My family vacation was an eco-friendly 1,000-mile train journey – we decided to fly home

There are, I think, easier ways to reach Slovenia from London than the overland route I chose. I think about this as a boy from the raucous football team that shares our Brussels-Frankfurt train kicks my seat again. Their responsible adult has seemingly abdicated responsibility. He may have jumped from the train. It’s somewhat tempting at this point.

Aboard this mobile jamboree, I question my decision to travel slowly the thousand miles to Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, in the interests of a green lifestyle – and to see what lies on the route to our destination, in instead of unconsciously flying over it. . Our tightly planned schedule could easily go wrong. A third of Germany’s long-distance trains were delayed last year, and our transfer times are worrying: 20 minutes to run from the Eurostar in Brussels to our next train; 22 minutes to make our connection to Munich at Frankfurt station.

“Be ready to run as soon as the doors open,” I warn my husband and children, ages 10 and 7.

“What if we miss our next train?”

“Who knows? It’s all part of the adventure.”

As our second train of the day races through Belgium and east into Germany, I’m actually starting to believe this. From an airplane we would have missed the close-ups of pine trees covering the slopes of rolling hills; of German towns spread out like a patchwork, with their apartments and industry along the railway; the large, wide river strips and rural houses with beautiful, well-maintained gardens.

We would have missed all the neat allotments and distant church towers. As I gaze out of the train window at the pastel houses in pistachio, rose and lemon, I enjoy the fleeting glimpse into other people’s lives that only land travel can provide.

Rosa Silverman's children at the Munich train station

The route from St. Pancras to Munich, via Frankfurt and on to Slovenia offers a sense of adventure – Rosa Silverman

Hoping to get a double dose of romance, I head to the dining car for lunch before Frankfurt opens. But an insolent member of the flight crew informs me that lunch is off. Apparently a power outage.

Instead, she offers us an unappetizing choice of cold sandwiches: vegan ‘chicken’, or something called ‘vollkorn haferbrötchen’ with slippery cheese inside, which will have to suffice.

On our third and last train of the day, from Frankfurt to Munich, I compensate for this by ordering randomly from the restaurant cart menu: fries, a cinnamon roll, tomato soup. It’s not quite a meal, but represents a step up from the British train ticket, and waiting for you while we travel feels like you’re in an Agatha Christie novel.

To my surprise, everything remains on schedule in terms of timing. We enter Munich 10 hours after leaving St. Pancras, warm and triumphant.

It is an unusually balmy spring evening and we are rewarded for our efforts once again with the splendor of our accommodation here: the opulent Charles Hotel. Just a five-minute walk from the station and overlooking Munich’s tranquil old botanical garden, The Charles is the ideal place to stop.

The Charles Hotel in MunichThe Charles Hotel in Munich

The Charles Hotel in Munich is a ‘luxury’ place to stay – Janos Grapow

It’s hard to believe that we are just minutes away from the heart of a vibrant city. Standing in front of an open window, I enjoy the peace and breathe in the remarkably clean air. After a day spent on the train, this is the perfect tonic.

The tranquility extends to The Charles’s spa and to the exquisite breakfasts in the beautiful ground floor restaurant, flooded with bright sunlight.

We spend a wonderful day exploring Munich, starting with the imposing Gothic Frauenkirche. From here we stroll to Marienplatz, the bustling main square, before stopping at the vast open-air Viktualienmarkt for succulent bratwurst, tucked into crispy white buns and slathered with thick yellow mustard. In theory I don’t eat meat, but there are only so many bratwurst vendors a pescatarian can pass on on a glorious day. My resolve crumbles by lunchtime.

The Englischer Garten is so packed with sun-worshipping afternoon revelers that it looks more like a music festival than a park. A similarly lively atmosphere later permeates the cavernous Hofbräuhaus, where beer is served in beer glasses as big as your head and the atmosphere is Bavarian beer hall. Even if there is a sense of achievement about the whole thing, it’s still immensely enjoyable.


