8 of the world's best rail journeys
1. Luxury across Europe
As you board the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train at London’s Victoria station bound for Gare de l’Est in Paris, French chefs on board are preparing the Michelin-grade menu to be served in one of the exquisite 1920s dining cars. Start with lobster and caviar blinis by the baby grand piano in the bar car, before feasting on a four-course dinner served by white-gloved waiters. Slip blissfully between the crisp damask sheets in the vintage polished oak and mahogany-panelled cabin, amid the crystal glassware, silk lampshades and giant windows. Wake up, and after breakfast in bed, you’ll be in Venice.
2. A flying Scotsman
Single malt whisky and valleys of heather are just some of the joys of the tartan-trimmed Royal Scotsman’s Western Journey from Edinburgh across the Scottish Highlands to the fishing town of Mallaig on Scotland’s northwest coast. This ‘mobile’ Scottish country bed and breakfast sleeps 36 in ensuite staterooms, with meals served in two dignified dining carriages. An armchair in the observation car or the open-air veranda provide a wonderful vantage point as you glide past castles, villages and glens.
3. Rocky Mountain high
Snow-clad mountains, glacier-fed lakes, wildlife and impeccable service are all part of the Rocky Mountaineer experience. The journey from Canada’s Vancouver to Calgary across the Rocky Mountains has three overnight hotel stops (included in the ticket) passing through the Kamloops region and up to the ski resorts of Lake Louise and Banff, before heading to Calgary, Alberta’s ‘cowboy town’. You travel during the day so you don’t miss any of the moving art gallery passing by your window. Go with the premium Gold Leaf Service which has a double-deck dome car and meals served in the posh dining car.
4. Footsteps of the Incas
Named after the American explorer who discovered the remains of the 15th-century Inca Citadel Machu Picchu in 1911, Peru’s Hiram Bingham train is one of South America’s finest rail journeys. Hiram Bingham carries 84 passengers in 1920s Pullman-style carriages, with two luxurious dining cars, a kitchen car, a bar/observatory car and live local on-board entertainment. The journey of just over three hours from Cusco to Machu Picchu winds through some of the Andes’ most breathtaking scenery before arriving at the World Heritage-listed site. There’s time for a five-hour guided tour of the ancient relics before heading back to Cusco.
5. From Russia with love
Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway has been a sort of arduous rite of passage for dedicated train enthusiasts since 1901, but the amenities could only be described as basic. That is, until the lavish Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Russia’s only fully ensuite train, began the luxury service from Moscow to Vladivostok a few years ago. Imagine listening to Tchaikovsky play as you sample vodka and caviar in the velvety surrounds of the classic Russian restaurant; while gazing through the wide-wide windows at the vastness of Siberia.
6. Royalty on wheels
The ‘Land of the Maharajahs’ is wonderful anytime, but Rajasthan is even better when surrounded by the regal grandeur of a bygone era. With its opulently embroidered ruby, sapphire, pearl and emerald Indian decor, gourmet cuisine and first-class service, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels simply oozes old-world charm. A seven-day journey explores Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The deluxe and super deluxe cabins are all beautifully furnished with ensuite bathrooms, luxurious beds, comfortable sofas, in-built wardrobes and huge glass windows. Escape the heat and dust in the spa, or relax in one of the lavish bars or lounges.
7. The Soul of Africa
Everyone from kings and presidents to celebrities have ridden
The Blue Train, the magnificent, moving 5-star ‘hotel-on-wheels’ which traverses South Africa. On board the train you can indulge in the finest cuisine accompanied by some of South Africa’s finest wines. Around-the-clock personal butlers will see to your every need; be it in the comfort of your private suite, or in any one of the train’s exquisite lounges. The route between Pretoria and Cape Town is a 27-hour journey of 1600 kilometres, passing through awe-inspiring mountain ranges and arid deserts and across untamed savannah grasslands teeming with wildlife.
8. Ecuadorian Encounter
Ecuador’s recently refurbished Tren Crucero from the volcano-flecked Andes to the country’s tropical coast is emerging as one of the world’s most thrilling rail journeys. The rail passage from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, in the Andes, to Guayaquil on the sunny, Pacific coast was originally created over a century ago in order to unite the country. The dramatic Devil’s Nose, with its steep zig-zagging sections, remains the most exhilarating section of the route and is regarded as the most difficult pieces of railway in the world. The journey forms an ideal add-on to a pre or post cruise in the Galapagos Islands.