St Pancras to Dracula’s Castle by train is three holidays in one


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They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That step, for me, comes at 5am on a Tuesday morning in central London. As first light breaks over Bloomsbury’s Cartwright Gardens, a blackbird starts singing from the treetops. The sound echoes off the Georgian townhouses and flows down to the pavement, where the only person around to hear it is me. I have a backpack on and a train to catch. The blackbird keeps singing as I walk through the urban dawn to Euston Road.

Within 15 minutes, I’m passing through check-in at St Pancras International, listening to grumbles in various languages about the ticket-reading machines. Less than three hours later, I’m stepping into Café les Deux Gares, a little chequered-tiled espresso joint in the 10th arrondissement. “Monsieur,” says the waiter in greeting. Jazz is tootling from the speakers, someone’s reading Le Figaro and a moped is parking up outside the window. Paris is very much awake.

Trains are adept at whisking you from the middle of one scene to the middle of another, and the joy of this particular journey is that there’s more of the same to come. From Paris, the European rail network spools out to all corners of the continent, practically begging for onward adventure. My final destination lies some 1,100 miles and two days away to the east, in Romania’s Southern Carpathian mountains. I have just two hours here in the French capital – where the Café des Deux Gares, as its name suggests, sits between Gare du Nord and nearby Gare de l’Est – but there are riches ahead.

pBoarding the Eurostar at St Pancras/p

Boarding the Eurostar at St Pancras

(Ben Lerwill)

Western Europe takes its high-speed trains seriously. From Gare de l’Est, I board an Inter-City Express (ICE) which hurtles me across the map to Stuttgart in under four hours, crossing the Rhine at Strasbourg and – according to the in-carriage information screen – at times topping 185mph. France passes by in a whoosh of open farmland and wooded hills. Stuttgart Central Station doesn’t ooze glamour but does sell great stuffed pretzels, and after a concourse lunch I continue east, this time bound for Munich.

One of the things that strikes you most about travelling across Europe by rail is the lack of hassle

Explore, in this instance, translates as heading straight for the Gellért Thermal Bath, where I wallow for hours under Art Nouveau mosaics, stepping in and out of peasouper steam rooms and occasionally dunking myself in freezing plunge pools. By the time I leave, there’s a lingering late-afternoon heat on the banks of the Danube and one of Europe’s mightiest city panoramas is spread in front of me: a vision of grand domes and dinner-cruisers.

The final leg of my journey is waiting on platform one of Budapest Keleti station: a blue sleeper train heading for the mountain-ringed town of Braşov. I buy some picnic supplies – bread, cheese, tomatoes, local wine – then step on board. My cabin is simple, with a neat single bed and a basin. We roll into the Eastern European evening. At around 10.30pm, I’m visited by the Hungarian border guards, then half an hour later by their Romanian counterparts, then I sleep.

In the morning I wake in Transylvania. There’s a soft mizzle over the hills when I disembark, but I’ve arrived. Bran Castle – of Dracula fame – sits a few miles away, and beyond that are wild bears and swathes of virgin forest, one of the continent’s last wildernesses. A little over 48 hours ago I was stepping onto the pavements of Bloomsbury, being serenaded by a blackbird, and five trains later I’ve reached the other edge of Europe. Who says Romania’s far-flung?

pLast leg: The sleeper train to Brasov/p

Last leg: The sleeper train to Brasov

(Ben Lerwill)

Travel essentials

Getting there

Find full information on booking these rail journeys independently at[2]

Staying there

Eden Hotel Wolff is conveniently located, adjacent to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (central station).

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More information

The writer was travelling as part of Original Travel[3]’s ‘Nature, History & Culture: London to Transylvania by Train’ itinerary, which includes the option to extend time in Budapest.