29 November 2021 by Simon Langley
Having travelled the tracks, tasted the meals and relaxed in the private cabins, our rail experts have put together the following collection of the world’s greatest train journeys. Of course, there’s more than a touch of luxury. And, spanning five continents, there’s everything from Andean peaks to Australia’s outback.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Even the mere mention of its name conjures images of decadence, old-word charm and the thrill of exploration. With a heritage dating back to the late 19th century, the Orient Express introduced a sense of luxury when travel was still seen as a difficult, if not dangerous, affair. And, it’s a mantle taken up today by Belmond, the people behind many of the world’s most iconic hotels and trains. Think the Royal Scotsman and Reid’s Palace on Madeira. As such, each of the train’s carriages has been restored to their former glory, with glittering crystalware, dark-wood panelling and even mosaicked lavatories among a long list of intricate details.
It all contributes to a truly immersive Art-Deco aesthetic that plays out everywhere from the private berths to the bar car and the magnificent restaurant carriages. Here, you’ll be treated to only the finest of dining, with onboard chefs drawing inspiration – and ingredients – from the train’s route. There’s Brittany lobster, just-picked tomatoes from Provence and saltmarsh lamb from Mont St Michel. Then, after your multi-course dinner, retire to sip on cocktails and champagne as you relax to the twinkling of the baby grand. The routes, too, are just as impressive. While the train can take you as far afield as Vienna, Prague and Budapest, the journey to Venice remains the perennial favourite, passing through rural France and over the majestic Alps.
The Rocky Mountaineer
While the Orient Express is as much about its prestigious train as it is its route, the Rocky Mountaineer puts its spectacular backdrop first. Departing from Vancouver, it plunges inland, tracing rushing rivers, skirting giant lakes and leaping over cragged canyons to plunge deep into the mighty Canadian Rockies. It’s all showcased by panoramic dome windows and scenic slowdowns brought to life by stories and information from your onboardhosts. This is also the only non-sleeper option on our route, which does have the benefit of added time to stop and explore. Highlights include two of Canada’s national-park greats – Banff and Jasper. Here, you’ll be treated to everything from cascading waterfalls and colossal glaciers to a helicopter flight over the Rockies themselves.
However, it’s not to say that your journey isn’t without a touch of style. You’ll be treated to gourmet meals packed full of fresher-than-fresh ingredients, along with complimentary snacks and alcoholic drinks served throughout. For the best experience, opt for the GoldLeaf Service. Split-level carriages make the most of the views and separate dining adds to the occasion.
The Andean Explorer
Ushering in a new standard of rail travel, the Andean Explorer is the latest offering from industry darlings Belmond. Indeed, it’s even South America’s first and only luxury sleeper train. It winds along one of the world’s highest set of tracks, bringing its 48 privileged passengers on a journey into the Andes, sweeping along valley floors and up into armoured peaks. The journey is as much about the off-train excursions as the on-board indulgences. Expect to take in everything from the Incan treasures of Cusco and the floating reed villages of Lake Titicaca to the condor-dotted spectacle of Colca Canyon and the bright-white colonialism of Arequipa.
Then, at day’s end, you’ll return to the contemporary elegance of the Andean Explorer. You’ll watch rural Peru sweep by from the observation car, get lost in a good book in the library and pair cocktails with live piano music in the bar before retiring to the cosy cabins, many of which even feature double beds. It’s all dressed impeccably, with colourful Peruvian accents picked out against soft Alpaca tones. Then there’s the dining. Served up in a pair of beautiful restaurant carriages, multi-course extravaganzas showcase the best in local flavours.
The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express
Put simply, the Trans-Siberian Express is the journey of a lifetime. The longest train journey in the world sweeps nearly 10,000km to link Russia and Mongolia, west and east. Since the end of the 20th century, its route has brought workers and travellers alike through Siberia’s great expanse, taking on the mighty Ural Mountains and skirting the world’s largest freshwater lake before plunging down through the endless green of the Mongolian steppe. Along the way, you’ll be treated to Moscow’s onion-domed icons, yurt villages and remote frontier towns that remember all of their Soviet-era glory.
But, forget the image of Russian asceticism and hunkering down over a bottle of vodka, the route is now plied by one of the most iconic trains – the Golden Eagle. The cabins are served by flawlessly accommodating stewards and the bar car is resplendent in stained glass and plush sofas – the venue for impromptu Russian language lessons and engaging lectures on local history. It’s all soundtracked by – you guessed it – live piano performances. Then, as it often is on luxury trains, the dining is a particular highlight. Days are started with cooked-to-order breakfasts before lunches and dinners feature such gastronomic delights as salmon caviar and black surgeon, paired with a superb wine menu, of course.
Australia is big. From arid desert to lush rainforest, its dramatic topography measures into the millions of square miles. So, it makes sense to let the train take the strain, travelling with The Ghan into regions that are otherwise inaccessible. Following roughly the north-south route originally mapped by the early pioneers, you’ll link the tropical outlook and pretty beaches of Darwin with the charm of Adelaide – the ‘City of Churches’. In between are miles upon endless miles of ochre outback, punctuated by stops at outpost towns, mysterious mines and aboriginal treasures. You’ll even enjoy atmospheric barbecues at remote cattle stations and visits to eerie underground towns.
It’s all contrasted with a palpable sense of luxury back on board. Private cabins feature the likes of crisp sheets and curated bathroom amenities, while the all-inclusive indulgences extend from the saltwater barramundi and into the bar where you’ll enjoy a selection of boutique beers and Australia’s finest wines. Indeed, there’s no fewer than three five-course meals a day. Lastly, there’s the chance to upgrade to Platinum service, where spacious berths come with ottoman seating by day and plush double beds by night.