Long before planes took to the sky, trains chugged along the rails. Once completed, railways moved people faster than ever from one area to the next. Cities grew as people arrived. Some stayed, some didn’t; regardless, trains got populations on the move.
Train travel began as an uncomfortable experience, designed simply to transport from one point to another. As traveler needs changed and expectations became grander, luxury trains were introduced, providing white-glove service, fine dining and separate sleeping quarters in opulent surroundings.
To travel by luxury train is to step back in time to a period of elegance, romance and mystery. Think Agatha Christie and the Orient Express. In our current era of harried speed, the draw for a slower pace is seen as an indulgence. The destination can wait. Getting there is the real voyage. Slow down, be pampered, and enjoy the journey and the spectacular landscapes that are included. To get you planning, here are 10 possible alternatives.
10 The Blue Train: $1,850
Connecting Pretoria and Cape Town, this is sumptuous elegance at its finest. Guests can expect outstanding service, a personal butler, opulent suites and exceptional cuisine. During the day, enjoy the outstanding panoramic views from your elegant suite. At night, it’s converted to a personal haven with goose down duvets and pillows. Each suite comes with its own personal full bathroom consisting of shower/bath, marble floors, marble basin with gold fittings and heated floor for maximum comfort. In the dining car, superb signature dishes, made with the finest local ingredients, are served on fine china and delicate crystal. Excellent wines are offered, contributing to the ultimate culinary experience in one of the most exotic locales on earth. One-way between Pretoria and Cape Town during high season starts at $1,850 per person, which includes all meals, drinks and even Montecristo Havana cigars!
9 The Eastern and Oriental Express: $2,170
Running 1,262 miles between Singapore and Bangkok this train conjuring up images of a period filled with glamour and opulence. All cabins are air-conditioned and include private bathrooms. They are paneled with cherry wood and elm burr and adorned with decorative marquetry and intricate inlays. 24-hour service is available and called by a bell. Dining on board is a highlight. Its French chef has developed dishes that have received international accolades for blending Western and Eastern culinary styles. Breakfast is served in your compartment, while high tea can be enjoyed wherever you prefer. Three nights start at $2,170 during low season. All your food is included, but drinks are not. A bottle of wine starts at $40.
8 The Venice-Simplon Orient Express: $3,140
Undoubtedly, the most famous of all train routes, the original Orient Express ran between Paris and Istanbul. On May 25, 1982, on its inaugural voyage between London and Venice, the train was filled with royalty and celebrities like Liza Minelli, along with numerous bottles of magnum champagne. This voyage marked the beginning of Venice-Simplon Orient Express linking three of the world’s most romantic cities: London, Paris and Venice (Istanbul is still accessible). Vintage art deco cars from the 1920s and 30s have been restored to their original grandeur, providing the elegance of a bygone era. Each night enjoy a four-course gourmet meal in one of three refined wood-paneled dining carriages. Breakfast and afternoon tea is served in the comfort of your cabin, which is easily reverted to a sitting lounge by stewards trained in providing exceptional customer service. Spring rates start at $3140 for 3 nights.
7 The Ghan: $3,390
Named for the Afghan cameleers who once traveled this route, The Ghan has been traversing Australia for more than 80 years, taking guests from Adelaide to Darwin, in comfort and luxury. Tasmania myrtle covers each cabin, which are lounges by day and comfortable bedrooms by night. En-suite bathrooms come with full shower and plush pile floor coverings. Large panoramic windows provide optimum viewing of the ever-changing Australian landscape. A one-way, 3 night Platinum service voyage is $3,390 per person. In the restaurant car, on-board chefs prepare menus that feature Australian and International cuisine. Some food fast facts about the Ghan: 70,288 dinner rolls, 13,800 litres of milk, 69,000 eggs, 5,980 litres of soup and 6,900 spears of asparagus are consumed each year!
6 The Danube Express: $4,975
Headquartered in Budapest, Hungary, all itineraries through central Europe either start or go through Budapest. Deluxe sleeping carriages offer private compartments with en-suite washrooms, and two lower beds that fold up into seating during the day. Dinner is a single sitting event in the elegant restaurant car. Award winning wines from the Szeremley Wine House in Hungary accompany regional dishes, with a central European flavour. All meals are freshly cooked on-board by experienced chefs using local and seasonal ingredients. There is no dress code here. Just be comfortable and enjoy the friendly atmosphere, along with as much Hungarian wine that can safely consume. Three nights this spring start at $4975 per person.
