Luckily, a resurgence in luxury train excursions is allowing travelers to step back in time, stirring a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era — the halcyon days when a journey by rail was the epitome of sophistication, international glamor, and a sense of adventure. Replete with opulent surroundings and impeccable service, these train services combine the golden age of rail travel with modern conveniences, breathing life into the dusty old cliche: it’s about the journey, not the destination.
The following list of luxury train excursions found around the world proves that it’s not just about getting somewhere; it’s about getting there in style.
– PERU –
The Belmond Andean Explorer, South America’s first luxury sleeper train, weaves its way through the snow-capped Peruvian Andes, offering breathtaking views of Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and Arequipa. Traveling along one of the highest routes on the planet, this grand locomotive climbs to an astonishing 14,000 feet. (Guest cabins offer in-built oxygen “for additional comfort at high altitudes.”)
The one- and two-night itineraries allow for daily pit stops to explore local towns, natural wonders, and mythic ancient kingdoms.
The Andean Explorer features an observation car, a lounge, and two dining cars where passengers can enjoy refined Andean cuisine — alpaca tortellini, anyone? A spa car is also set to open in March 2018.
Peruvian accents and furnishings connect the chic interior with its surroundings in the form of bright textiles, hand-woven fabrics, and plush alpaca wool.
– JAPAN –
Japan is undoubtedly the global leader in train technology, and in recent years the tech-savvy nation has witnessed the rollout of several state-of the-art sightseeing “cruise trains.” The latest to be unveiled is the Shiki-Shima. Unlike the other trains mentioned in this list, the Shiki-Shima will not transport passengers back in time; rather, it will catapult them into the future, and what it lacks in period features, it makes up for in hi-tech opulence.
The train’s 17 private suites showcase Japanese craftsmanship with features such as working fireplaces and cypress wood baths. The most luxurious of the suites is two stories. Two gleaming-white observatory cars provide floor-to-ceiling panoramas, an ultra swanky, forest-inspired lounge boasts a piano bar, and the glamorous dining room is adorned with contemporary chandeliers.
On the one- to-three-night itineraries, guests visit hot springs, shrines, and castles while taking in uninterrupted views of eastern Japan’s forests, fields, and coastline. Because of the popularity of the new service, those who want a ticket to ride need to fill out an application, and the lucky few are then selected by lottery.
The futuristic interior of Japan’s latest “cruiser train,” the Shiki-Shima. (Photo credit: JR East)
– SCOTLAND –
As guests board the Belmond Royal Scotsman, they are greeted by a kilted bagpipe player and a flute of champagne (unless, of course, a single-malt is preferred). The United Kingdom’s only luxury sleeper train, the Belmond Royal Scotsman can accommodate 36 guests and traverses the ever-changing, dramatic Scottish landscape of the highlands, lowland, and coastlines. The elegant, Edwardian-style interior has a “country house” feel with cars that are mahogany-clad and furnished with tweed and soft Highland wool. Following dinner, nightly frivolity ensues as
Gaelic clansmen regale guests with tales of yore and local musicians play.
Specialized itineraries include The Scottish Golf Tour, The Whisky Journey, and The Grand Tour of Great Britain.
– CONTINENTAL EUROPE –
The Venice-Simplon Orient Express represents the quintessential “old-world elegance” experience as it recreates the original Orient Express journey from Paris to Istanbul. The impeccably restored 1920s-vintage cars are some of the most storied carriages in the world. Art Deco interiors are inspired by Paris, Venice, and Istanbul, and in one of the dining cars, guests can marvel at the famous art-nouveau glass carvings of Rene Lalique.
The staff — including a first class pianist, Chef du Tran, and head waiter — are impeccably dressed in 1930s uniforms. Each carriage comes with its own attendant. On the first evening, Champagne in the Lounge Bar precedes dinner, where silver table service is de rigueur. Guests are “encouraged” to dress for dinner: men in black tie and ladies in evening attire of their own choice. The entire experience feels like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, and indeed, the great cinematic auteur has been a guest aboard the VSOE and gives his seal of approval.
The recently unveiled Grand Suites aboard the Venice-Simplon Orient Express
feature private bathrooms with showers, double beds and a living area. (Photo credit: Belmond)
– INDIA –
The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels is the upgraded version of the world-famous Palace on Wheels. Embarking from Delhi on a seven-night passage, guests stop at world heritage sites, including The Taj Mahal, and visit former royal kingdoms and vibrant bazaars.
The interiors are a callback to the grandeur and opulence of the royal heritage of Rajasthan. The 14 luxury cabins are modeled on former palaces and decorated in hues of pearl, ruby, and sapphire. Guests take in views of India from large panoramic windows while reclining on divans, beds or as they enjoy dining at the multi-cuisine restaurants, sipping libations from the bar and indulging in state-of-the-art spa services.
Swarn Mahal, sumptuously decorated in hues of gold and crimson, is one of two dining cars
offered onboard the Royal Rajasthan in India. (Photo credit: Royal Rajasthan on Wheels)
– AFRICA –
The family-run Rovos Rail offers eight distinct routes throughout the African continent, with journeys including safaris, a trip to Victoria Falls, and a transcontinental excursion between Cape Town and Cairo.
The Pullman-style carriages are finished in polished teak and decorated in the style of 1920s pre-war glamor. The Victorian-esque dining cars offer cuisine that takes advantage of local delicacies, such as game, and complements each course with a selection of South African wines.
The refined and relaxed atmosphere is upheld with rules on guests’ comportment in the common carriages, where cell-phone and computer usage is restricted.
– PRIVATE TRAIN / CHARTER –
Owning your own private rail car (or cars) is perhaps the quintessence of luxury train travel. The majority of private owners are train buffs with very deep pockets who purchase defunct carriages and refurbish them. Amtrak provides the ability for rail car owners to have their privately owned cars attach to trains between specific locations in North America.
If you can’t afford to purchase and maintain your own private rail cars — which are often referred to as “yachts on rails” — several of these are available for private charter.
In between stops at local towns, natural wonders and ancient mythical kingdoms,
guests aboard the Andean Explorer take in views of the Peruvian landscape. (Photo credit: Belmond)