As most travel becomes faster, cheaper and depersonalised, luxury slow-travel develops apace. More trains at the high end of luxury are operating in ever-widening regions. While there are some spectacular day trains and several journeys where you stay off-train, there are also some remarkable options with onboard accommodation. Here are some of the best in different regions.
The world’s greatest rail journey is the 9,300-kilometre Trans-Siberian trip from Moscow to Vladivostok. In 2007, the 25-car Golden Eagle, under UK management, brought luxury to the line. By day, the Bar Lounge Car hosts talks and activities while, in the evening, the resident pianist presides. The cuisine is international but features Russian specialities such as black sturgeon caviar. The spacious Imperial Suites are the most luxurious with a large double bed plus lounge area, and a private guide and driver for off-train excursions.
The Golden Eagle offers a wide range of rail journeys in Eurasia. The 15-day Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express runs virtually throughout the year, including ‘Winter Wonderland’ departures. An Imperial Suite costs from A$44,470 per person. goldeneagleluxurytrains.com
The enduring legend of luxurious rail journeys is the Orient Express that began in 1883, travelling from Paris to Istanbul. Today, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express begins in London or Paris to finish in Venice, Vienna, Prague, Verona, Istanbul or – new for 2016 – Berlin. The perfectly detailed Art Nouveau lounge interior and Art Deco cabins hark back to golden days of travel, as does the Lalique Champagne Bar. The meals in the three restaurant cars feature modern cuisine created by talented French chefs.
The most luxurious accommodation is a Cabin Suite, made up of two interconnecting Double Cabins. The ultimate once-a-year journey, which this year starts on August 26, recreates the original route taking six days and five nights from Paris to Istanbul via Budapest and Bucharest. Prices start from A$11,412.00 per person. belmond.com/venice-simplon-orient-express
The Eastern and Oriental Express provides the chance to travel between Singapore and Bangkok in a luxurious style that owes a lot to refined colonial days. Over three days and two nights you pass through Malaysia and much of coastal Thailand. In this heartland of overlapping cuisines and cultures, the train’s talented chefs create elegant eastern and western dishes. The saloon, bar and observation cars provide lots of sophisticated, convivial space.
While all cabins are luxurious, the Presidential Cabin is larger, with more seating and an extended bathroom. The train operates year-round. October to March is high season. The price of a Presidential Suite in high season is $15,019. belmond.com/eastern-and-oriental-express
The Belmond Grand Hibernian will debut in August when it departs Dublin station bound for Cork as the first stop in a seven-day journey of Ireland that extends from Killarney to Belfast and Portrush.
There are just 20 luxurious cabins from which to watch the green patchwork of the Irish countryside flow past. Two dining cars, one formal and one less so, serve Irish fare complemented by Waterford crystal or Irish tweed fabric. The Grand Tour is the longest of three itineraries and prices start from A$12,277.98 per person. It departs weekly but is booked out until the 2017 April to October season. belmond.com/grand-hibernian-train
The words ‘perfect hospitality’ come to mind when thinking of The Blue Train that carries guests in a high degree of luxury between Cape Town and Pretoria. Originally catering for mining magnates, The Blue Train has introduced several innovations that make it one of the world’s most comfortable trains. The decor and service are exquisite and all meals, featuring local specialities, are prepared in the tiny on-display kitchen.
There are two Blue Trains and the stops differ depending on direction. The Luxury Suites are a metre longer than Deluxe Suites and feature baths in the marble bathrooms. The lounge, bar and dining cars gleam like gems. The Blue Train operates year-round and a Luxury Suite for the two-day/one-night journey, in high season (September to November) costs A$1983 per person, twin share. bluetrain.co.za
Australia’s greatest rail journey enthusiast, ex-Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, selects the 19-carriage Golden Chariot as his pick of India’s luxury train offerings. It has two eight-day itineraries from Bangalore with the Pride of the South running between October and March and visiting Mysore, Goa, temples, a tiger reserve and several World Heritage sites.
Cabins have satellite TV, WiFi and a well-designed ensuite bathroom. Accommodating maximum of just 44 guests, the Golden Chariot boasts hand-woven silk sheets and hand-carved wooden panels. Expect a band to welcome you on board and to be bedecked in garlands. The two beautiful dining carriages serve both Indian and international fare and there’s a spa car as well as the Madira Lounge Car that is modelled on the opulent Mysore Palace. Through RailPlus, the fare is A$5,926 per person, twin share. railplus.com.au