The family enjoyed exploring Munich (pictured) before heading to their next stop, Villach in Austria – Getty

The next day it is time to get on the train again and we go to Villach in Austria. Just half an hour from Munich, snow-capped mountain peaks appear on the horizon. Currently, large white Alpine-style chalets, complete with wooden balconies, are beginning to litter the dandelion-strewn meadows. Every now and then a cow grazes in a garden.

The train itself is definitely easier this time and stiflingly hot. I stumble through the jarring carriages in search of refreshment and eventually find a man in uniform sorting out the contents of a snack cart.

“Is there a dining car?” I ask.

“No. Cart.”

“Are you taking him on the train?”


He seems displeased by my intrusion, and even more so by my attempt to buy coffee and poppy seed cake.

This is more than offset by the increasingly dramatic scenes beyond the window: dizzying, snow-capped mountains now, with dark pines clinging to their lower contours.

After five hours we arrive in Villach, a transfer of nine minutes. In panic we rush between the platforms and board our train to Jesenice in Slovenia just in time. Excitingly, here we find a compartment. Hot and stuffy, but ours for the next 36 minutes.

Then things at Jesenice fall apart a bit. I had assumed that upon arrival we would deduce how to reach Lake Bled as it is only 10 miles away. There must be taxis, I thought. Except there aren’t any. It’s Sunday and nothing is open at the station either.

After some fruitless waiting we discover that there is indeed a train to Lesce-Bled station.

Lake BledLake Bled

A train runs from Jesenise to Lesce-Bled station, where Lake Bled awaits the train tourist – Moment RF/Getty Images

Here a helpful station bartender calls us a taxi to our Airbnb, while we sit drinking iced tea on the terrace of his bar in the still intense evening sun.

Lake Bled immediately enchanted me with its fairytale charm. With the 17th-century Church of the Mother of God perched on an island in the middle, and Bled Castle perched high above the clear waters on a cliff, the views in all directions are breathtaking.

The last leg is a bus to Ljubljana, less than an hour from Bled (but cash only and almost 30 minutes late). As I clamber down the other side, I enjoy a moment of relief, steeped in disbelief: we made it all the way here without missing a train or leaving the ground.

We’re staying at the InterContinental Ljubljana, where the windows in our spacious eighth-floor rooms look out on a spectacular panorama: the city below us, and the rugged Julian and Kamnik Alps beyond. From the 18th floor spa and 20th floor restaurant, the views are even more intoxicating. It’s almost impossible to tear ourselves away.

Fortunately, it could hardly be easier to explore the sights of this charming and attractive city on foot – or on one of the Kavalir electric golf buggies, which drive tourists around for free.

The hotel is just a short walk from the car-free Old Town, a perfect jewel of urban design, thanks in large part to the classically inspired vision of Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik.

Rosa Silverman and her childrenRosa Silverman and her children

Rosa and her family were charmed by the beauty of Lake Bled: Rosa Silverman

There is also much to admire beyond the architecture. We start with Ljubljana Castle. A few minutes up the hill on a slippery cable car and we are in the grounds of the 900 year old complex.

The children are convinced by the immersive 4D film inside, which brings the castle’s story to life using special effects: spray on our faces for rain; chairs shake for extra drama. From the castle tower we once again enjoy dizzying views.

Back at street level, we eat goulash in a café under the arches along the Ljubljanica River, both banks of which are packed with restaurants and bars, connected by a succession of picturesque bridges.

In the unlikely event that you get tired of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s small size means you can get to just about anywhere from the capital. We were told we had to see the caves, so the next day we hopped on a bus to Postojna Cave Park.


The attractions of car-free Ljubljana were a hit with the children – Getty

An underground train takes us to a magical kingdom of enormous underground chambers, one of which is so big that it hosts concerts. There is an easy walkway through this incredible landscape of stalagmites and stalactites, which take on almost hallucinatory shapes.

We round off our stay in Ljubljana with a morning in the beautiful Tivoli Park, where manicured lawns give way to walking paths. Then we go to the airport. Yes, the airport. Overlanding was an adventure. But during a week-long vacation, doing it the hard way once was enough.

Rosa Silverman and her family were guests The Charles Hotel in Munich and on InterContinental LjubljanaAn IHG Hotels & Resorts property. Overland travel from Great Britain to Slovenia can be booked via Railway Europe.

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