We’re huge fans of rail travel and, while that makes us just a little nostalgic, it also shows that we like to sit back and check out the real world as it passes by. These are just a few of our favourite rail journeys (or one or two we’d REALLY love to experience).
Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Paris to Istanbul
Immortalized by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the epitome of romantic train travel. The cars have been restored to their Gilded Age glamour, and 2018 brings three five-star worthy Grand Suites, each decorated to evoke the iconic stops of Paris, Venice and Istanbul. The suites will come equipped with a double bed, bathroom with shower, separate living area, a wall of windows, room service, and all the champagne you can drink. Whether or not you opt for a Grand Suite, all riders get to experience four-course gourmet dinners in one of three dining cars, a bar car with a pianist and a new champagne bar. For the ultimate experience, book the Paris to Istanbul route —with stops in Budapest and Bucharest — which departs just once a year around August.
Rovos Rail: Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, Africa
Train travel through Africa automatically conjures romantic images of desert landscapes and giraffe herds. The reality on Rovos Rail isn’t far off, especially since there are seven different routes to choose from. Cover the most ground on the epic two-week journey from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Trip highlights encompass Victoria Falls, Kimberley’s Big Hole and game drives at Madikwe Game Reserve. While on board, rekindle romance during the formal dinners in the Victorian-inspired dining car. This is the opportunity to wear your snazziest outfits while sipping South African wines and trying traditional game dishes. Retire to a Royal Suite, the length of half a carriage, and enjoy room service, a lounge area, and, unusual even on luxury trains, an actual bathtub.
Golden Eagle: Trans-Siberian Express, Russia
The Golden Eagle operates six different trains with routes all over the world, from India to Switzerland, and you can expect a certain level of luxury on all of them. As a result, this train is the perfect option for those who desire a higher-end version of the famed Trans-Siberian Railway. Billed as the Trans-Siberian Express, the two-week journey between Moscow and Vladivostok traverses more than 6,000 miles and eight time zones with stops and excursions along the way. Highlights include a private tour of the Kremlin Armoury museum, Irkutsk, the “Paris of Siberia,” a barbecue at Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, and the capital of Mongolia. While on board, enjoy private cabins with bathrooms, an elegant dining car serving Russian specialties like caviar, as well as guest speakers and Russian language lessons. And unlike comparable luxury trains, riders don’t have to get dressier than smart casual for dinner.
The Ghan: Ghan Expedition, Australia
Operated by Great Southern Rail, Australia’s own, The Ghan is one of the best ways to explore the remote Australian outback. The longest is the four-day Ghan Expedition. The route rumbles through the red arid landscape with stops in Katherine Gorge to visit a working cattle station, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy, an opal mining capital where roughly half of the residents live underground due to the region’s extreme heat. (Be sure to visit the underground Serbian Orthodox Church.) Recover from the heat in a Platinum Service-level room, which gets you breakfast in a double bed, private bathroom, two picture windows, and access to seasonal meals — plus a bar and lounge — in the Platinum Club car.
Belmond Hiram Bingham, Peru
Although the Belmond Hiram Bingham (named after the explorer who broadcast Machu Picchu’s existence to the world) is one of the shortest train rides on this list, it’s by far the poshest way to reach the ancient city. The three-hour experience kicks off with champagne at the station and continues on board with Pisco Sours and Peruvian wines. Luckily, multi-course meals that emphasize local dishes (grilled trout, corn cheesecake) are served each way to help absorb the free-flowing alcohol. Meals are accompanied by no less than crystal glasses and quality silverware. Spend the rest of the journey listening to live Peruvian music in 1920s Pullman-style carriages while the train ascends into the Andes. Train fare also includes entrance to Machu Picchu and afternoon tea at the swanky Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, Spain
El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo takes foodies on a week-long tour of Northern Spain, which meanders between San Sebastian (known for its large number of Michelin-starred restaurants) and Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, there are stops in Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim Museum and the medieval town of Santillana del Mar. The entire journey focuses on food both on and off the train, with the ability to indulge in regional fares like Galician seafood, Cantabria anchovies, Asturian fabada (bean stew) and frixuelos (dessert crepes). The train parks at night so you can sleep off the food coma in a posh, wood-paneled suite outfitted with a double bed, living area and private bath with steam sauna. Plus, true romantics will appreciate that the train cars recreate the golden age of rail; the social carriages are actually the original Pullman coaches from 1923.
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Four routes wind through Western Canada and Washington on the Rocky Mountaineer, providing exceptional views of the Canadian Rockies, waterfalls, wildlife and more. Spring for the GoldLeaf Service to increase the romance factor, as it involves gourmet meals, afternoon wine and cheese and a bi-level glass dome for optimum views. It also includes high-end hotels (Four Seasons, Fairmont) at each overnight stop. Be sure to mention if you’re newlyweds, as you’ll be treated to specialty desserts and sparkling wine. Limited cell phone reception ensures you’ll pass the hours simply gazing at the scenery and each other.