6 luxurious trains that’ll spoil you

Trains are one of the oldest means of long-distance travel. They do a good job of providing an uncluttered, simple and straightforward travel experience where the problems are few and the advantages many. However, for those of us who’d like a touch of sophistication added to this seemingly simple mode of transport, what are the choices? Plenty, but here are the best among them. Many of these are well on par with the most luxurious of hotels, despite being quite old.

The Venice-Simplon Orient Express

The name instantly reminds you of the very famous novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ by renowned novelist Agatha Christie. Interestingly, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express by Belmond has quite a few similarities to the fictitious creation by Christie. The most distinctive being the opulence and magnetism as it is described in the book. This is achieved by the old-school charm of the restored early 20th century vintage cabins.

The train begins at London and runs through Paris, Innsbruck and Verona ending in Venice. The Belmond British Pullman is used for the UK leg of the journey and the ‘actual’ Orient Express begins only from Calais since the train is not licensed to travel through the Channel Tunnel. Intricate attention is given to the smallest of details. This is immediately apparent as soon as you step foot on the platform at the Calais Station. You’re greeted by a full regalia of 1930’s uniformed staff, your own carriage attendant and welcome drinks. The train has a mixed variation of single cabins, twin cabins and cabin suites. The train regularly runs full.

The Indian Pacific Trans-Continental

This 774 metre long embodiment of luxury is one of the very rare truly transcontinental trains, transcending across a staggering 4352 kilometres at a leisurely pace of 85 km/hr. The leisurely pace is perhaps the most luxurious thing the train has to offer as it subtly yet extremely effectively allows you to enjoy the breath-taking scenery of the Great Australian Outback cutting through everything from the mountains to the forests to the desert. Nonetheless, you’ll find yourself in ‘the middle of nowhere’ more times than you can count.

The platinum cabin which features a twin bed, long windows and an en-suite bathroom is the most opulent of the offerings. You also get access to an exclusive lounge and there’s also a fully stocked, partially self-service bar to indefinitely indulge in. The service is top-notch with a hint of friendly hospitality to it, consequently exuding a very warm atmosphere.

Royal Scotsman

Yet another exemplary offering by Belmond, this is one train which stands out on any list. More so since the addition of the Bamford Haybarn spa car (a dedicated spa carriage for the train). The setting is finely intimate, with a maximum of just 40 passengers on board which allows it to boast a remarkable passenger to staff ratio of 3:1. The vintage ambience is completely authentic owing to the 1960s equipment carefully preserved and used to this day.

The five sleeping carriages contain a variety of cabin configurations which include twin-bedded, double bedded and single bedded cabins. All the cabins contain compact en-suite bathrooms along with a dressing-table, full-length wardrobe and any other basic bedroom paraphernalia you can think of. Also, you’re guaranteed to sleep like a koala since the train stops on quiet sidings during the night-time.

The train’s trump card though is the observation car. It can accommodate all of the 40 people at once and provides an enthralling lookout to the amazing Scottish landscape scurrying past the Royal Scotsman.

Maharaja Express

This burgundy coloured kilometre long five-star hotel on rails is insanely luxurious; and that’s putting it mildly. It’s the most expensive luxury train in Asia. The services and amenities are said to remind oneself of a by-gone era, making you wonder how well the higher officials were served during colonialism. This train compromises on nothing. It’s almost the perfect train. The train travels from Mumbai in West-Central India to Delhi in the North passing through Rajasthan (Eastern Frontier).

There are various configurations of suites available with twin and double beds, all of which contain a full-size en-suite bathroom and a private butler who apparently doesn’t even need to be summoned. Service is impeccable. The signature offering however is the Presidential suite which essentially comprises of a whole carriage complete with its own sitting room, two bedrooms, two showers and a bath.

Dining on the Maharaja Express is unlike any other, the standard is such that even the best of hotels would be outrun single-handedly by the extremely talented chefs of the two restaurants on-board who have absolutely no qualms in going to any extent to meet the expectations of their esteemed guests.

Eastern & Oriental Express

Belmond knows their stuff pretty well. The Eastern & Oriental Express is the third one in this list which is an advent of Belmond. This train is spectacular in its own right not just for the luxury, but also owing to the fact that the train passes across three glorious nations in just two days; from Singapore to Thailand through Malaysia. You’d be challenged to find a more fabulous way to travel across three phenomenal different countries within two days.

The cosy cabin includes an elegant en-suite bathroom stacked up with every creature comfort you might ever need. Food is exquisite, to say the least and the chefs have no hesitancy in fulfilling any ‘special’ dietary requirements. But the most enticing is how the formal dress code in the dining area give way to create a royal air all over the carriage. The Eastern & Oriental is stark, beautiful and immensely satisfying at the same time for some stately reason which you can’t pinpoint as to why.

