As Cop26 departs Glasgow, it’s worth remembering that the European Environment Agency reckons that transport accounts for about 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. In terms of CO2, air travel generates 10 ounces per passenger mile. Road transport emits 5.5 ounces, but, according to the Office of Road and Rail, train travel accounts for just 1.2 ounces per passenger mile. Few Cop26 delegates traveled by train, but there’s no need to follow their example. Yes, trains are more expensive than planes — because airlines are still using a 1944 agreement to avoid paying duty on fuel — but booking is getting easier and the travel experience is infinitely more fun than flying.
Here are six easy and spectacular low-carbon trips to take between now and next March.
1. El Transcantábrico
Spain’s oldest tourist train is El Transcantábrico, a five-star hotel on wheels that rolls from San Sebastian in the Basque Country through the coast and country of España Verde to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, stopping en route for guided excursions, and at night so guests can make the most of the northern Spanish nightlife. Alternatively you can travel from Gijon in Asturias via Bilbao to Leon, but whichever route you choose you’ll spend a magnificent day threading through the jagged peaks of the Picos de Europa National Park. Purists will take the train from the UK to Spain: Eurostar to Paris; TGV via Perpignan to Barcelona; Alvia to San Sebastián.
Details Nine nights’ holiday from $7,778 per person, excluding flights (kirkerholidays.com)
2. Venice by Rail
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is all but sold out for 2022, but there’s an easily booked alternative route to Santa Lucia station that’s cheaper and, dare I say, more romantic. The 16:31 Eurostar 9040 service arrives in Paris at 19:47, with plenty of time to transfer to the Gare de Lyon, have a decent dinner and overnight somewhere chic such as Hôtel Exquis, a 15-minute walk from the station (room-only doubles from $99; hotelexquisparis.com). Next morning take the 06:44 TGV 9241 across the Alps to Milan Porta Garibaldi, arriving at 13:50. Cross town to Milan Centrale and join the FR9735 departing at 14:45 and arriving in Venice Santa Lucia at 17:12. Stay at the Cima Rosa B&B with its five exquisite rooms, three of which overlook the Grand Canal (B&B doubles from $198; cimarosavenezia.com).
Details Train travel from $332 return (raileurope.com)
3. Glacier Express
The Research Center for Alpine Ecosystems in France predicts that 52 percent of Switzerland’s small glaciers will melt within the next 25 years, so don’t hang about if you want to see ice in the Alps. This eight-night tour takes you by train from London to the Swiss town of Chur, from where you board the Glacier Express for the astonishingly beautiful journey west across the Rhine Gorge and the Oberalp Pass to the Rhône Valley and Zermatt. There’s a day out on the narrow gauge in Zermatt, a yodeling workshop in Brig, and wine tasting in Spiez, with accommodation in four-star hotels throughout.
Details Eight nights’ half-board from $2772, including return rail travel from the UK, departing on March 30 (greatrail.com)
4. Night Ride to Cornwall
If you set your alarm for 5am you’ll wake in your cabin in time for Great Western’s Night Riviera train crossing the Tamar into Cornwall. In December you’ll cross the county at dawn, watching the sunrise along the last stretch between St Erth and the Penzance terminus. Those addicted to the joy of travel will understand what a thrill such a journey provides — and who says you need a car to see Cornwall? First, book rooms in Penzance: the 18th-century Chocolate House is a cozy cottage sleeping two on Chapel Street (four nights’ self-catering from $470; classic.co.uk). Next, buy a three-day Adventurer bus pass allowing unlimited rides on Coaster services to all parts of the Cornish shore, which is ideal for those tackling the South West Coast Path ($50 for two; firstbus.co.uk).
Details From $165 for a super-off-peak return from London Paddington in December, in a cabin (gwr.com)
5. Yorkshire by Steam
Traveling by steam train doesn’t look very environmentally friendly — there’s coal in the firebox and you can see the emissions — but the all-party parliamentary group on Heritage Railways has pointed out that “steam railways are already being as efficient as possible” using “clean burn coal” and the white “smoke” is actually steam. This five-day journey by heritage rail starts in Harrogate, takes the train to York, and then the North Yorkshire Moors Railway back from Whitby before joining the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway for a day in Brontë country.
Details Four nights’ half-board from $461pp, including train travel (raildiscoveries.com)
6. Victorian House Hotel, Grasmere
The Victorian House is one minute from the bus stop on the road out of Grasmere heading toward Great Rigg. You need to know that because this 20-room hotel — transformed from traditional to boutique by new owners in 2020 — is committed to making Cumbria greener by encouraging those traveling to the Lakes to reduce their carbon footprint. That means taking the train: from London and the Midlands on the west coast main line to Oxenholme and then on the local service to Windermere (from $156 return; thetrainline.com), or direct from Manchester to Windermere (from $20 return; northernrailway.co.uk). It’s 35 minutes on the No 599 bus from Windermere to Grasmere ($11 return; stagecoachbus.com). Arrive car-free and the hotel will plant a tree for you.
Details B&B doubles from $159 a night (victorianhousehotel.co.uk)
Chris Haslam is chief travel writer at The Sunday Times