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Five Best: Scenic train journeys

Sit back, relax and watch the sights steam by on the world's greatest rail trips

Michael Williams
Saturday 05 June 2004 00:00

Sit back, relax and watch the sights steam by on the world's greatest rail trips

The Deerstalker Express, London Euston to the West Highlands

The Deerstalker Express, London Euston to the West Highlands

In the unglamorous world of Britain's privatised railways, there is one train that still recaptures the thrill of travel to romantic and lonely places. The 21.05pm sleeper to Fort William will transport you within hours to some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe. You go to bed within earshot of the hubbub of the Euston Road and wake up with a vista of mountains, heather and even the occasional stag. From this week, you can change at Fort William and take "The Jacobite" to Mallaig. Hauled by a vintage steam locomotive, the train thunders past lochs and glens and over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct.

A return sleeper from Euston to Fort William costs £161, though early bookers can find berths for as little as £19 each way. The Jacobite costs £25 return from West Coast Railway Company (0870 124 5511;

The Eastern & Oriental Express, Bangkok to Singapore

Don your Panama and pretend you are Somerset Maugham or Graham Greene for this three-day journey through South-east Asia, with every conceivable luxury to hand. From a private air-conditioned compartment you can watch the tropical landscapes of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore unfold - ancient temples, rubber plantations, rice paddies and sleepy villages. A highlight of the journey is the crossing of the bridge over the river Kwai on the infamous Burma Railway. The 22 carriages, which include two restaurant cars, an observation car, and six Pullman cars, are essentially a luxury hotel on wheels. After dinner, step out on to the balcony in the last carriage, savour the scents of the tropical air and watch the fireflies as the night enfolds the jungle.

Bangkok to Singapore returns from £960 per person, based on two sharing. Orient Express Trains (0845 077 2222;

The Blue Train, Cape Town to Pretoria, South Africa

With its sapphire-blue livery and history entwined with the discovery of gold and diamonds, the Blue Train, which dates back to 1946, is the longest established of the world's remaining luxury trains. It also, however, has two sets of state-of-the-art carriages, built only six years ago, featuring every conceivable comfort, including beds rather than bunks in the compartments. Sadly, a disastrous fire last year seriously damaged one of the coach sets, so the most scenic trains, to Victoria Falls, have been cancelled - but there is still a regular overnight service from Cape Town to Pretoria, through the diamond capital of Kimberley.

The 27-hour, one-way trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Blue Train costs 15,560 rand (£1,414) for two people full-board (00 27 12 334 8495;

The Toy Train, New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, India

Indiahas one railway which is now a World Heritage Site. The "Toy Train" climbs 30 miles from the scorching plains of Bengal to the old hill station of Darjeeling, on the edge of the Himalayas. The railway, still powered by its original narrow-gauge steam engines, was built in 1881 to make it easy for the cream of the Raj to escape the heat of Calcutta. The trains go at walking pace, taking more than nine hours to corkscrew the entire journey. The reward is at journey's end. There are few more enthralling views in the world than the sight of the sun rising on Everest.

Tickets available from SD Enterprises (020-8903 3411) for £58 for a sleeper return from Calcutta, then second class in the Toy Train

The Canadian, Toronto to Vancouver, Canada

The last long-distance east-west, coast-to-coast train, harking back to North America's golden age of rail travel in the 1950s. The three-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver in restored post-war coaches, some with dome cars, runs through Winnipeg, Edmonton and Jasper. At Banff, near the western end of the line, you can transfer to the privately owned Rocky Mountaineer for a sensational two-day, 600-mile journey through the glaciers and mountains in glass-topped observation cars.

A 17-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver combining travel on 'The Canadian' and the 'Rocky Mountaineer' can be arranged for fares beginning at £2,790 (based on two sharing) through Great Rail Journeys (01904 521900;

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