Ffestiniog Travel

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10 of the Best Rail Journeys from 50 Years of Train Travel!

Having spent the last 50 years travelling thousands of miles around the world by train, how do you choose your top ten rail journeys?

As part of rail tour operator Ffestiniog Travel's 50th anniversary celebrations, its founder Alan Heywood was invited to do just that. Since leading his very first tour to Switzerland in 1974, Alan has escorted hundreds of rail travellers around the globe – and continues to do so at the age of 83! In 2024 he will once again return to Switzerland and lead tours to Romania, Georgia, Armenia and Slovenia!

With so many rail journeys to choose from, he has managed to select his top 10 personal favourites and briefly explains why:

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Albanian Odyssey – May 2022

We welcome a second travel blog from David Grosvenor, an artist based in North Wales, who returned to travelling further afield with gusto this year by joining two of Festiniog Travel’s Small & Traditional escorted holidays. In this write-up David offers further, frank insight into our ‘away from the tourist trail’ tours when he travelled with a small group to Albania (including visits to Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) to explore this mountainous and sparsely populated country and encountered a very warm welcome, delicious food and spectacular scenery that he struggled to find the words for!

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Kyrgyzstan – Mountains, Lakes & Nomads – July

A regular traveller with Ffestiniog Travel, David Grosvenor has shared his thoughts and photographs of our recent escorted tour to Kyrgyzstan. This Small and Traditional tour is the most remote destination in Ffestiniog Travel’s tour portfolio and certainly lives up to its ‘small and traditional’ tour status. A small group departed on this inaugural tour in July 2022 followed quickly by a second departure in the same month due to popular demand. David provides a candid account of his experience in Kyrgyzstan in this travel blog, which also serves to capture the authenticity of our Small & Traditional tour range. These escorted tours visit countries that still remain untouched by large scale tourism and discover remote areas, true nature, rich culture and wonderful history with the services of a knowledgeable local guide.

David describes his words as “a personal blog written during this amazing tour.”

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Bonn and Rhine in Flames Tour

One of our regular and popular escorted tours explores scenic regions that surround the mighty Rhine river in Germany and is run to coincide with one of the country’s most culturally important events in the calendar year – the ‘Rhine in Flammen’ Festival. This is a very relaxing 5-day holiday, and our next visit will be based in one of Germany’s oldest cities, Bonn. In this blog, tour leader John Robson, offers an insight into this short European break and why it is worth considering joining us when we run it again in 2022!

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Mountains and Coast in Montenegro

During the hiatus in travel and holidays forced upon us by the pandemic Ffestiniog Travel Director Alan Heywood decided to take a retrospective look at his many travels and has written a blog based on his 2018 research trip to Montenegro which formed the basis of our Small & Traditional escorted tour of the Mountains and Coast in Montenegro, a 13-day tour that we will be running in September 2022.

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A Guide to Narrow Gauge Steam in East Germany

One of our most popular destinations among rail enthusiasts (often joined by partners and friends) is Germany - rail tours that take in some wonderful narrow gauge steam railways, particularly in the former East. Many of the railways we visit continue to operate daily services to the local community and attract many train tourists, keen to take advantage of lots of steam travel, available on a regular basis! Ffestiniog Travel tour leader John Robson once again brings his experience and expertise in this guide that focuses particular attention on the railways that Ffestiniog Travel includes in its Narrow Gauge in Eastern Germany and Dresden Steam Festival escorted tours.

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Weaving Through Scotland’s Western Isles and Highlands

In this blog, Ffestiniog Travel tour leader Geoff Lumley, takes you on one of his favourite journeys, island hopping through Scotland’s Western Isles and Highlands. He has visited Scotland many times and provides some visual advice in words on how to get the most out of travelling so far north to the Scottish Highlands and Outer Hebrides and offers suggested routes you can take, by train, ferry and road. It follows a similar path taken by our escorted tours.

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Harz Railway

Ffestiniog Travel tour leader John Robson has penned another blog to share his experience and expertise of navigating the comprehensive Harz Railway network that weaves its way through Germany’s beautiful Harz Mountains. Ffestiniog Travel have been running escorted and arranging tailored rail holidays to the Harzer-Schmalspurbahnen (HSB) for over 30 years and the popularity of this destination shows no sign of waning. It appeals both to the rail enthusiast and partners in equal measure due to the abundance of steam-hauled locos and the scenic charms of the region. In this blog John offers some insights into how you can make the best of your time on this wonderful and extensive railway playground.

