The expert selection: Europe’s most luxurious trains

The “Ferrari of trains”, Italy’s high-speed Italo, launched amid great fanfare last month, offering leather seats and even a cinema car. But how does it compare to its European rivals? Tom Chesshyre, who travelled across Europe to research his book Tales from the Fast Trains: Europe at 186mph (Summersdale), selects the most luxurious he encountered.

ICE3: Brussels to Frankfurt

Travelling in first-class on ICE3, Deutsche Bahn’s most up-to-date high-speed InterCity Express, is a treat. The black leather seats are well-spaced and plush, with large windows giving a good view as the train races along at 175mph; information displays show how fast you are going. You can either dine at your seat – stewards bring trays with food served on china plates with proper cutlery – or at the smart, 12-seat restaurant car. Expect to pay about €30 for a three-course meal with a glass of wine. There are “viewing lounges” at each end of the train, offering a view through the driving cab ahead or backwards down the track. The journey from Brussels to Frankfurt takes 3 hours 16 minutes and costs from €79.

Francisco de Goya: Paris to Madrid

This overnight “train hotel” is run by Elipsos, a partnership between the Spanish train company Renfe and France’s SNCF. The Gran Clase sleepers are the best way to travel, with either one or two berth cabins with private showers – you are given a key card as though staying at a hotel. The compartments may be a little squeezed but they are comfortable and quiet, with mineral water and toiletries provided. A three-course evening meal and breakfast is included in the price of the ticket. Dinners come with an aperitif of cava and are served in a very elegant dining carriage with crisp white table cloths; there’s the feeling of being in a fine dining restaurant. The overnight journey takes just over 14 hours, arriving at 9am. Fares are from €157 one way.

TGV Lyria: Paris to Zurich

From Gare de Lyon it is just over four hours’ journey to Zurich on the TGV Lyria, which is operated by SNCF and the Swiss national railway, CFF. First-class is the way to go, with wide reclining seats with plenty of legroom. The decor is by the designer Christian Lacroix and has a jolly feel, with lime greens and lilacs. A meal is included in the price, with the menu changing to suit the season – salads on offer in the summer and more hearty dishes in the winter. You also receive a welcome drink, and stewards can book taxis for you in advance so you do not have to queue when you arrive. First-class one-way fares are from €79.

Thello: Venice to Paris

This service was launched last December, creating a much more affordable alternative to the Orient-Express on one of the world’s most famous train routes. The Thello trains are the result of a partnership between the main Italian train operator, Trenitalia, and a lesser-known company, Veolia. You depart Venice’s Santa Lucia station at 7.57pm and arrive the following morning at Gare de Lyon at 9.29am. There are six-berth couchettes that cost from a remarkably good-value €35 one-way, or a two-berth sleeper is available from €140 per person. The cabins are simple, small and cosy but the highlight is the excellent restaurant, which has a choice of four mains such as grilled salmon or slow-cooked ox cheek with red wine sauce.

Bernina Express

Bernina Express: Chur to Tirano

One of the most delightful train journeys anywhere, the Bernina Express offers magnificent views of the Alps, especially if you travel in its “panoramic-class” carriage. This has windows that curve upwards to the roof so you can gaze up at the snowy peaks as the carriages twist and turn over viaducts and across hidden mountain valleys. There are 196 bridges and viaducts in total, as well as 55 tunnels, and the highest point is at 2,253m, just past St Moritz. The journey from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy is 76 miles and takes about four hours. A trolley service provides sandwiches and snacks. A return panoramic-class ticket costs about £150.

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