The spirit of expedition continues to thrive as travellers seek out epic journeys to broaden their minds and stimulate their senses. Winter months or chilly climates might seem like challenges, but breathtaking snow-capped mountains and windswept views of glacial lakes create a magical travel experience. Here are three of the best icy voyages to try:
Glacier Express, Switzerland
It might not be as long as the Trans-Siberian, but this classic rail journey
makes up for it with a vertical spectacle of stunning proportions. Switzerland
has several mountain rail trips, but it is the Glacier Express, which runs
northeast from Zermatt to St Moritz, that is the most mythical. The
narrow-gauge rail rambles through meadows and over mountain passes, skirts
stone castles, gingerbread villages and the Matterhorn, and rumbles over 291
bridges and through 91 tunnels. It is one of most beautiful rail journeys on
Starting in Zermatt, the
gateway to the Matterhorn, the train winds slowly north down a valley to Brig.
From here it swings northeast along the pretty eastern stretch of the Rhône
Valley towards the Furka Pass (which it circumvents by tunnel) and descends on
Andermatt before again climbing up to the Oberalp Pass, the literal high point
of the trip at 2,044m. From there it meanders alongside the Vorderrhein River before
arriving in Chur. The main train continues to St Moritz, which has been luring
royals, the filthy rich and moneyed wannabes since 1864.
Ideal time commitment: one to two days
Best time of year: December to April
Essential tip: take the eastbound train, it is usually less crowded.
Book in advance if you are headed west from St Moritz.
Iceland’s Ring Road
Iceland is a magical country, and the best way to see it is via the Ring Road,
where you will encounter ambling sheep on the road and herds of horses
galloping across the tarmac – all adding to that unique Icelandic character.
You will notice you are in
a very different land straight away; the drive from Kevlavík airport to
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, is an eye-popping introduction as you pass
through a barren landscape of jagged, black lava fields. And the Ring Road is
the perfect road trip. Not only is traffic very light, but camping
opportunities abound, and many of Iceland’s highlights can be found right by
the roadside – including Jökulsárlón, a pristine glacial lake on the south
coast filled with huge icebergs that calve from Vatnajökull, the mammoth
glacier that forms Europe’s largest ice cap.
Other Ring Road highlights
include Northern Mývatn’s geological gems, which lie conveniently along the
road as it weaves through the harsh terrain between the north end of Lake
Mývatn and the turn-off to steaming Krafla. At Jökulsá á Dal, the outcrop
called Goðanes, about three kilometres west of the farm Hofteigur, was the site
of an ancient pagan temple where some ruins are still visible. The iron-stained
spring Blóðkelda (Blood Spring) carries an apocryphal legend that the blood of
both human and animal sacrifices once flowed into it.
Indeed, the ice will not be
the only thing that will make you shiver: some of the scenery alongside the
Ring Road is said to be haunted by mischievous leprechauns and bloodthirsty
Ideal time commitment: one to three weeks
Best time of year: June to August
Essential tip: detour off the road for many of Iceland’s more unheralded
Icefields Parkway, Canada
Threading through creases in the Rocky Mountains, the Icefields Parkway is
arguably the most spectacular mountain road trip in North America, and it is among
the finest in the world. The Parkway offers the full glossary of mountain
features as it crosses between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park –
shapely peaks, glacial lakes, copious wildlife, wildflower meadows, open passes
and the massive Columbia Icefield.
Today, it is said that
around 400,000 vehicles travel the parkway each year. The road transitions
between alpine and sub-alpine zones, with the dazzlingly coloured lakes
ever-present and the icefields laid out like frosting across the tops of the Rockies.
Numerous roadside stops allow you to take in the parkway’s natural features and
viewpoints. The parkway is also stitched with 19 trailheads heading away into
various wildernesses and national parks. Stop your car and follow one of the
walking trails – you will feel as though you are on top of the world within a
matter of hours.
Ideal time commitment: three to four days
Essential tip: drive in the early morning or late afternoon for the best
chance of spotting wildlife
The article 'Wintry sights along icy voyages' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.