Seven Stars of Kyushu

This dark burgundy modern contemporary creation encompassed by handcrafted woodwork and delicate artwork is Japan’s triumphing answer to Belmond’s best. The interiors showcase the very finest of Japanese craftsmanship. Walls of rosewood and maple, walnut floors, shoji paper screens for window coverings and sliding glass doors etched with all sorts of contemporary patterns and artwork. It’s all very, Japanese; enkindling a soothingly exotic vibe.

The train contains just 12 en-suite rooms and 2 luxury suites. The occupancy of the suites is decided by a lottery and things tend to get pretty tense. Talk about exclusivity! The dining experience on this one might just be the best of all the avenues listed here. It deserves a separate article all by itself. The texture and appearance are as important as the taste. The dishes served are consistently photography worthy with immensely rare and extremely high quality ingredients being used. Every meal is a celebration.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these can very much be considered the best of the best even though there are a lot of luxury trains out there offering wildly varying experiences. Every train in this list serves alcohol on-board. All the products mentioned here do of course have their shortcomings but they are highly subjective. Nevertheless, every journey listed here is guaranteed to gift you a once in a lifetime experience and a lot of things to reminisce on. Chug along now!

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Scenic train journeys in the Lake District

There are several scenic train journeys that take you an alternative tour of the Lake District. Pass through England’s highest mountain range and some of the oldest landscapes in Britain aboard a miniature narrow-gauge Steam Train. Wind your way between Ye Olde hamlets, where white-washed cottages with pretty gardens are clustered around merry traditional pubs. Puff alongside the water of Lake Windermere to catch a Steam Cruise vessel or take a sprint across the region and through the longest tunnel in Northern England.

The scenery from a train ride takes you away from the crowds, off the beaten track and cuts through the heart of the Lake District countryside. Hop on and off to delve deeper into the history and charm of this special place.

Journey back in time  

Ravenglass is the only coastal village in the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Lake District National Park. And it is from here that miniature Steam Trains take passengers on an ultra-scenic 7-mile route into the park’s very core to the village of Boot, passing alongside England’s largest mountains. In 1879 this was a journey made to transport iron ore. Today it is one of the most scenic travel experiences in England.

Before the drama of heading into the wilds of the mountainous Eskdale Valley, this 40 minute journey follows a picturesque route across the estuary and alongside the River Mite. Look out for red squirrels and birds of pray.

So, all aboard! Sit back within miniature-size carriages and puff gently along the longest narrow-gauge track in the Lake District, past a patchwork of green fields, drystone walls and idyllic countryside at the foot of the Scarfell Pike range.

Ravenglass, on England’s western coast is beautiful itself. The village is home to a once very important Roman Port as well as some of the most impressive Roman building remains in northern Britain. The walls of the Ravenglass Roman Bath House, owned by English Heritage, are impressive, at almost 4 metres high – the tallest standing Roman remains in northern Britain. Muncaster Castle and Gardens nearby is also well worth a visit where you can experience the impressive hunting skills of England’s native bird of prey, the hawk.

Luxury cruiser and carriage

The 3.2-mile route on a heritage Steam Train from Haverthwaite to Lakeside in the South Lakes, is perfectly complimented by a jaunt aboard a restored Steam Cruiser around the southern end of England’s largest lake, Windermere. Haverthwaite to Lakeside is a preserved section of Furness Railway giving passengers insight into a bygone era of English Victorian tourism.

Revel in the majestic power as your beautiful Steam Train pulls you masterfully through broadleaf woodlands and the picturesque countryside of the Leven Valley. Low, stone bridges fill with steam as you pass underneath, coming to a gentle stop at quaint stations, beautifully restored and featured on several TV series. You follow the River Leven to the final and most scenic stretch, travelling along as it and you join Lake Windermere. From Lakeside, transfer to a beautifully restored Windermere Lake Cruiser to continue your car-free day trip, exploring the sublime South Lakes scenery in style. The Lakeside Motor Museum and Lakes Aquarium are also popular attractions that are only a walk away from this railway journey.

Scenery, viaducts and tunnels  

And finally we must include ‘one of the most scenic train journey’s in England’ – the Settle to Carlisle Railway.

On this route, diesel sprinter trains cut effortlessly through 3 great mountain ranges of Northern England. Passengers are elevated to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery and breathtaking views in Britain. Before finishing in the great border city of Carlisle, this 73-mile long journey takes passengers through the Yorkshire Dales, along the Lake District National Park and into the Eden Valley, north of the Lake District. This is a lush and quiet landscape where you can see the towering peaks of the Lakeland mountains in the background.

As well as the scenery there are lots of attractions along this route that makes it world-famous. From castle’s to mythical stone circles; mountains, rivers and waterfalls; to majestic Victorian architecture and remote stations. There are 11 stations,  14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts to take in on this sprint up northern England.

