On the right tracks
Header image © The Blue Train
Side image © Imvelo Safari Lodges
There can be a romance in rail travel in foreign countries that’s hard to find in the 11.05am from Ipswich to Liverpool Street. From luxury trains crossing South Africa, Peru or India to switchbacking up and down an almost sheer cliff face in Ecuador, there’s something rather special about taking to the tracks on holiday.
Image © Belmond
First class all the way…
Cocooned in elegance, spectacular landscapes viewed through picture windows as an attentive waiter proffers a glass of champagne, a fine afternoon tea or splendid silver-service dinner before you retreat to your peaceful, sumptuous cabin, to be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the rails… a luxury train journey is a thing of beauty.
Thanks to a certain Agatha Christie book and the subsequent A-list star-packed films, the iconic and exotic train that immediately springs to mind is usually the Orient Express. However, let me present some others for your consideration…
The Belmond Andean Explorer is owned and operated by the same organisation that runs the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and there are clear echoes of that famous piece of rolling stock to be found in what was the first luxury sleeper train in South America.
“Coccooned in elegance…”
Images © Belmond
One of two distinctive, midnight-blue Belmond trains running in Peru, the Andean Explorer is a glorious way to travel from Cusco to Peru’s famed ‘white city’ Arequipa or Lake Titicaca, stopping at points of interest en-route. You get an amazing view of the glorious scenery from the observation car and can even relax with a massage in the spa car.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is an unforgettable way to travel in classic style to Machu Picchu. Fantastic, 1920s-style elegance transports you back to a time when polished brass and wood were the norm and Pullman carriages were the only way to travel. Crossing Peru’s Sacred Valley, heading to the iconic ‘lost city of the Incas’ on board this superb train is something that’s definitely on my personal bucket list. They take it slow, so you get to enjoy around three and half hours of refined style and impeccable food, wine and service as you look out onto cloud forest, mountains and valleys and ancient towns and villages.
Belmond never forgets that this is a Peruvian adventure. Enjoy a Pisco sour, take in traditional local music performances on board, and savour fine Peruvian wines and local delicacies with a sophisticated twist.
PeruRail’s Vistadome train, which travels between Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, allows you to enjoy contemporary Andean style and elegance. On board you’ll also be treated to a fashion show demonstating the newest trends in alpaca clothing, together with live traditional dance performances. The rail carriages have vast expanses of glass, wrapping up to the roof, to help you make the most of the panoramic views.
PeruRail’s Titicaca train crosses the Andes between Cusco and Puno and features 1920s-style Pullman carriages and an open-air observation car which is ideal for photographers looking to capture shots of the jaw-dropping landscapes.
Traverse South Africa in style
The Blue Train has operated since 1946 and the 1,600-mile, two-night journey is unforgettable. Think of it as a five-star hotel on wheels, with a glorious and ever-changing view and the finest of South African wines and haute cuisine. Oh, and your own butler on call. The Blue Train also travels to Kruger National Park, and I can think of no finer way to arrive on safari.
Equally sumptuous, Rovos Rail is another wood-panelled piece of handsome rolling stock. Before you even step on board, the exclusive Rovos Rail pre-departure lounge at Pretoria station puts you in the frame of mind for the opulence that lies ahead.
Main image and top side image © The Blue Train
Bottom side image © Rovos Rail
“Game viewing as the train trundles along.”
Imvelo’s Stimela Star is a private sleeper train running from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park. It may not hit the luxurious heights of Rovos Rail or the Blue Train, but, with its cheerful and endlessly helpful staff, recently-restored retro accommodation and excellent food, it’s immensely charming and a great addition to your safari holiday without busting the budget. If you’re staying at Imvelo’s Bomani Tented Lodge or Camelthorn you can extend your rail journey on Imvelo’s Elephant Express, an open-sided single railcar that provides game viewing as the train trundles along the tracks to the lodges.
Elephant Express and Stimela Star images © Imvelo Safari Lodges
“A fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition.”
Palace on Wheels images © Nav Jyoti TV Studio
See India from the Palace on Wheels
How about an eight-day sleeper train ride through Northern India? The Palace on Wheels maintains the longstanding Indian tradition of rail travel, taking in Agra, Bharatpur, Dehli, Chittorgarh Fort, Jaipur Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal and Udaipur en-route. It’s a fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition, with guided tours of the famous stopping places. Of course, there’s a huge choice of rail journeys in India and our consultants often book overnight trains for our travellers; they’re a great way to travel between the game parks of central India for example. These aren’t luxury trains, but are a very convenient way to travel and a fantastic way to see another aspect of day-to-day Indian life.
If you’re a narrow gauge railway fan heading to India, make sure you talk to us about one of the ‘toy trains’, which operate on a number of routes including from Kalka to Shimla or Ooty.
All aboard the Ecuador Cruise Train
Here’s something new and a little different – Tren Ecuador is not a sleeper train but a way to see Ecuador at a leisurely pace by rail while stopping at hotels and lodges en route. Two levels of travel are available, Luxury and the upgraded Gold class, with the difference being in the hotels or haciendas you say in on the journey. You’ll travel on the same luxury train, through incredible ever-changing scenery, stopping at fascinating places and meeting local craftsmen and women, visiting markets and enjoying traditional cuisine.
The route includes the dramatic switchbacks along the Devil’s Nose route (see images above and below) – and if your itinerary won’t allow for the full six-day experience, you can board the train just for key sections, including the Devil’s Nose. There’s also the Tren de la Libertad, which crosses bridges over steep canyons and through seven tunnels between Ibarra and Salinas, where its arrival is greeted with the tune ‘La Bomba’. Salinas is home to the Afro-ecuadorian people, and a visit to this town, with its colourful murals and fascinating museums, is a great way to spend a day.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the available train journeys so, if you fancy getting on the right tracks on your holiday, don’t forget to ask us about the opportunities for rail travel in your chosen destination!