Flightless summer: your guide to land travel by rail, road and sea
But many say so-called “slow travel” has taken on new meaning following the pandemic-enforced pause in the international jet set that has prompted some to rethink the way they get around. And with airport chaos set to disrupt vacations well into the summer, it’s no surprise that more of us are considering no-fly options.
Adult Interrailing is experiencing a particular resurgence. “There is no better way to see Europe than by train. It has one of the most extensive and efficient rail networks in the world, and there’s so much to discover if you’re happy to take your time,” says Karen Edwards, author of The Responsible Traveller. “Slow travel simply means that your journey is as important as where you are going – every part of the journey should be savored and enjoyed.”
There are, of course, many ethical reasons to start traveling more responsibly, given that we are in a climate emergency. “With around 100,000 flights departing worldwide every day, aviation is believed to account for 2.5% of global carbon emissions. So if you can travel by other means, like the train, it’s important to do so,” she adds.
Slow travel means your journey is as important as where you are going. Every part of the journey should be savored
When planning a flightless trip, Catherine Livesley, founder of the No Fly Travel Club, advises viewing it as an adventure in itself rather than simply using the train as an alternative to flying. “Ask yourself: how much time do I want to spend traveling and what type of vacation do I want? Looking to spend a few days sightseeing and stopping on the road? Or would you rather travel further afield to hike in beautiful surroundings or relax on a sunny beach? From there you can start planning your route and stopping points.”
You do not know where to start ? We asked experts for their top flight-free travel ideas in Europe this summer.
Farm-to-fork dining in Tuscany
For eco-conscious foodies, Amanda Ho, co-founder of boutique booking platform Regenerative Travel recommends a foodie tour of Tuscany and a stay at the sustainability-focused Oasy Hotel, which is in a nature reserve of 1000 hectares. “Take the early morning Eurostar from London to Paris and spend the day exploring the French capital like a local. Visit the Marché des Enfants Rouges for lunch and enjoy dinner before heading to Gare de Lyon and taking the night train direct to Milan, where you can spend another day and night exploring.Finally, take the train from Milan to Florence, then change to a regional train to Pistoia. From there you can take the local bus or hotel transfer.
With 18 minimalist lodges surrounded by the scenic Apennine Mountains and acres of regenerated wilderness, it’s a beautiful setting to reconnect with nature. Guests can dine at one of three restaurants, all of which are stocked with fresh produce from the hotel’s biodynamic farm. Enjoy daily yoga classes and invigorating spa treatments after long days of trekking, kayaking and orienteering. “On the way back, make the most of your trip by exploring other Italian cities like Florence and Siena along the way. You can take an extended route back to Paris by train via the Italian and French Riviera and Provence.”
The Opal Coast on two wheels
Cyclists should swap the crowds of southern France for the peaceful Opal Coast, suggests Cat Jones, founder of Byway Travel, a booking company that offers flight-free holidays by train, boat, bus and bike. The area is home to picturesque sandy beaches and fantastic cycling routes. “With a journey time of 1.5 hours from London to Hauts-de-France, not counting the time saved without airport security and baggage check-in, the north of France is the perfect option for a short travel to Europe without the heavy carbon cost of air travel,” she says. Explore the region booming for regenerative tourism and the vast, dune-backed beach of Le Touquet before heading to the bustling port city of Boulogne -on sea.
Slow travel in Norway
Traveling from London to Norway (via Brussels and Copenhagen) is relatively straightforward by train. Arrive in Oslo where Up Norway (upnorway.com) operates a number of slow scenic rail routes. The Arctic Circle Express train is a 12-day trip to Bodø that takes guests across the Arctic Circle from May to September. Surrounded by deeply tranquil landscapes dotted with mountains, fjords and waterfalls, you’ll feast on local delicacies and enjoy long summer nights bathed in golden light.
If you have more free time, Up Norway have organized a four-week trip designed to sum up the Norwegian term ‘kos’ (which is basically their version of the Danish word ‘hygge’). You’ll stay in local-run eco-lodges and explore the Sunnmøre Alps, before heading west into Lofoten and ending in rugged Finnmark, the northernmost part of the country.
Road trip in France
Do you like the sound of vineyards, lavender fields and lake baths? Hire a car and spend a few weeks driving around France, suggests Edwards. “Leaving Paris, head west to Giverny and spend a day at Monet’s famous water lily pond, before heading south into the Loire Valley to sample some of the best wines in France. To the west, Mont Saint-Michel is a spectacular tidal island and home to the Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel. And further south are beautiful Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion, where rich, locally grown red flows in abundance.
Continue to mid-country Provence where lavender fields and river valleys meander through towns of cobbled streets and bustling central squares. “On the way back north, Lake Annecy is a must for a few days. In summer, you can spend hours lounging around the lake and sipping apple spritzers at one of the many restaurants and bars. The hilly roads that surround the area are also ideal for cyclists and hikers.
Island hopping on the Wadden Islands
For a lesser-known beach destination, Jones of Byway Travel recommends the Wadden Islands in the Netherlands, a peaceful archipelago off the Dutch coast. “After a direct train from London to Rotterdam, you will head to Texel, the largest of the islands. By ferry or rental boat, hop between islands and explore by bike to discover quiet beaches teeming with wildlife; the car-free island of Vlieland is a must visit. With bike-friendly boats that you can book on the day, you can travel spontaneously without the stress of airport check-in.
The Glacier Express
Who says the Swiss Alps are only worth visiting during ski season? In fact, for many, this trip is best enjoyed in summer, when you’ll be less blinded by the dazzling snow-capped peaks. Edwards recommends the Glacier Express which can be split into sections for hiking through the elements. Take the Eurostar to Paris where you will change to a high-speed train. “Depart from the seaside resort of Zermatt in Switzerland and admire the Matterhorn, the Rhine Gorge and the Rhone Glacier before arriving in St Moritz. Stop and hike among the most beautiful mountains and valleys and the most emblematic of Central Europe, while enjoying incredible food and drink (don’t miss the raclette at the Matterhorn).”
Sicily by sleeper train
Ditching the flights doesn’t necessarily mean classic summer vacation destinations aren’t on the agenda. Take Sicily: Byway Travel offers a 14-day tour of Sicily and back for £1,589 pp. “Stopping en route on your journey through Italy, you’ll get a taste of Turin’s thriving arts and food scenes, before heading to Rome and boarding the Intercity Notte night train for Catania, taking Sicily,” says Jones. “As well as experiencing the magic of the sleeper train, the Intercity Notte will board a ferry across the sea. You can hop off the train and head to the upper deck for the rare chance to see the coastline closer at dawn. This adventurous journey is a true testament to the joy of traveling through, no more.
Europe travel tips by train from the No Fly Travel Club
When booking trains in Europe, book as early as possible – usually three months (six months for Eurostar) – as this will give you the widest choice of timetables and the cheapest prices.
Find out if an Interrail pass would make the trip cheaper for you. It’s especially great for families, as up to two children under 12 can ride for free with each adult pass purchased.
Don’t be afraid to ask an expert to help you. Booking trains can be confusing, but a little knowledge of the system can save you time and money.
When preparing to travel, try to pack as lightly as possible. This will make your life much easier when changing trains and allow you to make the most of stops. Use resources like Radical Storage (radicalstorage.com) to find convenient places to store your luggage and get the most out of it.