The Settle to Carlisle Railway experience is known for its viaducts, most famously the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct with 24 grand arches cutting into the landscape. These can be enjoyed by getting off at one of the 11 stations and joining a network of walking trails. There are over 20 viaducts to look out for including Arten Gill, which featured in the Miss Potter film. Not long after the bend of the Ribblehead Viaduct is Blea Moor Tunnel, which is eerily 2,629 yd (2,404 m) long and the longest on the line. There are 13 other tunnels to look out for along this route.

Spectacular scenery, enjoyed the old-fashioned way!

Paul Liddell is the Managing Director at Lakelovers. Lakelovers provide quality self-catering cottages in the most popular Lake District holiday locations, including Windermere, Ambleside, Coniston, Grasmere, Keswick and Ullswater.

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Asia’s 10 most beautiful train journeys

An atmospheric train ride is second to none. The perfect way to get to know a country’s landscapes and customs, train trips transform perfunctory journey time into an experience in itself. There are myriad fantastic routes across Asia to choose from, ranging from the more upscale first-class carriages to those which are more basic, but often capture the spirit of a destination. We’ve compiled our top 10 scenic and culturally significant trips that are guaranteed to enrich your holiday.

Train through the hill country, Sri Lanka

Widely hailed as the world’s most beautiful train journey, this fantastic route is definitely one for the bucket list. Wind your way through densely covered tea plantations, remote villages and spectacular waterfalls on this journey from Kandy up into the highest corners of the hills. Seats in the 1st class seat observation cabin are limited, but travelling in 2nd or 3rd class allows you to encounter the vibrant, bustling daily life of Sri Lankan locals.

Toy trains, India

India’s toy trains run on historic mountain railway lines that once provided access to colonial hill settlements. Three of the lines- the Kalka-Shimla Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway– are now UNESCO world heritage sites and their routes showcase stunning mountainside scenery across India.

British North Borneo Steam Railway

The British North Borneo railway is Borneo’s oldest running steam train and a rather romantic memento of the country’s colonial past. Running Wednesdays and Saturdays, the route trundles from Tanjung Aru to the ‘Rice Bowl of Sabah’, Papar and takes approximately 4 hours. Brimming with nostalgia, it is designed in typical early 20th century style.

Monkey Train, Rajasthan

So-called because of the monkeys that gather around the stations to be fed by passengers, the Monkey Train is a lovely, lazy journey that takes you through the hilly Kamlighat region of central Rajasthan. This short trip has been operating since 1930 and is still an essential line for many local villagers.

Eastern and Oriental Express

Ideal for those wanting to travel in the utmost style, the Eastern and Oriental Express is one of the most luxurious trains on the continent. The line offers multiple routes across Asia, the most popular being that between Singapore and Bangkok. This is a three-day long excursion in which you can travel in pre-eminent luxury, with 24-hour steward service in a private cabin. Though relatively expensive, it is worthy of the price tag: its journeys take you through rural landscapes, colonial cities, tea plantations, temples and more.

Bamboo train, Cambodia

Not your typical train, this bamboo vehicle has neither motor nor engine; in fact, if it weren’t for significant improvements in infrastructure in recent years, this railway would have become obsolete had it not been transformed into a fun travel experience! At only 20 minutes long, this is a fun brief trip (ideal for kids) that allows you to see the countryside in an unusual way.

Goteik Viaduct, Myanmar

Drive north from Mandalay to board the Goteik viaduct railway in Nawnghkio, Myanmar. The bridge connects the towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio and is the highest railway trestle in Myanmar. Though time spent over the actual bridge is of course limited, it’s an impressive construction and the slow trundle over is a lot of fun.

Da Nang to Nha Trang, Vietnam

A charming, laid-back day trip that guides you through lush paddy fields and villages. A perfect one to just sit back and enjoy the countryside.

Train through Java, Indonesia

Roll through verdant paddy fields and impressive volcanic peaks on this spectacular route through the Java countryside. This rail service offers a comfortable first class executive carriage with air conditioning and a surprisingly tasty lunch if travelling at that time.

Yangon to Mandalay sleeper train, Myanmar

Not for the faint-hearted, this 13 hour trip provides little by way of creature comforts- but is a truly unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience.

Sam Clark is CEO at Experience Travel Group.

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10 of the best accommodation views along the Garden Route

South Africa is undeniably one of the most beautiful countries on earth, largely owing to its diverse landscapes. And there is no better place that brings together the country’s landscapes than the Garden Route. Officially stretching from Mossel Bay to Tsitsikamma, the route also features many other destinations on both of its ends, making it the perfect destination to showcase South Africa’s natural beauty. A tour of the Garden Route and its many breath-taking vistas should feature on anybody’s selfie bucket list, and what better way to experience them all than by sitting in the lap of luxury. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite accommodation that affords the best views of this renowned coastal route.

Cape Grace Hotel, Cape Town

Cape Grace Hotel is located along the V&A Waterfront in South Africa’s Mother City, Cape Town. A world of retail therapy and hearty cuisine is just a stroll from the hotel lobby, but the view from your private suite may persuade you to stay in. Marvel at the city’s teeming waterfront, bustling harbour or South Africa’s very own World Wonder, Table Mountain. Throw in the stellar service and 5-star accommodation of Cape Grace, and you’ve got a view that keeps on giving.

