Slow travel in style.
Train journeys are fascinating. Landscapes roll through the window of your cabin; light changes its mood and you see the effects on valleys, hills, and waterscapes. It’s a romantic way to travel and despite all the promises of air travel, it’s still relevant and riveting. You may think that in the age of instant gratification this mode of transportation won’t be thought of as dreamy, but the interest in long train journeys is not waning. With the pandemic, it may just be another avenue for travelers to slow down and experience the old world charm, Agatha Christie-style.
Europe is no stranger to train travel—it’s one of the best ways to experience the region—and there’s more happening on this front. Italy is investing in a new luxury train journey covering 14 regions and 128 cities, with all the trimmings to entertain and impress its passengers. The Dolce Vita train will be a glamorous way to travel through Tuscany, Sicily, Milan, and the Basilicata coast—there are 10 routes planned through the country. Each carriage will be synonymous with the word “grand” with designer fittings in its 32 cabins for 64 passengers.
While this one is expected to make its debut in 2023, there are other trains around the world that have refined the experience. We’re talking butlers unpacking suitcases, fine-dining on freshly caught seafood, and luxury suites with bathtubs! Take a look.
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Cruise Train Seven Stars
Japan’s first luxury sleeper train was launched in 2013. Seven Stars just has seven carriages for 30 people and booking a journey on this requires a bit of work—there’s an application and lottery process. So, what’s so special about this?
Colored a deep wine red, Seven Stars cruises through the island of Kyushu. Inside, the interiors celebrate Japanese artisans with rich colors, wooden paneling, and lattice screens. Everything has been designed by Japanese artisans. On board, you have a piano in the bar. Meals are thoughtfully crafted with seasonal ingredients. Suites have their own en-suite bathrooms. There’s no TV because what’s happening outside the window is much better than a screen. The multi-day itineraries help passengers explore the best Kyushu has to offer: onsens, mountains, shrines, and gastronomic indulgences.
Price: $3,000 for one including all meals.
Venice Simplon-Orient Express
It was the height of luxury rail travel when the Orient Express—of Agatha Christie fame—ran from Paris to Istanbul. To bring back that charm and glamour, Belmond’s founder James B. Sherwood bought vintage carriages from the 1920s and 1930s and restored the restored cars, 17 in total, roll through some of Europe’s most fantastic destinations.
Dressed to the nines (really, there’s a dress code), passengers step into another century, where stewards in white gloves and blue-and-gold livery welcome them with champagne. The Art Deco interiors are a salute to the past. There are cabins and suites with plush furnishing and dining is focused on fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced along the way.
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express rolls through idyllic sceneries of Europe: London, Paris, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague are some of its stops. You can also book a stay at Belmond’s dreamy stays across Europe and give yourself the full luxury experience. The iconic Paris to Istanbul itinerary is scheduled once a year and lasts five nights. It’s a bucket list experience whether or not you’re a fan of Murder on the Orient Express.
Belmond is adding more routes and three Grand Suites to the passenger train, it announced in January.
Price: Starts at $3,297 for one.
WHERE: South Africa
The Blue Train has been operating since the 1920s. It got a facelift in the 1970s and now it’s one of the best ways to see South Africa. Passengers can choose between the two-night Cape Town to Pretoria (or vice versa) and the 19-hour Pretoria to Hoedspruit (and return) journeys. From its large windows, you can watch the changing landscapes, flatlands to mountains to national parks and vineyards.
Have you ever imagined sinking into a bathtub on a train? Here, you can. All suites also have a writing desk and a butler. It also features a dining car, where passengers can feast on local delicacies with jazz and classical tunes playing in the background. Have a pre-meal drink at the Club Car, or relax in the Lounge Car with a book. This is how dignitaries have traveled too, including Nelson Mandela.
Price: Starts at $1,560 for one person including meals and excursions.
Running for 30 years, Rovos Rail takes up to 72 guests on two-day to 15-day itineraries across Africa. The 14-day Dar es Salaam journey through South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe involves bush walks, off-board excursions to historic towns and falls, and stays in a game reserve. Of course, the sights of the bush, valleys, winelands, and arid deserts are part of the package. A short, three-day ride from Pretoria to Cape Town opens your eyes to the mining past of the country, while mountain ranges and winelands play like a movie on the windows.
Interiors are old school and vintage. The suites are wood-paneled and equipped with writing desks, luggage shelves, and robes and slippers. The Royal Suite features a bathtub and a small lounge area. The train has dining cars, a lounge, a gift shop, and an observation deck to take in the views. Dress in smart casuals and formals as you dine on fine china and sip South Africa’s finest wines. You’ll also get safety glasses, in case you want to feel the wind in your air at the open-air balcony of the observation deck.
Price: $1,788 upwards for short journeys; $13,200 upwards for 14-day Cape Town to Dar es Salaam.
