As the last lights of Inverness, Scotland, disappeared into the gloom of night, I was pouring my second glass of Chianti on board the newly refurbished Caledonian Sleeper train.
The wine was one of the essentials I’d packed—along with a toothbrush and a good book—to help me relax in my cabin, which also had been recently revamped.
The experience was more akin to a moving hotel than a train, with double beds, room service, and en suite showers. Night trains like the Caledonian Sleeper—most featuring glamorous design and spacious cabins— were once everywhere in Europe.
Among these overnight rail routes were the likes of the Blue Train through the south of France, the Elipsos from Paris to Madrid, and the Night Ferry from London to Paris (a train that loaded all of its cars onto a boat to cross the English Channel).
All offered travelers the chance to eat, drink, and spend the night in style, arriving in a new locale by daybreak. But with the advent of air travel and cheap flights, many iconic sleeper routes were discontinued; what few remained were indeed opulent, but out of reach for the average tourist (think the Belmond Venice Simplon Orient Express, which costs around $4,000 per night).
Less than a decade after Europe’s night trains appeared to have reached the end of the line, a new French start-up has announced plans for a network of overnight services out of Paris from 2024.
Midnight Trains is hoping post-Covid interest in cleaner, greener travel will generate interest in its proposed “hotels on rails”, which aims to connect the French capital to 12 other European destinations, including Edinburgh.
The founders say the aim is not to match the famous – and expensive – luxury of the Orient Express but offer an alternative to the basic, state-run SNCF sleepers and short-haul flights. Key to the service will be “hotel-style” rooms offering privacy and security, and an onboard restaurant and bar.
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