Airstream Trailer Rooftop Park, The Grand Daddy Hotel, Cape Town

A caravanning trip of a different kind. The Grand Daddy Hotel swaps the Grand Canyon for the city lights of downtown Cape Town. Its roof is home to seven authentic Airstream trailers, each one individually decorated and opening up to beautiful views of the cityscape. Whether you rest your head in a trailer that calls to mind the ‘dorpies’ of the Karoo or in one that celebrates South African safari, you can be assured that each trailer is tastefully furnished, lavishly equipped and promises a well-appointed vantage point for the goings-on of Cape Town’s cultural hub.

Owner’s Cottage, Grande Provence Wine Estate, Franschhoek

Wherever you may choose to stay within the winelands of the Western Cape, you will be met with views of sprawling vineyards and misty mountains. One of our favourite spots is the Owner’s Cottage of Grande Provence Wine Estate. A stay in either the house’s Merlot or Chardonnay Room provides unparalleled balcony views of the Franschhoek Wine Valley. When not taking in the scenic views, guests can sit down to a sumptuous meal courtesy of the vineyard’s restaurant.

Birkenhead House, Hermanus

Stunning ocean views are a dime-a-dozen in South Africa. Stunning luxury ocean views are another story. The Royal Portfolio’s Birkenhead House promises exactly that. Located right on the beach atop a rocky outcrop, the individually decorated rooms overlook the Atlantic Ocean and all of the adventures it holds. When not enjoying whale-watching, horseback rides along the coast or even shark-cage diving, guests can return to the balcony of their contemporary suite to enjoy a sundowner with the ocean view as their guest.

Fancourt Hotel, George

Located in the forest region of George at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains, guests at Fancourt Manor House can wake to the sight of mist rolling over the Outeniqua peaks. A sprawling set of golf courses await you on the other side of the hotel, but you don’t ever have to tee-off to enjoy them. Manor House offers accommodation in either suites or luxury rooms as well as access to the estate’s many offerings. Fancourt is home to 3 gourmet restaurants and an extensive outdoors programme that promises enjoyment for every taste.

Lakeside Lodge & Spa, Sedgefield

A short drive from Knysna will bring you to the town of Sedgefield, a hidden gem of the Garden Route. Blink and you might miss it while driving past, but that would be a serious disservice to the small town’s scenery. Lakeside Lodge & Spa is the perfect base from which to enjoy the most that Sedgefield has to offer. A short walk across a perfectly manicured lawn will take you to the banks of the Swartvlei Lagoon, the perfect backdrop for your time at the hotel. Enjoy a range of spa treatments, sumptuous cuisine and comfortable lodgings, all while the lake’s waters idle by.

Turbine Hotel & Spa, Knysna

Knysna combines relaxed luxury with thrill-filled adrenaline activities, all where views of the Outeniqua Forest and the Indian Ocean meet. The Infinity Room at Turbine Hotel & Spa is the perfect spot to allow these views to sink in. Although located in the remains of an old power station, the hotel is nothing like the stark interior of its predecessor. The industry of yesteryear has made way for gourmet dining, personalised service and unmatched views of the Knysna Heads and lagoon.

Tsala Treetop Lodge, Greater Plettenberg Bay

Travellers often ask how long they should spend journeying along the Garden Route. The answer is always a hearty ‘as long as possible’. Tsala Treetop Lodge gives plenty of reasons why. Located between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, the lodge promises an elevated view over the Outeniqua Forest and its lush greenery. Enjoy a roaring fire in your suite after a day of adventure as the sun sets over the evergreen forest.

Great Fish River Lodge, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

The Eastern Cape is renowned for being South Africa’s adventure province but it also boasts some truly stunning scenery. Rolling hills meet with idyllic beaches to give visitors a coastal destination bar none. But there are some hidden gems located further inland. Great Fish River Lodge in Kwandwe Game Reserve is one such spot. The comfort of your luxury suite and expansive views over the Great Fish River are separated only by floor-to- ceiling folding glass doors. Contemporary safari architecture merge with peaceful river views that are only ever interrupted by wildlife that come to drink at the riverside. At night you can enjoy Kwandwe’s safari cuisine after returning from a Big 5 safari through its beautiful landscape.

Rovos Rail

Sometimes one luxury view is not enough; sometimes you want more. A luxury train trip on board the world-renowned Rovos Rail promises the best panoramas of the country’s eclectic landscapes. From the evergreen appeal of the Cape Winelands to the rich heritage of Kimberley in the Free State, Rovos Rail flaunts the natural beauty of South Africa. Guests can extend their trip to feature even more of Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania. Whichever trip you decide to embark on, you can be assured that your private cabin will be one of exceptional comfort, paired with superior service.

