The Couple's Guide To Rail Europe
Travelling by train has always been one of the most romantic ways to get from A to B. While airports are full of queues, neon lights and stressed-out parents searching for their screaming offspring, there's something about train stations that promise thrills and adventure. The newly renovated Eurostar Terminal in London's St Pancreas Station is a fine example. While Gatwick has a Burger King and huge branch of Boots the chemists, the gothic spires of St Pancreas house the sort of chic bakeries and cosy gastro-pubs that are just crying out for intimate tete a tetes, not to mention the longest champagne bar in Europe.
With so many romantic European cities to explore - Paris! Berlin! Prague! - the Eurail Pass is a tempting choice. And the good news in that love birds who are 26 or under (on the first day of the trip) can take advantage of youth rates, that truly save you money for your upcoming romantic adventures. With over thirty countries to choose from, the only thing you have to worry about is deciding how many destinations you can pack in.
When my amour and I decided to take a train tour of Europe we knew exactly where we wanted to head for. I'd just finished reading Captain Correlli's Mandolin, and was desperate to discover the island where the book was set. That meant taking the train all the way to the Italian port of Bari, then a ferry across to Patras (which was included in our pass), and another one over to Kefalonia (which wasn't). Heads together over an atlas, we plotted our route: we would head down through Germany and on to Italy, stopping at Verona (a must for any lovers with literary pretensions) and Rome, before catching our ferries. On the way back we'd travel back through the Swiss Alps - one of the most stunning train journeys in the world - definitely not to be missed.
Despite our well-laid plans, the trip didn't get off to the best start. Arriving at Verona station close to midnight we discovered that the only hostel in town had already locked up for the night, and the campsite was full. Since we hadn't budgeted for hotel stays we decided to sleep in the station, under the stars. It would have been very romantic, except for the transport police who kept shining lights in our faces and moving us on. We learnt our lesson, and from then on made sure to book ahead, especially when we knew we were arriving late at night.
As soon as sun broke, we checked our backpacks into the station's Left Luggage and headed off to explore. Our wandering amongst the cobbled streets took us to the Casa de Guiletta (Juliet's house) which is covered in the scrawls of a million visitors declaring their undying love for each other. Make sure that you come armed with a marker pen so that your beloved can add your names to the centuries old lists of lovers.
On our way down to Rome we began to appreciate the romantic possibilities of the Italian trains. The private compartments are designed for six people, but if there's only a few of you in there, you push the seats down to make a giant double bed. However, do be careful. The sense of privacy can be illusory. At one point in the journey I woke up to find that I was lying next to not one, but two men. A stranger had boarded the train in the middle of the night, and finding the other carriage's full had squeezed in next to us!
When you're backpacking, it can be hard to get time alone with your beloved. However, many European hostels now offer double rooms for couples at only slightly more than the price of two traditional dorm beds. Another solution is to pack your bedroom with you, and opt to camp instead. This is what we did in Rome, and spent the money we saved on candle-lit meals in back-street trattorias in the student quarters. Being in Rome is like wandering through a film set, this glorious city should be an essential stop on any romantic tour of Europe.
But in the end the most romantic moment of our trip was the evening ferry ride as we approached our final destination, Kefalonia. Sipping Greek wine on the ferry's deck we watched the island roll into view just as the stars were coming out. Docking at the beach, we grabbed our bags and strolled along a promenade lined with palm-trees and tiny fish-restaurants to get to our secluded campsite on the beach. Whoever said romance was dead has clearly never railed around Europe!