Location: Runcorn

Wanted: An eco-friendly couple in their 20s would like a rail touring holiday. They would like an escorted tour in southern Europe, probably Spain and Portugal, but happy to look at options in France, Italy and elsewhere along the Mediterranean coast.

They’re flexible about dates and would prefer to travel to Europe by rail or coach to avoid flying, as it is more environmentally friendly to travel by train. They want a stress-free holiday and hope an escorted tour means they can sit back and relax.

Budget: £3,400

Winning agent

Sarah Plummer, travel consultant

It was quite an unusual request as we don’t get many for rail tours, but we do get quite a few for escorted tours and tailor-made holidays. A lot of people are doing coach tours or river cruises because they don’t want to fly. I have been in travel for 23 years, and with Hays for the last 18.


The shopper was initially disappointed that they did not get much information during the visits, but the agents did more research on the requests afterwards. Hays Travel and Thomas Cook both suggested interesting tours that matched the budget, with Hays’ quotations offering lots of detail.

Although Tui couldn’t quote for an escorted rail tour, the agency was able to produce options by coach, albeit well below budget.


Hays Travel, 79 Forest Walk,

Impressions: The shop was clean but nothing on the displays drew my attention. Staff were neat and tidy.

Service: I was greeted and served immediately by a friendly, enthusiastic agent. I was asked some questions but got the impression that the agent did not know much about this type of holiday. The agent asked for assistance from the manager a couple of times but otherwise gave me their undivided attention.

I was given the option of the agent arranging rail travel to St Pancras station in London for the start of the holidays and organising an overnight hotel if I wanted one. They said they would research the holidays available and send over the quotations by email after my visit.

Quotes: Both were with Rail Discoveries in September, departing from St Pancras in London. The first was for nine nights, to see places in southern Tuscany and Umbria such as Florence, Siena and Montepulciano.

It was £3,190. The second was seven nights for the Catalonia and Little Trains of the Pyrenees tour, for £2,390, travelling by Eurostar to Paris, then Girona, Pyrenees, Nuria Valley, Collioure and Figueres. A third tour was mentioned, for the Italian Riviera via Eurostar and TGV, for £2,590.

Overall: I would have preferred more information during the visit, although the quotations did contain more detail.

Thomas Cook, 97 River Walk,

Impressions: The shop and staff were neat but nothing much in the window and brochure displays would have enticed me inside.

Service: I was acknowledged straight away and warmly welcomed with a smile and eye contact. When I said what I was looking for, the agent wasn’t sure if Thomas Cook could provide a holiday like this. After consulting the manager, the agent returned and said they would carry out some research and let me know later by email.

I got the impression they had very little knowledge about this type of holiday and the agent did not seem enthusiastic about the query. I received a phone call and then the email with quotes a few days later.

Quotes: The first quote was for seven nights in September for a Great Rail Journeys tour called Roses, Catalan Coast and Trains of the Pyrenees, for £3,130. The second was for nine nights in October to Cadenabbia beside Lake Como, at £3,290. The cost of an overnight hotel room before the trip would be from £60.

Overall: I did not get any details in the store but the suggested holidays received by email a few days later seemed interesting.

Tui, 76 Town Square,

Impressions: The shop was clean but it was somewhat difficult to see inside because of the displays and building arch. Employees were neat and tidy.

Service: I was greeted immediately with a warm smile and spoke to an agent straightaway. I was told that they didn’t offer escorted rail holidays and was asked if I would consider a holiday without a tour guide or by coach.

I felt the agent had little knowledge about such holidays and I was given no recommendations. The agent, who was not enthusiastic, consulted their manager a few times to see if they could do any quotes for me. The manager got a brochure about coach trips and said it was the only thing they could offer.

Quotes: I later received three quotes for nine-day coach trips with Shearings Holidays. The first was the Italian & French Riviera Inclusive, visiting places such as Portofino, Monaco, Monte Carlo and Menton.

The holiday would cost £1,158 in September. The Heart of Italy trip would visit Rome, Florence and Siena in October and cost £826. The Lake Garda & Venice All-inclusive, visiting Venice and towns and villages of northern Lake Garda in September, would cost £1,120.

Overall: It was disappointing not to get quotes for rail touring holidays but the coach tours offered an affordable alternative.


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