Colin Dilland is Owner and Managing Director of East Cape Tours and Safaris.

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5 must dos on the Napa Valley wine train


I was absolutely delighted when I heard that the Napa Valley had its very own wine train and that it utilized classic Pullman carriages! What a fabulous way to spend a day in the stunning Napa Valley! The wine train offers a range of different journeys from evening to day, themed to unthemed, with and without wine tastings etc to suit everyone.

We chose a day tripper which involved getting to the station for 10.30am and returning at 2.30pm. I booked the tickets about a month or so ahead and would highly recommend doing this as the station was full when we arrived.

Go to Grgich Hills Winery

What a stunning winery! Our group from the train had a private tour of the winery with a fantastic tasting. The highlights were the Chardonnay, Fume Blanc (an unusual slightly smoky white) and the Zinfandel. I had been a little concerned that it might be a very mainstream big bland winery to accommodate the various tastes of everyone on board but I could not have been more wrong. I will be seeking out their wines in London!

In addition to the tasting we were also shown around the vineyard and some of the Vats and of course there was time for shopping and a bit more tasting!

Get to the station a bit early

The day begins with all attendees assembling in an old fashioned station of sorts in the town of Napa (this can be up to a 40 minute drive away depending on where you are staying in the Napa Valley so make sure to check this ahead of time we nearly missed our train!). Once you arrive check in and you will be given a ticket with your boarding details. Boarding kicked off just after 11am.

The station contains many excited passengers to be, a souvenir shop and quite a few photo opportunities to get before you board.

Order a wine flight

Wine flights are quite popular across the Napa Valley. Essentially a flight is small glasses of three different wines assembled according to a theme. There were several to choose from on the wine train and we went with the Napa whites. The highlight was the Stags Leap Chardonnay.

Don’t eat breakfast that morning

In addition to wine the wine train offers a three course lunch. The starter and main are served prior to the winery visit and then dessert saved for the return trip home. The menu featured two starter options, 5 mains and 2 desserts. I began with the Sonoma Greens a wonderfully fresh salad featuring local goats cheese.

Main was the Lemon Thyme Roasted Chicken with summer beans, sweet peppers, red creamer potatoes and pan jus delicious! Every savoury meal choice has a recommended wine and we both chose to have the wonderfully delicious Stags Leap Winery Chardonnay 2014 which we had so enjoyed in the wine flight.

Dessert is served after the wine tasting at Grgich Hills so we were rather jolly by that point. We enjoyed a white chocolate crme brulee with a little more Napa chardonnay. It was absolutely lovely sitting in the carriage as it gently moved along with the golden sunlight of the Napa Valley bathing us in light.

Don’t let the tasting stop once you pull into the station

The wine train pulled in to the station promptly at 230pm. We had already pre booked a car as we were staying in Calistoga which is a considerable drive. As we were now in the tasting mode we decided to stop at one of the winerys in Calistoga nearest to our hotel Von Strasser and Lava Vine Winery.

We wandered in and chose the classic wine tasting experience. As it was such a stunning day they suggested that we sit in their lovely outdoor area and they proceeded to bring us each wine outside. We worked out way through a mix of red and white wines and enjoyed them so much that we chose to spend a little more and also taste their two delicious dessert wines.

After trying all of these we were well and truly merry and thankfully had a short walk back to our lovely hotel, Solage, and a bit more wine with room service before collapsing!

Amanda OBrien is Owner of The Boutique Adventurer.

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5 of the most memorable steam train journeys around the world


The great puffs of steam, the deep chug of the engine and the screech of the whistle as your train pulls out of the station. The romance of a steam train journey never fades, and it’s the same wherever you go.

Here we’ve put together some of the most memorable steam train journeys you can embark on around the world. Get into the spirit of 19th century Wild West America aboard a train used during Colorado’s gold mining boom. Pretend you’re on your way to Hogwarts as you wind through the Scottish Highlands. Or join in the Japaneses nostalgia for the bullet trains early ancestors.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, USA

Winding through the rocky canyons Colorado is famed for, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad follows the path of the free-flowing Animas River between the old mining towns of Durango and Silverton. The 73 km (45.4 mile) railroad was constructed between 1881 and 1882, primarily to transport silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains. Its been in continuous operation ever since.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Today, the vintage steam train that still chugs along the line has swapped precious stones for inquisitive passengers who want to experience the landscape as people would have at the turn of the 20th century.

The train crosses the river five times as it meanders through pine-covered valleys and skims the edge of craggy cliffs inaccessible to motor vehicles. From your carriage, you’ll see green farmland, former mining camps, old stagecoach roads and snow-covered peaks rising over 4,200 m (14,000 ft). Look out for glimpses of elk, deer, moose and bighorn sheep grazing at the side of the tracks.

Open-air viewing gondolas are available if you’d like to breathe in fresh mountain air. Alternatively, sit in one of the two Historical Narration cars. Here you can listen to on-board narrators dressed in period costume as they tell you more about the history of the railroad and what life was like here during the mining boom.

