For many, the so-called “slow travel” has taken on new meaning after the pause imposed by the pandemic on the international jet-set that has led some to rethink how to get around. And with airport chaos poised to derail vacations well into the summer, it’s no surprise that more of us are considering no-fly options.
Adult interrailing is having 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 a lot to experience if you’re willing to take the time,” says Karen Edwards, author of The Responsible Traveller. “Slow travel simply means that your journey is as important as where you are traveling to – every part of the journey should be savored and appreciated.”
There are, of course, many ethical reasons to start traveling more responsibly, given that we are in a climate emergency. “With an estimated 100,000 flights departing every day worldwide, aviation is believed to be responsible for 2.5% of global carbon emissions. So, if we can travel by other means, such as by train, it is important to do so”, he adds.
Slow travel means that your journey is as important as where you are traveling to. Every part of the journey must be savored
When planning a flightless trip, Catherine Livesley, founder of the No Fly Travel Club, advises thinking of it as an adventure in itself, rather than simply using trains as an alternative to flying. “Ask yourself: how much time do I want to spend traveling and what kind of vacation do I want? Are you looking to spend a few days hopping around town and stopping off en route? Or do you prefer to travel more early on to hike in beautiful surroundings or relax on a sunny beach? From here, you can start planning your route and stopping points.”
Do not know where to start? We asked the experts for their top no-fly Europe travel tips this summer.
Cuisine from country to plate in Tuscany
For foodies who love eco-friendly food, Amanda Ho, co-founder of boutique booking platform Regenerative Travel, recommends a gastronomic tour of Tuscany and a stop at the sustainability-focused Oasy Hotel, which is set in a 1,000-hectare nature reserve. “Catch the early morning Eurostar from London to Paris and spend the day exploring the French capital like a local. Visit Marche des Enfants Rouges for lunch and 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 transfer to the hotel.”
With 18 minimalist lodges surrounded by the picturesque Apennine Mountains and acres of regenerated nature, it’s a stunning setting to reconnect with nature. Guests can dine at one of three restaurants, all 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 journey by exploring other Italian cities like Florence and Siena along the way. You can take an extended route back to Paris on the train through the Italian and French Riviera and Provence.”
The Opal coast on two wheels
Cyclists should leave the crowds of southern France for the peaceful coast of Opal, suggests Cat Jones, founder of Byway Travel, a booking company that offers vacation-free flights by train, boat, bus and bike. The area is home to picturesque beaches and fantastic bike paths. “With a journey time of one and a half hours from London to Hauts-de-France, not to mention the time saved without airport security and luggage check-in, Northern France is the perfect option for a short trip to Europe without the carbon-heavy cost of air travel,” she says. Explore the region promising regenerative tourism and the vast dune beach of Le Touquet before heading to the bustling port town of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Slow travel in Norway
The route from London to Norway (via Brussels and Copenhagen) is relatively straightforward by train. Arrive in Oslo, where Up Norway (upnorway.com) operates several slow scenic train 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 peaceful landscapes dotted with mountains, fjords and waterfalls, you will feast on local delicacies and enjoy long summer nights bathed in golden light.
If you have more time on your hands, Up Norway has organized a four-week trip designed to encapsulate the Norwegian term ‘kos’ (which is essentially their version of the Danish word ‘hygge’). You’ll stay at eco-lodges run by locals and explore the Sunnmøre Alps, before heading west to Lofoten and ending up in rugged Finnmark, the country’s northernmost region.
Traveling by road in France
Like the sound of vineyards, lavender fields and lakes? Rent a car and spend a few weeks circumnavigating France, suggests Edwards. “Starting in Paris, head west to Giverny and spend a day at Monet’s famous lily pond, before heading south to the Loire Valley to sample France’s finest wines. Back 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 wind through towns with cobblestone streets and bustling central squares. “On the way back north, Lake Annecy is a must-see for a few days. In summer, you can spend hours lounging around the lake and enjoying apple spritzers at one of the many restaurants and bars. The hilly roads that surround the area are great for cyclists and hikers alike.”
Island tour in the Wadden Islands
For a lesser-known beach destination, Jones of Byway Travel recommends the Wadden Islands in the Netherlands, a tranquil 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 chartered boat, hop between islands and explore by bike to discover peaceful 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 embrace spontaneous travel without the stress of airport check-in.”
the glacier express
Who said the Swiss Alps are only worth visiting during the ski season? In fact, for many, this trip is best enjoyed in the summer, when you’ll be less blinded by the dazzling snow-capped peaks. Edwards recommends the Glacier Express, which can be divided into sections to squeeze in walks among the elements. Take the Eurostar to Paris from where you will change to a high-speed train. “Leave the Zermatt resort in Switzerland and enjoy the Matterhorn, Rhine Gorge and Rhône Glacier before arriving in St Moritz. Stop and walk among the most beautiful and iconic mountains and valleys in central Europe while enjoying amazing food and drink (don’t miss the raclette in Matterhorn).”
sleeper train sicily
Ditching flights doesn’t mean classic summer vacation destinations are off the agenda. Take Sicily: Byway Travel offers a 14-day tour to Sicily and back for £1,589 per person. “Stopping along the way as you travel through Italy, you’ll get a taste of Turin’s thriving art and food scene, before heading to Rome and boarding the Intercity Notte overnight train to Catania, Sicily,” says Jones. “In addition to experiencing the magic of the sleeper train, the Intercity Notte will board a ferry across the sea. You can get off the train and head to the upper deck for the rare chance to see the coast approach at dawn. This adventure journey is a true testament to the joy of traveling, not ending.”
Europe by No Fly Travel Club train travel tips
When booking trains in Europe, book as far in advance as possible – usually three months (six months for Eurostar) – as this will give you the widest range of timetables and the cheapest prices.
Investigate whether an interrail pass would make travel cheaper for you – this is especially good for families, as up to two children under the age of 12 can travel free with each adult pass purchased.
Don’t be afraid to ask an expert for help. Booking trains can be confusing, but a little knowledge of the system goes a long way and can save you valuable time and money.
When preparing to travel, try to pack as light as possible. This will make life much easier when changing trains and allow you to make the most of your stopovers. Use resources like Radical Storage (radicalstorage.com) to find convenient places to store your luggage and make the most of it