The Canadian Rockies are a sight to behold. Its rugged peaks, sparkling lakes, and uninterrupted forests and meadows make travelers gape in awe. Just imagine how dazzling the experience would be if you were to sit in a glass dome cabin, a glass of wine in hand, and peek at its wonders and wildlife.
The Rocky Mountaineer has a host of itineraries that take you through the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver. Here’s the catch: it’s not a sleeper train. It only runs during the day and you can book a hotel for the night. The GoldLeaf Service is the ultimate luxury on this train. Passengers get access to a bi-level glass dome coach, a dining area on the lower level, and an exclusive outdoor viewing platform.
Price: This seven-night journey from Vancouver to Calgary starts at $3,285 with two nights hotel stay free.
Travel like royalty on India’s glitzy Maharajas’ Express. The train tries to illustrate an era when kings and queens traveled the country. It has 43 cabins and suites that can accommodate up to 88 passengers. If you’re willing to splurge a little, the Presidential Suite is the best on board with a living room, two bedrooms, and an en-suite bathroom. Passengers also get their own private butler. The train is wifi-enabled and also features two restaurants and two bars.
The journeys give you a glimpse into the heritage of India and the off-shore excursions are insightful. Book the Indian Splendour—a six-day journey from Delhi to Mumbai that stops at Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur, and Udaipur—to get guided cultural tours and sample local cuisine.
Price: The Indian Splendour tour starts at $5,980.
Belmond Andean Explorer
Adventurers, backpackers, and culture buffs are attracted to the rugged Peruvian Andes for their Incan ruins and rugged beauty. With Belmond Andean Explorer, you won’t have to rough it out in the mountains. This 16-carriage luxury sleeper train by Belmond takes passengers on one-night and two-night journeys to dizzying heights that were once trekked only on foot. Start this once-in-a-lifetime trip at the historic capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco. The train chugs to Lake Titicaca, which is the largest freshwater lake in South America, and then pulls the brake at Arequipa with a pause at Lake Lagunillas and the Sumbay Caves.
The train has 35 cabins designed with a nod to the Peruvian aesthetic, while chefs whip up Peruvian delicacies in the dining cars. Guests can also unwind in the lounge car where a piano plays soothing music, or capture the landscape to memory from the observation car. A spa is another indulgence on this train!
Price: Starts at $462 for one night per person.
The Presidential Train
The name says it. This train used to transport kings, presidents, and heads of state in the 20th century, but retired after almost a century of operations in 1970. In 2010, it was restored and was resting in the railway museum, from where it was rescued by a businessman who brought it to the tracks again. Now, the Presidential Train—maintaining its royal glory—takes passengers on gastronomical journeys with Michelin-star chefs pairing dishes with fine wines from Portugal’s wine region.
The train pulls out of the 100-year-old São Bento station in Porto and slowly chugs along the Douro River and wine estates. Sitting on plush, velvet seats, you sip the wines from the Douro region and feast on a multi-course menu in the dining cart all through the round trip. The Presidential Experience is 10 hours long, but you can also book two- and three-day journeys with hotel stays.
Price: $878 per person for the Presidential Experience.
From Adelaide to Darwin, The Ghan covers 2,979 kilometres (1,851 miles), cutting through the dramatic and daunting Red Centre of Australia. This train is named after the Afghan camel drivers who transported goods to the remote towns and helped construct the railway lines in the indomitable Red Centre. In 1929, The Old Ghan made its maiden journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs (it took 50 years to slowly construct the rail line). This train was irregular and unreliable; it was once stranded for two weeks! It was only in 2004 that Darwin was connected to the network and the spectacular cross-country journey came to life.
The Ghan Expedition is much more reliable and comfortable now. This is a grand way to see the remote interiors of the nation and learn a little about its history and Indigenous culture. The three-night journey on The Ghan starts in Darwin with stops in Katherine, Alice Springs, and Coober Pedy, before it pulls up at Adelaide. The scenery changes: hills and the inky night sky; red rocks and vegetation. While you’re star-struck by what’s happening outdoors, take delight in fine wines and a gourmet menu with regional fare (grilled kangaroo fillet and saltwater barramundi are on offer). You’ll also love the off-shore excursions, including a visit to the magical Uluru.
Price: $1,392 per person for three-night The Ghan Darwin to Adelaide. More itineraries and packages are available.
Eastern and Oriental Express
This is another offering by Belmond that rolls through a continent of rich cultures and perennial beauty. The Eastern and Oriental Express travels through Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand—its ornate interiors, vintage decor, wood-paneled corridors, and silk furnishings are an ode to the region.
The Singapore to Bangkok itinerary includes two nights’ accommodation, daily four-course meals, three-course lunch, afternoon tea, breakfasts, and house wines and local beers. Explore a rural Malaysian village, bike through rice paddies, and enjoy the niceties the train has to offer on this extravagent journey.
Price: $3,665 per person for Singapore-Bangkok.