Mike Sansbury, Manager of The Grove Bookshop reviews Europe by Rail - The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kreis, published by European Rail Timetable Publications in paperback at £15.99.

IN this age of online booking and comparison websites it might seem that physical guidebooks could soon become a thing of the past, but there are some areas where a distinctly lo-fi approach is still acceptable, perhaps even preferable. The idea of travelling round Europe by train has always been an attractive prospect, although people usually think of it in extreme terms; the luxury of the Orient Express fulfils the needs of the more well-heeled traveller, while Inter-Railing is the province of the penniless student, rattling from country to country with a backpack and an open mind. There is, however, a middle way, for which Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries have provided an indispensable guide.

The book consists of fifty major routes, taking in most of mainland Europe, stretching from the nursery slopes (from London via Eurostar to Paris and on to the Riviera) to more adventurous journeys in Scandinavia, the Balkans and even into Russia. Each route is broken up into fairly short rail trips, under the assumption that as well as being a greener form of transport, the train option will appeal to people intent on slow travel. Scenic interludes are chosen ahead of more direct routes (although express options are also listed for those in more of a hurry) and journey times are given. In a nifty piece of cross-marketing, frequent reference is made to two further publications, the European Rail Timetable and Map; this trusty triumvirate should be all anyone needs to navigate the iron roads of the continent.

If this all sounds rather dry, do not be disheartened; the appeal of the book is much the same as that offered on arrival at any mainland station, namely the sheer range of routes and destinations available to the continental rail traveller. Head through France, for example, and every time you come to a major town your options increase fivefold, so that your journey to Marseille might end up taking you on a diversion to the chateaux of the Loire, the Basque country or the cathedrals of Aachen and Cologne. Similarly your meander along the Ligurian coast might lead you to a room with a view in Florence or a trip to see the world’s most famous lean-to in Pisa. It is also perfectly acceptable to pause for a couple of hours somewhere, have a leisurely lunch, take in a museum, then continue your journey.

Another assumption made by the authors is that anyone considering this kind of trip will be a fan of railways in general, so there are diverting panels giving historical information about railway architecture, train companies and even railway gauges (this last is much more interesting than it sounds). There is also much guidance on planning, buying tickets and finding accommodation, recommending the best and most user-friendly websites. All in all, this is a fantastic book which is perfect for any traveller, even the armchair variety.

The only reservation I have with all of this is that, in the light of recent events, the chance of easy, borderless travel through Europe might not be available indefinitely to people in this country. It is to be hoped that, once terms and conditions have been hammered out, this wonderful book is still a valuable travelling companion rather than a window into a vanished world.