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The Far West of Ireland – A Tour Leader’s Experience of the Emerald Isle by Train!

This blog by Ffestiniog Travel tour leader, John Robson, brings to life one of our popular tours, a circular rail journey around Ireland, which he led in 2018 – a recollection from the viewpoint of a tour leader! Let John’s words and memories transport you on a written journey through the ‘Emerald Isle’!

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Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World

Our latest Recommended Railway Read is courtesy of Anthony Lambert a prolific award-winning travel writer, contributing articles to a wide range of national and international newspapers and magazines and who specialises in rail travel worldwide, Switzerland and Canada. Anthony has evidence of an interest in railways from the age of two and has since travelled on railways in over 55 countries and penned and contributed to 12 books on railway travel and journeys, including the Insight Guide to Great Railway Journeys of Europe. Our chosen book is his most recent Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World which is a celebration of the lost railway heritage and the lines that can no longer be travelled. It takes in the great cathedral-like railway stations of the steam age and the obscure lines built through spectacular landscapes. Illustrated with stunning images the book takes the reader as close as they can possibly get to the lost world of dining cars, sleeping cars, station porters and international rail travel. All of the featured railway routes have stories to tell and the lost journeys are captured in the old postcards and posters that accompany photographs drawn from collections and archives across the world. Below is an extract from the book that takes you to the ‘wild west’ of America and its pioneering railroads.

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Facing Forwards: Europe. Solo. No Looking Back by Lorraine Wilson

We are delighted to introduce a female author to our list of Recommended Railway Reads. Over three months, freelance journalist Lorraine Wilson, travelled solo through Europe by train, stopping at 57 destinations in 21 countries and covering 11,500 miles. The result was her delightful book, "Facing Forwards: Europe. Solo. No Looking Back". This railway and life-changing odyssey followed in the footsteps of a financial meltdown, heartbreak, bereavement, and poor health over the previous five years. At the age of 48, single, childless and having sold her home Lorraine was struggling to decide where her life was heading. In the end the best thing to do, she thought, was to head off into the unknown! Facing Forwards is the result - not a conventional travel book, but a journey of self-discovery over one summer with lots of memorable encounters along the way. Below is an excerpt from the book which finds Lorraine in Slovakia and, like most of her journey, chronicles her experiences off the rail tracks as well as on them.

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Getting to Know our Travel Team

Many of you will be familiar with Ffestiniog Travel’s team members, having liaised with them when planning and booking your rail holidays and train journeys with us. Some of you may have met them face to face as tour leaders, as several have escorted our train tours. Some of the team have been furloughed and others have been busy working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown, fulfilling refund obligations, dealing with suppliers and planning tours for 2021. We thought it would be a good idea to check in with them and find out a little more about what inspires them and their favourite places to visit around the world. Some have been with the company for many years and have benefitted from its in-house training opportunities and moved up the ranks to take on more travel responsibilities – a reward for their continued expertise and dedication to Ffestiniog Travel and its customers. We asked them some broad questions, ranging from their favourite rail journey to their favourite book and meal, so we could give you a little snapshot of the people who help make your rail holiday dreams come true!

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On the Slow Train by Michael Williams

For our third instalment of our Recommended Railway Reads we have the pleasure of sharing an excerpt from ‘On the Slow Train’ by best-selling author Michael Williams, which takes you to the very beginning of the book and finds the author at the remotest railway junction in the most westerly part of England! The success of this book led Michael to write a follow-up On the Slow Train Again and his other notable railways reads include Steaming to Victory and The Trains Now Departed. Michael is a journalist and academic – writing, broadcasting and blogging on transport, society, the media and other issues of the day for the national media and many other outlets, including the Independent, the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the New Statesman. Michael is also a leading travel writer, reporting on journeys around the world for a variety of publications. In his academic role, he is co-editor and author of the book The Future of Quality News Journalism. He lives with his family in Camden Town, London. Here is Ffestiniog Travel’s introduction to his work.

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What it means to be a Ffestiniog Travel Tour Leader!

As the world of travel and holidays takes a breather during the COVID-19 crisis we thought we would catch up with some of Ffestiniog Travel’s tour leaders and invite them to share some memories and thoughts of their tour leading travels with us. It also provides an opportunity for our regular customers and new travellers to get an insight into their world of escorting passengers to destinations around the globe. We sent each tour leader some guided questions to answer and the result is this interesting blog in which they outline their own personal experiences in the first person. Find out about their favourite Ffestiniog Travel tour, top places to visit, some funny travel anecdotes and what it takes to be an effective tour leader!

