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All aboard the Eco Express: five great places to go by train

Ruth Styles

21st April, 2011

Whether you fancy a little continental flair, a Cornish pasty or a highland fling, there’s a train to get you there. Best of all, it’s clean, green and fuss-free

More than 36 million of us will be taking to the roads over the Easter weekend, with even more expected the following week. On the railways, however, it’s a different story with only 400,000 of us planning to make use of Britain’s trains. And that’s bad news for the planet as trains use 17 times less fuel to travel the same distance compared to an aircraft and five times less fuel than a car.

Emissions are also considerably less when you go by train and put less pressure on the UK’s overstretched road network. While cars are useful if your destination is a remote one, for the rest, taking the train is usually a quicker and easier way to travel. And with the beaches of Cornwall, the chocolatiers of Brussels and the panoramic views of the Peak District all easily reachable by train, taking a break by locomotive is easier than ever.

Best for history buffs: Avignon
A recent addition to the Eurostar timetable, Avignon is great for soaking up a little history with your sunshine. Founded by the Cavares, a pre-Roman Gallic tribe, the city is home to a huge array of architectural treasures, including the famous St. Benezet Bridge which straddles the river Rhone, the Palais des Papes and the Notre Dame des Doms cathedral. Located in the heart of the Luberon, the surrounding countryside is breathtaking with nearby hilltop villages such as Gordes well worth a visit for the panoramic views alone. The region is also famous for its rosé wine and a trip to the Chateauneuf des Papes vineyard, just outside of Avignon, is a must for wine buffs.
Get there: Eurostar operates weekly direct services from St Pancras International to Avignon between July and September. At other times, trains go via Lille. Prices start from £109 one-way
Find out more: www.avignon-tourisme.com

Best for foodies: Brussels
Belgians might not be renowned for their sense of humour but the comedy statuette, the Mannekin Pis, located just off the Grand Place, is proof that one exists. Mannekin Pis aside, the real delights of Brussels are to be found in its restaurants and bars. Famous for beer, chocolate and waffles, the Belgian capital has a well-earned reputation for being one of Europe’s top gastronomic destinations. A compelling blend of French refinement and Dutch portion sizes, Belgian cuisine gave the world some of its most iconic dishes including the misnamed ‘French’ fry and the heavenly moules marinières. If you want to find out a bit more about it, head to the Musée du Cacao et du Chocolate, a unique museum entirely dedicated to the sweet stuff. For a foodie treat that doesn’t ruin your teeth, head to the Museum Brasserie on the Rue de la Régence, which has a menu packed with Belgian classics whipped up by Michelin starred chef, Peter Goossens.  Another good option is Le Bier Circus on the Rue de l'Enseignement, which boasts a fantastic beer menu and hearty local fare.
Get there: A single to Brussels on Eurostar starts at £69 from St. Pancras
Find out more: www.visitbrussels.be

Best for parties: Edinburgh
Unfortunately it can’t be Hootenanny all year round, but even in mid-summer, the Scottish capital has plenty for hardened party-animals to love. Espionage, Revolution and the Citrus Club are key stops on the clubbing circuit but if you fancy something different, try Opium, which is famed for its heavy metal soundtrack or Studio 24 for its live music. Edinburgh also has festivals galore, including the world’s largest arts festival in the shape of the Edinburgh Fringe (5th to 29th August), an excellent jazz and blues event at the end of July and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which takes place from the 15th to the 26th of June.
Get there: East Coast operates daily services to Edinburgh from London King’s Cross. Fares start at £57 off peak
Find out more: www.edinburgh.org

Best for beaches: Cornwall
Generations of British tourists, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have spent their holidays enjoying Cornwall’s ultra-clean white sand beaches and for good reason. With over 296 miles of stunning coastline and 165 beaches, sun worshippers and surfers alike will be spoilt for choice. One of the best beaches for families is the Porthpean Beach located in the heart of the ‘Cornish Riviera’. Easily accessible thanks to the coastal footpath; the beach is home to miles of sandy dunes. Also worth a visit is the beach at Gurnards Head. A stroll along the sand lets you get close to the remains of an Iron Age coastal rampart and the picturesque Chapel Jane. For surfers, Fistral, which plays host to some of the UK’s most prestigious surfing competitions, is not to be missed.
Get there: First Great Western runs daily services from London Paddington to Penzance. Fares start at £51 off peak
Find out more: www.visitcornwall.com

Best for active types: Peak District
With its rugged terrain and pretty country pubs, the Peak District has long been a prime spot for hikers but has been quietly making a name for itself in the field of extreme sports. Rock climbing, potholing and orienteering opportunities abound with destinations like Eldon Hole or Nettle Pot among the most popular. If you’re new to adventure activities, the Whitehall Centre, three miles outside of Buxton, offers courses in climbing and canoeing among others. Horse riding is also popular and there are several dual purpose cycling and riding trails running through the countryside, including the Trans Pennine Trail and the Pennine Bridleway.
Get there: East Midlands Trains run daily services from London St Pancras to Matlock. Fares start at £26 off peak
Find out more: www.visitpeakdistrict.com

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