Though not a designated “Scenic Train”, it is one of the most beautiful routes through the Alps, writes UDAY K. CHAKRABORTY.
A train journey gets you a seat to the greatest show on earth – beautiful sceneries, passing villages and cities, and people watching at stations. As always, during our latest European tour, we decided to take one of the scenic train journeys through the Italian Dolomites and Austrian Alps from Milan to Salzburg and back to Venice. Though not a designated “Scenic Train”, it is one of the most beautiful routes through the Alps.
This train ride promises spectacular views with snowy peaks, green valleys and glacial rivers from our window. The section between Verona, Bolzano, Trento and Fortezza is particularly striking as the train follows the river Isarco north, in the shadow of the Dolomites, briefly crossing into Austria through the stunning Brenner Pass, before reaching Innsbruck and then follow the rolling hills to arrive at Salzburg in the evening.
We have booked our seats in the first class coach of Frecchiarosa, Italy’s cutting edge high-speed train. It is very comfortable and snacks and drinks are included. Almost soundless, the train lurches forward without much sound and vibrations. After about two hours, the train swings slowly to the left to join the Verona – Brenner Line and the historical city of Verona appears in the horizon.
At Verona, we change train and hop into a Regional Fast. Slowly the flat grassland gives way to wooded landscape, and a hint of hilly terrain begin to appear. The train twist and turn through the beautiful scenery in sync with the Isarco River, a watercourse that is our companion for the next 80 kms or so. As the train stops at Rovereto from where Lake Garda is only a few miles to the west and isaccessible by local trains. Then comes the beautiful and vibrant riverside city of Trento.
From the train we can view beautiful villages and small towns, with their cottages and churches. If you are alert and sitting on the left side, you would also see one or two historic castles from a distance. The area is full of meandering rivers and endless vineyards. Then the rolling hills begin to give way to more dramatic sharp edged mountains as we trundle through, out of the “Italy proper” and into the bilingual Alto Adige or Sud Tyrol area.
From Bolzano, we begin agentle ascent through the hillyautonomous region of Italy that was once part of Austria, so we notice that station signs and train announcements are in German and Italian. The region is majority German-speaking and we are pleased by the cheerful “Gruss Gott” from our Italian ticket inspector! But, we also noticethat our Italian TT is carefully avoiding to confront a bunch of rowdy and ticket-less German-speaking teenagers. Sheer timidity or delicate actnot to inflame ethnic tension, we wonder.
The train continues on to Ponte Gardena, Foretezza, Vipiteno, and ColleIsarco, before terminating its course at Brenner. All of the stations, tunnels and viaducts which the train passes through still have German names. Once in Brenner, the train locomotives have to be switched or new train has to be taken, as Austrian trains use a different type of electrical engine.
Located just within the confines of Italy, on the cusp of the Austro-Italian border, Brenner is the starting point the main highlight of the journey. Austrian Railway’ regional trains arefar superior to Its Italian counterparts, both technically and comfort wise. The train climbs over 3000 ft. as it twists and turns, along with the motorway that links Innsbruck with Italy.
Once in the Austrian side of the pass, the nature and human habitat takes anenchanting form covering fantastic mountain views containing miles and miles of birch and pine trees, picturesque cottages and high Alpine pastures with grazing cattle in the summer months. I make my way to the very end of the train, for spectacular views out of the rear window as it climbs up and down the summit. The route crosses through the Austrian towns of Steinach and Matrei. Then following the water course of the River Inn and after a brief journey through a tunnel, we emerge into the regional capital, Innsbruck.
Innsbruck station is smack in front of atall snowy mountain, standing as if to guard the city. We change train that heads east away from the Tyrol. As ours is a long journey, we chose “direct route” using high-speed Railjet trains. On this route, the best views are on the left side of the train that includesphotogenic Lower Alpine villages filled with beautiful churches amidst charming cottages.
However, if we had more time, I would have chosen the longer route for this journey — via the Austrian town of Bischofshofen, that takes about three and a half hour. As I saw in my earlier visits, that routewas even more scenic, heading straight up into the magnificent Alps and passing right by some of the region’s most scenic sights: ancient covered bridges, emerald rivers, hilltop monasteries, restored castles, and picture-postcard towns, like Zell am See, that are set right at the edge of shimmering mountain lakes. The route also goes through some of the most-famous destinations in the skiing and climbing world, including Kitzbühel.
On our return journey, we took a cost saving night train that took a left turn after Verona to reach Venice early in the morning. As we walked out of Venice’s modernist Santa Lucia station, we couldn’t be anywhere else in the world, as the Grand Canal,with magnificent churches and mansions on its banks, stretches out before us, marking a magical end to this enjoyable journey.