5 The Royal Scotsman: $5,180
Catering to just 36 guests, passengers journey through rugged shores, calm lochs and wide glens of the Scottish Highlands. Cabins have been designed to provide ultimate luxury with lower beds, quilted bed covers, private bathrooms, high quality toiletries and bathrobes. Dining offers regional specialties using local produce and is served in the rich mahogany-paneled dining cars. Expect sensational dishes, such as warm pigeon salad accompanied by blackcurrant dressing and sumptuous apple mousse. There are formal and informal dinners, and proper attire for each is required. This is Scotland, so gentlemen, a kilt is the perfect attire choice. For $5,180 per person, the price also includes off-train excursions, such as clay pigeon shooting on a Scottish laird's estate. You also get, because, this is Scotland after all, a bag piper leading you to the train. Now that's royal treatment.
4 The Maharajas’ Express: $7,700
In operation since 2010, the Maharajas’ Express route crisscrosses India, taking in most major areas. The train consists of 23 opulent coaches, catering to 88 passengers. Its plush facilities include a spa salon, fitness center, business center, WI-FI and air conditioning. There are two restaurants serving cuisine from around the world, including Indian, Chinese, and authentic Mewari. All of today’s modern conveniences have been dropped into recreated Maharajas carriages, offering guests the luxury and splendor of yesteryear, with the expectations of today. All trips begin or end with a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Three nights in a deluxe cabin is $7,700 or you can upgrade to the presidential suite for $25,800 per person. The train runs from May to September, and if money is no object, you can charter it throughout the remainder of the year.
3 The Rocky Mountaineer: $7,878
Connecting the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the Rocky Mountaineer takes guests through the majestic Canadian Rockies, visiting places like Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise. This is a bucket list journey that surrounds guests in comfort and luxury. GoldLeaf service passengers enjoy the bi-level glass-domed car. Upstairs, watch the breathtaking scenery of icy-green lakes, tall pine forests and majestic mountains go by. Downstairs, enjoy gourmet regional cuisine cooked on-board by internationally accomplished chefs. Menus feature local ingredients such as prime Alberta beef and wild Pacific salmon, accompanied by award-winning Okanagan wines. There are no overnight accommodations on this train. Guests are chauffeured to hotels for overnight, and returned the next day to continue their journey. A seven day trip between Calgary and Vancouver starts at $7,878 (GoldLeaf Deluxe service). Included for free, is some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.
2 Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Railway: $15,495
Need to see Siberia? This is the way to do it. Launched in Moscow in 2007, the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian is an all-suite luxury train, with prices starting at $15,495 per person. Its route is the famous Trans-Siberian between Moscow and Vladivostok. The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian also runs special tours of the Silk Road, Russia’s Arctic and the Crimea. For luxury travelers, two Imperial suites were added in 2012, providing 120 square feet of space, a fixed king-sized bed, en-suite shower, a dedicated dressing table and lounge area. Dining takes place in one of two restaurant cars which were also renovated in 2012, offering a central buffet. This is a voyage that takes you through two continents, eight time zones, covering 9,258km (6,152 miles) and taking seven days. It is the biggest train ride in the world!
1 Rovos Rail Pride of Africa: $52,500
Considered to be one of the most luxurious trains in the world, Pride of Africa takes guests between Cape Town, South Africa and Cairo, Egypt, with magnificent journeys to the east and to the west also available. Pride of Africa combines the golden age of rail travel with modern amenities. Suites are ultra-deluxe, decorated in Edwardian period features. In the en-suite bathrooms, original fittings combine with modern hot showers and hair dryers. A mini-bar stocked with your favorite beverages is available, as is 24-hour room service. The two restaurant cars feature meal after meal of incredible perfection. Fresh local ingredients and traditional dishes are on the menu. Lunch and dinner are multi-course affairs served on lovely china, silver and crisp linens. South African wines are offered. All meals are served in one sitting in the two Victorian-era restaurant cars. From Cape Town to Cairo, expect to pay $52,500 per person for a deluxe suite. There are no radios or television sets on board. The use of mobile phones, laptops and essentially anything that has the ability to disturb other passengers is confined to the privacy of your suites only. Maintaining travel of a bygone era is taken very seriously.