City breaks not for you? How about taking a train to one of Europe's many lakes. And climb a mountain while you're at it!
Europe’s many lakes and mountains are the perfect antidote to a hot summer in the city and make for fantastic scenic train trips without the price tag associated with "tourist" trains. Often it's possible to experience some of Europe's best scenery from the comfort of an ordinary train, meaning you also have the freedom to hop on and off when the mood takes you.
High-speed trains and regional connections mean that travelling by train in Europe is easier than ever. So whether you want an active holiday of walking, cycling and wild swimming or a leisurely lakeside retreat, there are plenty of options to choose from.
We’ve picked a few of best of Europe's lakes - each perfect for scenic lake and mountain holidays - from swimming at the foot of the Jura Mountains, to scuba diving in northern Italy and canoeing on Lake Constance. After all, there ain’t no mountain high enough…
Visit Lake Geneva by rail
Travelling along the shores of Lake Geneva by train offers views of crisp clear water and towering Alpine summits. It's an hour by InterCity train between Geneva to Montreux on the lake's northern shore, and a great way to grasp scale of the lake before jumping in - literally into the lake or metaphorically to explore Geneva and Lausanne on the Swiss bank or Evian les Bains and Thonon les Bains in France.
Or if you've got a taste for rail, and a head for heights, consider a trip on the Vevey Funicular railway from Vevey Funiculaire station on the shores of Lake Geneva. The train climbs through the Lavaux vineyards to an altitude of more than 800m in less than 15 minutes, offering a panoramic view of the lake, the Chablais region and the Rhône valley.
Swiss InterCity trains run throughout the day between Geneva to Montreux with tickets available online or at the station. Tickets for the Funicular railways can be bought on the day.
Getting there: Trains to Geneva
Italy's Lake Maggiore by train
One of the most popular places to visit in northern Italy, the sweeping sands and charming towns surrounding Lake Maggiore have been favoured by travellers since the days of the Grand Tour. Visitors can tick off water skiing, sailing and windsurfing, or even scuba dive in the vast lake.
Meanwhile, ferries head across the water to the Borromean islands, where Isola dei Pescatori (pictured above) has a web of narrow, cobbled streets to explore and several excellent restaurants, serving seafood naturally. Away from the water’s edge, the nearby Alps provide a giant playground for mountain bikers and walkers.
Many of the small towns on the shore of Lake Maggiore have railway stations, including Locarno in Switzerland, but perhaps the most convenient is Stresa in Italy, on the lake’s western shore. Take the train from London to Geneva via Paris by Eurostar and high-speed TGV Lyria. The journey to Geneva takes 6 hrs 20 mins, and on arrival to you can hop on a Geneva to Milan Eurocity train, alighting at Stresa. The whole journey takes around 10 hours, and you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic scenic views.
Since 2015, paperless train tickets in Italy are available on Trenitalia's Eurocity services, so it's now easier to travel, hassle-free, between Switzerland and Italy.
Lac du Bourget, France by train
High-speed train by a lake © Enzojz | iStock
France's largest natural lake, Lac du Bourget (Lake Bourget) sits between two national parks at the southernmost point of the Jura Mountains. Its sandy beaches and warm waters (a pleasant dip in water up to 26°C is possible well into September) offer active fun for families, from building sandcastles to windsurfing. After a long hike to some of the nearby summits, weary limbs can be soothed in the thermal springs that gave the resort of Aix-les-Bains its name.
The closest train station to Lac du Bourget is Aix-les-Bains-le-Revard which is easy to reach from nearby Lyon, Paris or even London. The recommended route is on the direct Eurostar to Lyon which bypasses the French capital. You can travel in 4 hrs 41 mins by train from London to Lyon where frequent onward trains depart for Aix-les-Bains.
If you’d rather take in the sights of Paris or break up your journey with a leisurely lunch, travel from London to Paris by train then transfer to Gare du Lyon and catch a high-speed TGV to Aix-les-Bains. The journey takes around 7 hours.
Lake Como by train
Lake Como (Lago di Como) is probably the best known of the famous Italian Lakes and has been popular as a resort since the days of the Roman Empire. Today, Como remains a popular destination for those seeking a break from the sweltering heat and crowds of Italy's cities in summer. And most of the towns around the shores of Lake Como are popular with tourists, with something on offer for walkers, cyclists and swimmers.
Although there isn't a railway that goes around the lake itself, since trains terminate in Como San Giovanni or Lago Como, once you arrive at the water's edge there are plenty of boats and pedestrian-friendly walkways to explore. And if you want a fast track into the hills, take a ride on the Como-Brunate funicular for a bird's eye view of the lake.
Milan is well-connected by rail, not only to the rest of Italy but internationally as well. It's just half an hour by train from Milan to Como San Giovanni in Italy's dramatic Lombardy landscape. London to Milan by train is possible in around 10 hours, there's a direct TGV from Paris to Milan. Alternatively, if you're coming from Switzerland, direct trains from Zurich to Como take around 3 hours.
Germany's Lake Constance by rail
On the banks of the Rhine at the northern foot of the Alps, the mighty lake Constance borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Sailing, windsurfing and canoeing are favourite pursuits on the waters and budding naturalists can explore the surrounding wetlands, which attract butterflies and birds such as kingfishers, grey herons and cuckoos.
Beyond the lake’s shores, historic attractions range from reconstructions of ancient lake dwellings to castles, baroque churches and a museum dedicated to the fated Zeppelin.
Taking the train from London to Lake Constance takes 8 hrs 55 mins with two or three changes depending on the route you choose. We recommend taking the train from London to Zurich via Paris on board Eurostar and high-speed TGV Lyria. From Zurich, Swiss InterCity trains are available to take you to Kreuzlingen or Constance itself.
Main image and thumbnail : Varenna, Italy © Titoslack | iStock
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