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.
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.
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!