The journey takes three-and-a-half hours each way. You can stay in the National Historic District of Silverton for either two hours or just half an hour, admiring its Victorian-era architecture and exploring its Mining Heritage Center.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway, India

With some of the most innovative train engineering of the 20th century, India’s railways climb steep ravines, cross vast plains and traverse forested valleys. While most steam trains have been replaced with modern models, a few well-oiled engines are still trawling the tracks. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway runs from Mettupalayam, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the colonial hill station Ooty.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The line runs 46 km (28.5 miles) across 250 bridges, around 108 curves and through 16 tunnels. Often moving at walking pace, it never reaches more than 45 km/h (27 mph). A taxi or bus might be much quicker it takes around five hours to complete the route but this quintessential Indian experience allows you to join many locals who still prefer to take the train.

Initially, the blue and cream carriages are pulled from Mettupalayam by a diesel train, meandering through tea plantations and terraced farmland. On reaching Coonoor station, about halfway along the route, a steam locomotive takes over. As the wind catches the billowing smoke, the train tackles the steepest part of the route up through eucalyptus groves and shola forests. Monkeys scamper off the tracks as the train approaches.

As the train reaches Ooty (youll see Udhagamandalam on the station sign, the towns little-used full name) theres mayhem on the platform as vendors rush forward to offer packets of roasted nuts and fresh samosas. Its worth spending a night in the town to explore the Raj-era bungalows, 19th-century British governmental buildings and the lemon-yellow Saint Stephens Church.

The Royal Livingstone Express, Victoria Falls, Zambia

This traditional 1920s steam train departs from the town of Livingstone, close to Victoria Falls, two evenings a week (due to increase to three evenings by the end of this year). Tastefully restored to its former glory, it runs along a section of the incomplete Cape to Cairo railway begun by British colonialist Cecil Rhodes during the 19th century.

The Royal Livingstone Express

On board, leather seats and polished wood take you back to a bygone era. During the four-and-a-half-hour experience, you can relax in the lounge car or enjoy a drink from the observation cars well-stocked bar. This car also has an open-sided veranda where you can take in views of the falls and surrounding countryside.

The journey takes you through the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site and is timed just right for you to enjoy a sunset vista from Victoria Falls Bridge. Also commissioned by Rhodes in 1905, the bridge acts as a border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The train pauses here for around half an hour, giving you time to disembark and take photographs. If visiting during the falls peak flow (January to July) you can watch the roaring wall of water and rising mist as its tinged burnt-orange and gold in the changing light.

After continuing on to nearby Palm Grove Siding, the ring of a dinner bell signals the beginning of your five-course meal, freshly prepared by the on-board chefs. Expect anything from braised game shoulder and vanilla panna cotta to mushroom risotto followed by a zesty lemon tart.

A similar experience is available twice a week from the Zimbabwe side of the falls aboard the Bushtracks Express. Departing from Victoria Falls station, it takes you to the bridge via Victoria Falls Game Park.

SL Hitoyoshi, Japan

Some of the most futuristic trains in the world zoom through Japan’s cities and countryside, but the Japanese still have a nostalgic affection for steam trains. In 2009 the SL Hitoyoshi began running between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi on Japans south island of Kyushu. Its been lovingly restored inside with rosewood flooring and plump leather seats, as well as a polished and freshly gilded exterior.

SL Hitoyoshi

The train begins in Kumamoto, stopping at a number of stations along the way. Youre free to get off at each station: a bell calls you back when its time to depart. Shiroishi Station is worth exploring, with a 108-year-old wooden platform and waiting room. While the first part of the journey follows much of Yatsushiro Bay, the second part heads inland following the Kuma River through the cedar forest-covered mountains.

On board, there’s a glass-windowed observation car at the end of the train, as well as a dining car selling SL Hitoyoshi-branded drink and snacks. One car has a display of train memorabilia as well as mini railway engineer uniforms for children to try on.

Once the train arrives in Hitoyoshi, you can watch the locomotive turn round for the return journey on a huge steel turntable. The train only runs on select days throughout the year so pre-booking is essential.

Jacobite Steam Train, Highlands, Scotland

There’s a certain fantastical thrill in climbing onto the Jacobite Steam Train. The big black engine rumbles loudly and white steam pours out in huge hot clouds, making it easy to imagine that you’re not taking a journey through the Highlands, but instead boarding the Hogwarts Express.

Jacobite Steam Train

The trip doesn’t begin at Platform 9 however, but at Fort William, the largest town in the Highlands. The train chugs slowly between steep-sided mountains and past sweeping glens. Moving at a leisurely pace, you have plenty of time to take photographs and appreciate the rugged beauty of the countryside.

The two-hour ride passes by Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks on the Caledonian Canal, as well as the Glenfinnan Monument, a memorial to the clansmen who fought in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. But the highlight of the trip for most people is cruising over the arresting 14-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, which gained renown thanks to its role in the Harry Potter movies.

