Majestic mountain peaks serve as some of the most spectacular backdrops in the world, and we firmly believe that travelling through them by rail is the best way to take in the wonder of their awe-inspiring natural beauty. Whether you're twisting and turning through chic Alpine resort towns, rushing past verdant tiered forests or climbing to the dizzying heights of the mountain peaks themselves, mountain railways allow you to take in the scenic views at a leisurely pace, from the comfortable and warm surrounds of a train carriage. In winter, mountain railways will allow you to glide through veritable winter wonderlands; trees dusted with a light coating of fresh white snow, frozen lakes which sparkle in the low hanging winter sun, and a magical, crisp air that recalls a feeling of childhood Christmas nostalgia. In summer, you can enjoy panoramic views of astoundingly beautiful locations; alpine meadows blooming with multi-coloured flora, undulating green foothills and, if you're lucky, curious local wildlife.
To celebrate International Mountain Day, which falls on December 11th each year, we wanted to offer up a roundup of Europe's best mountain railways. Miraculous feats of engineering which whisk you up through the mountains in a matter of mere minutes, gone are the days that taking in the views from atop a mountain would involve an arduous and dangerous hike. These railways afford unforgettable mountain views from a warm, safe and comfortable carriage. What could be better than that? Here are some of our favourites.
The Jungfrau Express
The Swiss Alps offer some of the best, most dramatic, and most beautiful railway journeys in the world and the Jungfrau Railway illustrates this point perfectly. Climbing from Kleine Scheidegg, much of the journey takes the jolly red carriages journey through a tunnel within the craggy rock of the Eiger and Mönch mountains, pausing at several observation windows built into the mountainside to take in the views. The journey is just the start here, however; the terminus, the Jungfraujoch, is known as the Top of Europe and boasts the accolade of the highest railway station in Europe. As you glide into the station it is not difficult to understand why - from the summit of the Jungfrau, passengers are treated to a seemingly endless panorama of dramatic surrounding mountain peaks, blanketed by a layer of fresh white snow. The sense of isolation and tranquillity that can be found here is really quite special.
The Bernina Express
Connecting northern and southern Europe by means of a stunning journey through ancient alpine landscapes, the narrow-gauge Bernina Express offers an array of wonderful, varied views. Travelling from the majestic snow-capped Alps and rushing mountain streams of Switzerland to the pretty northern Italian town of Tirano, the Bernina Express passes over almost 200 bridges and through countless tunnels, ascending to around 7,000 feet as it winds its way across the precipitous terrain of the Bernina Pass. Particular highlights include the 136-metre long Landwasser Viaduct, an impressive six-arched, curved limestone bridge that crosses over a verdant valley, and the magnificent glacier-fed Lake Bianco. Indeed, so phenomenal is this journey that in 2008 the line was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as a result of it constituting an "outstanding technical, architectural and environmental ensemble" which "embodies architectural and civil engineering achievements, in harmony with the landscapes through which they pass.
From sea level at the charming coastal town of Porthmadog, the Ffestiniog Mountain Railway climbs steadily up through the magnificent Snowdonia National Park to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, treating its passengers to stunning views across the Welsh countryside. Originally founded in 1832 as a means of transporting slate, the railway is owned by the Festiniog Railway Company, which is the oldest surviving independent railway company in the world. After the line faced closure in 1946 due to a drop in the demand for slate, it was restored and reopened as a tourist attraction. Today, it is the UK's longest heritage railway, transporting passengers past 25 miles of mighty forest, beautiful lakes, pretty undulating meadows and dramatic mountain scenery.
The Glacier Express
The Glacier Express is undoubtedly the most iconic line in all of Switzerland, and is famed for being the "slowest express train in the world" - a name given not due to its speed, but for the fact that the train provides a non-stop journey between its terminuses. Winding its way through some of the continents' most astounding scenery on an eight hour, 181-mile-long trip, the Glacier Express transports its passengers through pristine alpine landscapes, affording some of the most incredible views you could ever wish to see. From Zermatt, a charming ski town which lies under the shadow of the Matterhorn, to the sophisticated resort town of St Moritz, the train glides through the three cantons of Valais, Uri and Graubünden, across hundreds and bridges and tunnels, and climbs 6,669 feet across the Oberalp Pass - the highest point of the journey.
Since its first journey in 1930, the Glacier Express has continued to delight its passengers, treating them to a constantly-changing vista of Switzerland's most breath-taking landscapes; imposing snow-clad mountain ranges, the shores of vast lakes and rolling Alpine wildflower meadows.