A bouquet of blooms to look out for while travelling across the continent by train.
They may be fleeting moments, but we have all had them when travelling by train during spring and summer months - flashes of colour as flower meadows or blankets of bloom sweep past, lifting our heads out of our phones or books, and our hearts too.
Tulip season in the Netherlands
The best time to see tulips in the Netherlands is from mid-April to end of May so, although it is a quick window, the tulip fields are a glorious sight if you can catch a glimpse from your train window. There is a great rail network in the Netherlands so you will be in with a pretty good chance, particularly if you head north from Amsterdam to Lelystad. This is capital of Flevoland where tulip farms thrive amongst the northern polders.
The train from Amsterdam to Alkmaar also takes you through colourful landscapes where the flat terrain makes for easy sightings. Take a train to Haarlem, rent a bike and cycle down the Leidsevaart canal to Lisse, which is tulip bliss. Lisse is also where you can access Keukenhof Gardens where millions of bulbs are planted and which you can visit for a fee. The easiest station access, if you aren’t cycling, is Leiden, where you can pick up a direct bus to the gardens.
Lavender in Provence
Taking the train to Provence is easy, with high-speed trains to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. The best time to see lavender is June and July although it is not actually that easy to spot it from the train. You need to go quite off the beaten train paths to the Luberon and Verdon plateau regions, to the north of Aix-en-Provence and east of Avignon, where purple is most prolific. You can immerse yourself fully at the region’s lavender festivals though, the main ones being at Valensole on the first Sunday in July and Digne-les-Bains during the first week of August. Both are accessible by bus from Manosque Gréoux les Bains train station.
Sunflowers in France
Sunflowers are more visible than lavender on your train journeys during June and July as they are used as a crop, plus they can grow as high as 3m. If you are taking the train through Burgundy, such as to Dijon, Auxerre or Beaune, keep your eyes peeled for those yellow streaks across the landscape.
The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is also awash with gold during this time of year, so take the train to the likes of La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Biarritz or Poitiers before the August droop starts to happen or, even worse, before they are all cut down completely. Just sit back in your train seat and turn your head towards the sun. Of course you can also see sunflowers in Provence, with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painted at Arles which is just 17 mins by train from Avignon or half an hour from Nîmes. If you are really lucky, you can spot lavender and sunflowers together, as they are often grown alongside each other.
Almond blossom in Andalucía
January and February are the months when Andalucía is at its most aromatic, the region’s almond blossom hitting the hills around cities like Granada, Seville, Cordoba and Málaga. The top region for almond trees is the Alpujarra, with its traditional villages set into the south slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You can take a bus to some of these villages from Granada but you keep an eye out for Andalucían seasonal scatterings of white blowing and glowing across these stunning landscapes at the beginning of each year.
Sunflowers in Tuscany
Travelling by train through Tuscany is a joy at the best of times, but seeing this already perfect picture illuminated with streaks of gold during July is the icing on the cake. A couple of top journeys for sunflower smiles are between Siena and Buonconvento or Siena to Asciano-Monte Oliveto Maggiore. If you are heading to Tuscany earlier in the year, it also gets its fair share of poppies in April and May, particularly around the Val d’Orcia.
Poppies in France
Poppies are omnipresent in France, with May to June the peak season for splashes of red. However, unlike the romantic image of Claude Monet’s famous painting "Les coquelicots" in the Val-d'Oise region, or Van Gogh’s "Champ de coquelicots” in Auvers-sur-Oise, coquelicots being the French name for poppies, you don’t see fields full of them so much anymore as they are considered a pest by farmers and often eradicated. Thankfully, the prettiest of pests insist on coming back year after year in many spots along a European train journey, their symbolic presence reminding us that barren can, thankfully, be rendered beautiful in places where we least expect.
Other colours from nature's palette
There are many other sumptuous swathes to look out for on train journeys across Europe. Take the slow, regional train between Barcelona to Seville to follow the coast, for example, through the Sierra Morena where the chestnut soils change colour by the hour, depending on the sun. Same goes for the Despeñaperros gorge, making this one of Spain's most magnificent train journeys. At just over 11 hrs long, you can break the journey up to stop at Valencia, Córdoba and then Seville, with just one direct train a day in the morning from Barcelona. You can also get some incredibly pretty prices on this route too if you keep an eye out.
In contrast to this golden terrain, as you travel into Cádiz by train the glistening pools and white piles around the area's saltpans are quite a sight. As this city is surrounded by water, another option is to take the train as far as El Puerto de Santa Maria and then a ferry over to the ancient port city, to get the full hit of colour all around you.
Photo credits top to bottom: Tulip fields in the Netherlands ©Beeldbewerking, lavender in Provence ©ronnybas, sunflowers and lavender in France ©LianeM, almond trees in Spain iStock ©Fotomicar, poppies by railway track ©johnnymix, Sierra Morena Spain iStock ©Aitormmfoto
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