After Glenfinnan Station, the trip continues through a stark landscape. From your seat, you have views over the sea to distant islands with evocative names like Rum and Muck. The final stop is Mallaig, a fishing town where you can board a ferry to the Isle of Skye.

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Explore Peru’s awesome, majestic landscape in Orient Express style


Now you can explore Peru’s awesome, majestic landscape in Orient Express style. Belmond, the company who created the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express have launched a new legend: the Belmond Andean Explorer. The first luxury sleeper train to travel through a part of South America offers a truly unique way to discover some of Peru’s most notable landmarks. Sit in the lap of luxury while you see Incan and colonial history in stunning cities, soaring peaks and massive sand dunes.

Belmond Andean Explorer

Lake Titicaca: a pioneering journey

Travel on a remarkable pioneering journey that climbs up to 16,000 feet to see one of Peru’s wonders, Lake Titicaca. The train journey provides an incredible perspective of the region’s snow-capped peaks, beautiful lakes, and herds of llamas and alpacas. All of this magic can be witnessed through the large-picture windows or alternatively you can spend time in the outdoor observation car. When you arrive at this wonderful destination, you’ll be treated to a private tour of the floating islands that are dotted around the lake.

Belmond Andean Explorer landscape

Dramatic canyons, ancient cave paintings & spectacular views of the Andes

The trip affords you spectacular views of the Andes. The Belmond Andean Explorer also takes you to see one of the deepest canyons in the world, the Colca Canyon, which extends to over 2.5 miles in depth. Other amazing highlights include the Sumbay Caves, which have around 500 ancient cave paintings, that can be traced back to thousands of years ago. See natural phenomena such as the La Raya Mountain Range and visit port cities, including Puno.

Belmond Andean Explorer observatory

Lunch at a private beach and?VIP treatment

The amazing experience also includes lunch on a private beach, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of La Paz’s glacier-studded peaks in Bolivia. All of the time you’ll be treated like a VIP in perfect surroundings.

An interior inspired by Peruvian nature

The Belmond Andean Explorer’s interior has been inspired by Peruvian nature, making the journey a holistic discovery experience. The textures and colours of the train’s interior connect the inside of the train with the natural treasures of the exterior. Andean slate greys, soft ivory tones of Alpaca, are blended with handicrafts and woven textures to afford this seamless luxury experience.

Belmond Andean Explorer guest room

A grand piano & authentic Peruvian cuisine

Holistic style and luxury experience have been punctuated with details such as the train’s medium grand piano, a boutique where you can buy handcrafted presents from each destination and a library.

The Belmond Andean Explorer has the capacity for up to 48 passengers and has two dining cars, offering delicious authentic Peruvian cuisine. Dishes such as alpaca tortellini and corn smothered in cheese are on the menu.

Belmond Andean Explorer culture

Peruvian discovery options

You can choose from Peruvian discovery options from a range of one or two-night itineraries. Explore the gateway to the Lost City of the Incas: Cuzco, or the White City, Arequipa, which was nicknamed because of its bright, volcanic stone buildings. A one night itinerary cost starts from $480 per person, which is based on double occupancy.

Belmond Andean Explorer Cuzco

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A must for your bucket list: The Glacier Express


Never has the old adage, It’s better to travel, than to arrive, been more apt. As beautiful as the resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt are, the journey that links these two Swiss jewels, The Glacier Express, surely proves beyond doubt that it’s the journey, not the destination.

The Glacier Express is an eight hour thrill ride, there’s so much to see and what you do gaze upon, through the panoramic windows, is for the most part, truly awesome and spectacular. During the journey you’ll cross 291 bridges, pass through 91 tunnels and climb over the 2,033m high Oberalp Pass, the scenery is varied and spectacular. The journey is beautiful all year round, so no matter whether you experience the journey is summer or winter, you’re assured of exceptional panoramas.

Majestic luxury train ride Alps

There’s an option to don headphones and listen to the running commentary, or you can sample some Swiss Folk music but mostly you’ll just want to gaze in awe as the vistas unfold throughout this fabulous journey.

The Glacier Express travels between St Moritz and Zermatt, two stunningly beautiful Swiss resorts, both world renown and not without good reason. St Moritz is situated in a stunning location on the shores of a lake. There’s an old world charm here but St Moritz doesn’t rest on it’s laurels and is no faded star. The resort gained it’s reputation in the 60’s when it was the place to be seen, where you could mingle with the jet set and rub shoulders with celebrities.

Zermatt, on the other hand never had a heyday. This stunning resort was never the flavour of the month, to be passed over when the next resort became fashionable. Zermatt was and always will be timeless, as pretty as a picture, it will always have an eternal appeal. The fascination with Zermatt started 150 years ago, when Edward Whymper donned his climbing boots and became the first climber to conquer the majestic Matterhorn. There’s an air of tranquility in resort aided by the fact that Zermatt is car free. The footfall and birdsong creates a wonderfully calming soundtrack to the delightful charm in resort. Nestled as it is in a natural three sided bowl formed by the mountains on it’s flanks and with the Matterhorn at its head, there’s a cosiness here that feels like an embrace from mother nature.