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Ticket to Ride by Tom Chesshyre

We continue our ‘Recommend Railway Read’blog with Tom Chesshyre’s Ticket to Ride which also includes a Ffestiniog Travel mention after Tom joined us on one of our Small & Traditional escorted tours to Kosovo.

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Railway to Heaven by Matthew Woodward

Welcome to the first in a series of Recommended Railway Read blogs, where we invite you to delve into an excerpt from our chosen book to see if it piques your train travel interest. During this time of COVID-19 enforced lockdown we thought you might enjoy some armchair travel courtesy of a good railway read!

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Eco-Friendly Rail Travel

As an expert rail tour operator Ffestiniog Travel will always advocate train travel as the best way to see more of a country at ground level within the timeframe of a typical holiday. If you factor in the environmental impact of travelling anywhere then the train trumps flying and road travel for being the most eco-friendly. As more and more people become mindful of their carbon footprint, how they reach their holiday destination or tour a country is fast becoming a major influence on where they go and how they holiday.

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Kyrgyzstan – Mountains, Lakes and Nomads

Readers who are already familiar with our Small and Traditional tours to former Communist bloc countries will know that we are always looking for new destinations, especially those that give the opportunity to explore those places which are well off the beaten track and to learn about the local culture and social history whilst, at the same time, sampling their railways. It all started with Romania back in 2008 and has subsequently expanded to include most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan. Whilst the details may change from country to country, we do aim for some constant themes in this programme, particularly the use of locally owned accommodation, restaurants, transport and guides. This ensures that our custom benefits the local community rather than lining the pockets of multi-nationals.

Inevitably our research trip can be no more than a framework of the holiday which will eventually evolve. The first job is to plan a route, select and check the accommodation and get a feel for the places of interest that can be visited. It also tells us a lot about the feasibility of the proposed transport arrangements, how long it takes to get from A to B, whether it is possible to get refreshments on the proposed route and so on – the things that make our “Small and Traditional” tours what they are. We also need a good local agent to do the “fixing” on the ground and this company needs to subscribe to our way of doing things.

My colleague for this new adventure was, as always, Ramona. She has been the inspiration for all the Small and Traditional programme and her involvement ensures a uniformity of standard across the brand. Those who have travelled with her in Romania and elsewhere will know exactly what I mean.

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Uzbekistan - The Silk Road

The Telegraph described Uzbekistan as the “most fascinating country you’ve never been to” with only an estimated 1,000 Britons visiting each year. Ffestiniog Travel has been running an annual escorted tour to the country since 2017 and the destination is gaining interest among a growing number of tourists as red tape surrounding the former Soviet Union country eases. The country has so much to offer, some of the most beautiful cities in Central Asia and an interesting history along the famous Silk Road. This blog has been written by Ian Handley, a Ffestiniog Traveller, who joined one our Uzbekistan tours. He was drawn to the railway element we included in the tour itinerary and shares his experience of the train and transport systems of the country.

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Indian Hill Railways - another account

A rail tour of India's remarkable Hill Station railways offers both the enthusiast and general train tourist a wonderful opportunity to experience a piece of India and railway history. To cover the Shimla, Darjeeling and Nilgiri Hill Railways in the timeframe of a regular holiday - in this case 3-weeks - requires a lot of travelling, as Ffestiniog Travel guest David Peel, found out. But the sightseeing content and railway experiences certainly made it a worthwhile odyssey. David shares his thoughts of Ffestiniog Travel's 2017 Indian Hill Railways tour in this unedited, candid account!

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Why Choose Ffestiniog Travel?

  • UK's first rail tour operator to run an overseas escorted rail holiday in 1974
  • Created for people who love rail holidays and exploring the world’s heritage railways
  • Dedicated rail holiday specialist - great destinations, sightseeing and unparalled railway content
  • Train ticket supplier for worldwide rail operators - we can plan and arrange your rail journey to anywhere
  • Knowledge of the world’s rail routes makes us leading specialists in escorted and Tailor Made rail holidays
  • Over 60% of our existing rail tour travellers return to holiday with us year after year
  • Committed to supporting rail travel and heritage railways around the world
  • Our profits support the continued preservation of the famous Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways
  • Small, dedicated rail holiday travel team offering an award winning personal service

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