreat to the epitome of timeless elegance with a night’s stay in a Lake View Suite at The Woodward, to finish a truly unforgettable experience in style.
Getting there: 2-hour 20-minute Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, followed by a 3-hour 11-minute TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Geneva
How: The Woodward’s ‘Lake & The City’ package is priced at CHF 5,962 (currently approx. £5,097) and includes accommodation in a Lake View Suite; four hours on a private boat charter including canapés, light snacks, Champagne, wine, beer, cocktails and soft drinks on-board; and a 4pm late check-out. oetkercollection.com/hotels/the-woodward/offers/lake-the-city