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

There are, I think, simpler ways to get to Slovenia from London than the overland route I have chosen. I ponder this as a boy from the absurd football team sharing our train from Brussels to Frankfurt kicks the back of my seat again. Apparently, the responsible adult has abdicated responsibility. Maybe he jumped off the train. At this point, it’s a bit tempting.

On board this mobile jamboree, I’m questioning my decision to “slow travel” the thousand miles to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, for the sake of going green – and seeing what’s on the way to our destination, instead of being towering over him, unknowingly. . Our tightly planned schedule could easily slip. A third of Germany’s long-distance trains were delayed last year, and our interchange times are shrinking by a hair’s breadth: 20 minutes to dash from the Eurostar in Brussels to the next train; 22 minutes to make our connection to Munich at Frankfurt station.

“Be ready the second the doors open,” I say to my husband and children, ages 10 and seven.

“What if we miss our next train?”

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

As our second train of the day heads across Belgium and east into Germany, I begin to believe it. From a plane, we would have missed the close-ups of pine blanketing the slopes of the gentle hills; of German towns spread out like a patchwork, with their railway flats and their industry; the big wide river ribbons, and country houses with nice well-kept gardens.

We want to miss all the neat allotments and distant church spires. Gazing out of the train window at pastel-colored houses in pistachio, rose and lemon, I enjoy the wonderful view of other people’s lives that only overland travel can offer.

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 for a double dose of romance, I make my way to the restaurant car for lunch before Frankfurt. But a staff member on board unapologetically informs me that lunch is out. Apparently an energy failure.

She gives us a not-so-bright choice of cold sandwiches instead: vegan “chicken”, or something called “vollkorn haferbrötchen” with slippery cheese, which has to be enough.

On the third and last train of the day, from Frankfurt to Munich, I compensate by ordering randomly from the restaurant car menu: chips, cinnamon bun, tomato soup. It’s not a full meal but it’s a step up from British train fare, and waiting for us while we travel feels like something out of an Agatha Christie novel.

I was very surprised, everything is on track, in terms of time. We pull into Munich 10 hours after leaving St Pancras, hot and steamy.

It’s an unseasonable spring evening, and we’re getting another reward for our efforts with the splendor of our accommodation here: the magnificent Charles Hotel. Just five minutes’ walk from the station, and overlooking Munich’s tranquil Old Botanical Garden, The Charles is the perfect place to stop.

Charles Hotel in MunichCharles Hotel in Munich

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

It is hard to believe that we are minutes from the heart of a bustling city. As I stand by an open window, I am at ease in the race, gulping down the incredibly clean air. After a day on the trains, it’s the perfect tonic.

Serenity extends to The Charles Spa, and at the excellent breakfast in its delightful restaurant on the ground floor, under the bright sunlight.

We spend a great day exploring Munich, starting with the gothic Frauenkirche cathedral. From here we head to Marienplatz, the bustling central square, before stopping at the open-air Viktualienmarkt for juicy bratwurst stuffed inside crusty white rolls and slathered with thick yellow mustard. In theory, I don’t eat meat, but there are only so many bratwurst vendors that a pescatarian can pass on a glorious day. My resolve wanes at lunchtime.

The Englischer Garten is so full of evening sun worshippers, that it is more like a music festival than a park. A lively atmosphere is the same throughout the cavernous Hofbräuhaus later, where beer is served in stein glasses as big as your head and the beer hall vibe is the pinnacle of Bavaria. Even if there is a sense of performance about the whole thing, it is still very enjoyable.


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

The next day it is time to re-board the trains, and on we go to Villach in Austria. Almost half an hour from Munich, snow-capped peaks appear on the horizon. Right now, large white Alpine-style chalets, complete with wooden balconies, begin to dot the dandelion-covered meadows. A cow grazes in the garden from time to time.

The train itself is definitely more basic this time and stiflingly hot. I run through carriages shouting in search of refreshments, eventually finding a man in uniform arranging the contents of the snack trolley.

“Is there a food car?” I ask.

“It’s not. trolley.”

“Are you going to take him down the train?”

“It’s not.”

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

This is greatly compensated by the increasingly dramatic views outside the window: vertiginous mountains now dusted with snow, with dark pines clinging to their lower contours.

After five hours we reach Villach, a nine minute interchange to tackle. We rush between platforms in a panic, boarding our train to the town of Jesenice in Slovenia just in time. Thrillingly, we snagged a compartment on this one. Hot and stuffy, but ours for the next 36 minutes.

Then, at Jesenice, things fall a little apart. I assumed we’d figure out how to get to Lake Bled when I arrived, since it’s only 10 miles away. There will surely be taxis, I thought. Except there is none. It’s Sunday and nothing at the station is open either.

After a fruitless wait, we learn that there is a train to Lesce-Bled station.

Lake BledLake Bled

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

Here, a station attendant forced a cab to call us to our Airbnb, as we sat in the afternoon sun still drinking iced tea on the terrace of his bar.

Lake Bled immediately hits me with its fairy tale magic. With the 17th century Church of Our Lady perched on an island in the middle, and Bled Castle perched on a cliff high above the clear water, the views in every direction take one’s breath away.

The last leg is a bus to Ljubljana, less than an hour from Bled (only cash, and seen almost 30 minutes late). Approaching the other end, I enjoy a moment of relief full of 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 overlook a stunning panorama: the city below us, and the rugged Julian and Kamnik Alps that surround it beyond. From the 18th floor spa and 20th floor restaurant, the views are even more intoxicating. It is almost impossible to tear ourselves away.

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

The hotel is just a short walk from the pedestrianized Old Town, a marvel of urban design due to the classic 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 much to appreciate beyond the architecture, too. We start with Ljubljana Castle. A few minutes up the hill in a slick funicular, and we are inside the grounds of the 900 year old complex.

The children have won the immersive 4D film inside, which brings the story of the castle to life with the help of special effects: spray on our face for the rain; shaking seats for added drama. From the castle tower, we enjoy another series of dizzying views.

Back at street level, we down a goulash at a cafe under the arches next to the Ljubljana River, which is lined with restaurants and bars on both banks, connected by a series of scenic bridges.

In the unlikely event of a single Ljubljana base, Slovenia’s diminutive size means you can get almost anywhere from the capital. We were told that we must see the caves, so the next day, we hopped on a bus to Postojna Cave Park.


The children were very impressed by the pedestrian attractions of Ljubljana – Getty

An underground train transports us into a magical kingdom of large underground rooms, one of which is so large that we host concerts. There is an easy path through this incredible landscape of stalagmites and stalactites, which take on almost illusory shapes.

We will end our stay in Ljubljana in the morning in the wonderful Tivoli Park, where manicured lawns give way to walking paths. Then we go to the airport. Yes, the airport. Overland was an adventure. But in a week’s holiday, to do it once the hard way was enough.

Rosa Silverman and her family were guests at Hotel Charles in Munich and at Intercontinental Ljubljanathe IHG Hotels & Resorts property. Overland trips from Britain to Slovenia can be booked through Railway Europe.

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