If you think luxury train travel is a free croissant and a table lamp, think again. There is another world on two rails where opulence, luxury and first class service leaves passengers feeling like royalty. We caught up with Simon Pielow, co-founder of the Luxury Train Club to discuss the world’s most luxurious rail journeys.
“Almost everyone likes something about train travel.” Simon Pielow, co-founder of the Luxury Train Club, tells me. I think he makes a good point. Whether it’s watching the world go by outside the window or the opportunity to sit and make the most of an inevitable journey, rail travel (on a good journey) is both beautiful and relaxing. It’s the sort of travel that inspires books and carries a certain romance. The rail travel Simon deals in however, although sharing the same tracks, is a world away from the average first class commute.
“Luxury trains vary from the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, to the 15-day journeys on the Trans-Siberian, to the adventurous Tren Crucero Ecuador and excursions on London’s luxury train the British Pullman.” Simon says. “Around 30 luxury trains around the world differ one from the other.” Everything about luxury train travel is special. The routes take in everything: spectacular countryside, mountains, endless tundra, rolling deserts and coastal vistas. Passengers are treated to scenery that’s more often than not, impenetrable by car. If a country has a rail map, it’s likely to have a luxury train ready to reveal the secrets of its landscape.
The trains themselves are nothing less than palaces on wheels. The stunning bespoke interiors of dining and meeting cars are perfect for spending days watching the world pass by, whilst palatial sleeping quarters are perfect for drifting off to the gentle hum of train on track. All trains have a dedicated team of stewards, bar and cabin staff that take pride in their respective train and are able to see a passenger’s every need. High quality cuisine from talented onboard chefs and vast (and often complimentary drinks selections mirror the journeys cultural elements and there are ample opportunities for excursions. We asked Simon for a few recommendations and he did not disappoint.
THE MAHARAJAS EXPRESS, INDIA
Winner of the ‘Leading Luxury Train’ award at the World Travel Awards (for six consecutive years in a row), The Maharajas Express is arguably the world’s most luxurious train travel experience. With routes across western and central India, the train is a perfect way to get across the country in style, whilst taking in some of the world’s most famous historical sites. The train takes passengers back to the elegance of a bygone era, whilst maintaining all the modern comforts that can cater for 88 passengers, to the point where special train suspension even makes for a smoother ride. Presidential Suites come with a bathtub, need we say more?
BELMOND ANDEAN EXPLORER, PERU
The Belmond Andean Explorer operates along one of the world’s highest rail routes in the Peruvian Andes and is South America’s first luxury sleeper train. The train itself boasts two restaurant cars, piano bar/ lounge, outdoor observation deck, spa treatment car and eleven accommodation carriages which range from deluxe doubles to more modest bunks. The train takes in the Peruvian highlands as well as the Andean Plains and Lake Titicaca. An onboard Peruvian chef provides sumptuous dishes inspired by local delicacies.
THE GHAN, AUSTRALIA
One of the world’s most iconic train journeys deserves to be travelled in luxury. The Ghan, which bisects the country in half from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the tropical north, takes in some of Australia’s most vivid scenery crossing red desert, grass plains and lush greenery. Platinum cabins on the journey offer double beds, spacious en-suite bathroom and full room service. Interiors are finished in Tasmanian Myrtle and by day, beds fold to make way for a luxurious lounge space. Excursions can be organised along the route, including helicopter flights and canoe tours, but for a true outback experience nothing beats an early morning coffee watching an outback sunrise.
THE SHONGOLOLO EXPRESS, AFRICA
Named after the Zulu word for a large brown millipede, this impressive service winds its way through the southern half of Africa, taking in a variety of countries including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Emerald Suites are the train’s largest and these are complemented by beautiful dining and observational cars. The train travels through the night, with passengers waking up each morning to a new destination and a host of the continents ‘must see’ destinations. A great opportunity for a once in a lifetime safari by rail.
VENICE SIMPLON ORIENT EXPRESS, EUROPE
A true railway icon, the Venice Simplon-Orient express truly is a work of art, as well as a household name. Romance, adventure and the mystery of the past are all intimately bound up in journeys that visit some of the most alluring continental cities Europe has to offer. Few trains still exist from a more gracious, elegant age of travel. Vintage cabins, delicious afternoon teas and exquisite dining with lively on-board entertainment make a journey aboard this icon one of the world’s finest travel experiences. Pack your finest attire and expect champagne, a baby grand piano in the bar car and mosaic tiled loos.
For more information on luxury train travel; visit luxurytrainclub.com
Words By Davey Brett