These days, it seems, the buzz in travel circles is all about Europe's ultra-fast rail lines—those sleek Trains a Grande Vitesse or TGVs such as the Eurostar Chunnel train that zips under the English Channel between London and Paris in under three hours. These modern technological marvels dash along so fast that the countryside speeds by in a blur of green and brown, like a DVD player on fast-forward.

That's fine if you're in a hurry. It may be the way to commute, but it certainly isn't the way to travel. If you're into seeing the countryside, what you want is a ride aboard Europe's trains of no vitesse, "branch line" routes that are more about otherwise-inaccessible scenery than speed. These railways, engineering marvels from previous centuries, are Europe's forgotten trains, quirky little lines running through remote, hidden, but beautiful corners of Europe. Wrenched from the land by bold feats of engineering that even today seem improbable, they bore through mountains, snake along isolated river valleys, hug the sides of cliffs, clicketty-clack over impressive stone viaducts—all while traversing some of the most astounding views you'll find anywhere.

Sadly, many of these slow-track railways have fallen on hard times, their rights of way turned into bike or hiking paths, their stations sold at auction to urbanites looking for unusual country retreats. The remaining routes are an endangered species, under the constant scrutiny of railway officials and budget-constrained governments who'd close them were it not for the protests of rail fans and local residents who rely on the lines for basic transportation.

You can find these offbeat, remote railways in almost any European country, but four of my favorites are in Scotland, England, France and Italy. Unlike some of the privately-owned tourist trains, such as the cog railway that climbs up the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland, these trains offer scheduled services that carry farmers and housewives, students and even commuters, day in, day out, along with, of course, the occasional train nut (who, me?).