The Glacier Express started service in 1930, however no through trains were operated between 1943 and 1946, due to World War II and there was further interruption to services in 1991 when a huge landslip just below Zermatt at Randa, completely disconnected the railway and road. Large portions of journey utilises a rack and pinion system both for ascending steep grades and to control the descent of the train on the back side of those gradients. Between 1986 and 1993, the operators invested nearly CHF40 million in constructing 18 new first class panorama cars for the train. By 2005 more than 250,000 passengers were traveling on the Glacier Express each year.

Train ride Alps scenery

In 2006 a few scenes of the documentary film ‘The Alps’ were shot inside the train, and further new panorama cars were added to the Glacier Express passenger car fleet. In 2008, parts of the route were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Currently, the Glacier Express is especially popular with tourists from Germany, Japan and India.

Until 1982, the Glacier Express operated only in the summer months, because the Furka Pass and the Oberalp Pass were both snowed over in winter. However, unlike the British trains which grind to a halt at the merest hint of snow, the Swiss overcame this problem and the trains now run throughout the year.

This journey should be on everyone’s bucket list. I’ve done the return journey three times and I’m planning on doing it again later this summer. I’ve done it in both the summer and the winter and I can report that both seasons provided me with equally unforgettable experiences.

Luxury train ride - Glacier Express

Rebecca Taylor is Director at SkiBoutique.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Is this the most luxurious train journey in the world?


Could this incredible train journey, which is filled with discoveries and experiences, like you’ve never known before, be the most luxurious train journey in the world? From glass-encased observation cars, you can breathe in the eternal aesthetic beauty of North Eastern Japan’s countryside. If you fancy it, you will need to apply soon, as the Suite Train Shiki-Shima is currently booked for the foreseeable future. Prices range from around $3,000 to $10,000 per person.

world's most luxurious train journey shiki shima moon reflections

A new era in luxury train travel

Officially launched on 1st May 2017, the Shiki-Shima offers a cruise-like experience. The 17-suite, 34-passenger luxury train aims to start a new era in train travel. Atushi Takahashi, Head of Sales for JR East, said: “We hope we can contribute to establishing a railway of a new era.”

During the one to three day round-trips, lucky passengers will be whisked in the ultimate designer luxury, past some of Japan’s stunning coastlines, paddy fields and mountains. The Suite Train Shiki-Shima offers passengers the opportunity to be entranced by the expansive nature of Japan’s land and culture.

Shiki Shima lounge

From ancient temples to Japanese vineyards

Possibly the most luxurious train journey in the world also brings passengers the joy of knowing and experiencing new discoveries. Revelations of beauty surface with each moment, and as the moment lapses, a new discovery is revealed. One alluring experience fades to allow another to be born.

The journey has been intricately designed to ensure passengers can become immersed in not only the Japanese landscape but also its wonderful culture. Perfectly planned stops take in ancient temples and shrines, vineyards and working farms, and artisanal ateliers en route.

shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu

Conceived by a Ferrari, Porsche and Maserati designer

The futuristic champagne-gold train was designed by Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama, a designer for the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Maserati. It blends futuristic with traditional elements. The lounge car sofas were fashioned by using a traditional technique, which bends wood with steam. Carpets were commissioned from the Oriental Carpet Mills, whose carpets line the floors of the Kyoto State Guest House and the Vatican Palace.

Some of the suites offer traditional wood bath tubs and lofts. The Shiki-Shima’s windows have been designed to evoke a “quiet forest,” according to the train company. And not only have staff uniforms been specially made, but Naoki Sato composed “Train Suite,” its own theme song.

Shiki Shima dome room

Michelin-starred food that reflects the regions

A Michelin-starred chef has devised a menu which reflects the cooking style and ingredients of the regions that the train passes through. In order to accomplish this, notable chefs along the route will serve their local food offerings on board or host guests in their restaurants. The designer of the Nobel Prize award banquet cutlery has created the Shiki-Shima cutlery to ensure the ultimate fine dining experience.

Shiki Shima journey sun setting in sea of Japan

Want to experience the world’s most luxurious train journey, here’s what you need to do:

As mentioned earlier, the train is booked out for the foreseeable future. To apply to experience the world’s most luxurious train journey, you need to fill out an application, which you can find here. The application process may result in a lottery, if the number of applicants are more than the allocated spaces available.

If you are lucky enough to succeed, you can avail of a limousine ride and complimentary luggage service between your home and your room on board. You will be taken to Tokyo’s Ueno Station, to the exclusive Platform 13 1/2, where you can relax at the private lounge. Staff will meet you before you embark to ensure your journey is customised to your needs.

Shiki Shima suite

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