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FROM the frozen wastes of Siberia to our own backyard there are plenty of adventure train journeys to satisfy even the most jaded traveller, writes Brian May
Mark Smith is a British train buff and travel writer known as ‘The Man in Seat 61’ who has travelled the world’s finest trains, always in seat 61.
“A great train ride is that triple combination of the scenery outside the train, the experience inside the train and the people you meet and things that happen on that specific trip which make it memorable,” Mark Smith says.
“Flying has lost its glamour, it’s time to rediscover real travel by train where the journey itself is an adventure.”
So don’t just watch the train go past, jump on and go on an adventure to remember.
Icy mountains, steep gorges, glacier-fed lakes, dry deserts and wildlife are all part of the Rocky Mountaineer experience, a very comfortable train ride from Vancouver to Calgary.
First Passage to the West is a spectacular ride across the Rocky Mountains with three overnight hotel stops (included) passing through the dry Kamloops region and up to the ski resorts of Lake Louise and Banff before heading down to Alberta’s “cow town”, Calgary.
Travel is during daylight hours and the service is impeccable. Red Leaf Service includes breakfast, lunch, tea, coffee and soft drinks and large reclining seats. Silver Leaf Service includes breakfast and lunch with free alcohol and glass viewing domes.
The premium Gold Leaf Service has a double-deck dome car with meals served in a posh 36-seat dining car.
Four-day/three-night First Passage To The West journeys from $1296 ([color=#07416c]rockymountaineer.com).[/color]
Air Canada has business class one-way fares Vancouver to Calgary from $1158.
Carriage views from the Eastern and Oriental Express. Source: Supplied
See tropical South-East Asia in the style of yesteryear aboard the ultra-luxurious Eastern and Oriental Express from Singapore through Malaysia to Bangkok.
The old-world experience starts at Singapore’s Art Deco railway station built in 1932 and continues with the elegant lounges and suites, the haute cuisine and superb service that were so much a part of that era. The four categories of private cabins are Pullman Single, Pullman, State Cabin and Presidential Cabin. Most offer twin-sharing accommodation; all are fully airconditioned with ensuite shower and toilet.
Get an unobstructed view of the passing scenery from the observation car with teak flooring, rattan furniture and potted plants creating the feel of a colonial veranda.
Three-night trips from Singapore to Bangkok start from $2860 a person ($5710 pp including all meals), entertainment and sightseeing ([color=#07416c]belmond.com, ph (freecall) 1800 000 395).[/color]
According to Mark Smith, there’s always a cheaper way.
“There are regular scheduled daily trains which cost about $90 for the same journey,” he says. “You don’t get the deluxe bar cars with pianos, but you do get to meet the locals.”
Singapore Airlines has one-way business class fares from Singapore to Bangkok from $890.
Picnic lunch for passengers on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express as it pauses on the shore of Lake Baikal. Picture: Simon Pielow Source: Supplied
Imagine listening to a pianist play Tchaikovsky as you sip vodka in an opulent lounge and gaze through panoramic windows at the vastness of Siberia.
Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway has been a sort of arduous rite of passage for train buffs since 1901 but in 2007 the lavish Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, a 5-star hotel on wheels and Russia’s only fully ensuite train, began the luxury service from Moscow to Vladivostok.
All cabins have power showers, underfloor heating, air conditioning, DVD/CD player with LCD screens and audio systems and in the classy restaurant caviar and fine wines are standard.
The 12-night journey stops at five cities and a barbecue lunch at Lake Baikal. Fares from $15,495pp include meals, drinks and tours ([color=#07416c]aptouring.com.au, ph 1300 196 420).[/color]
(Aeroflot has business class non-stop one-way fares Moscow to Vladivostok from $1988.
Lounge service on the Royal Scotsman, Scotland. Source: Supplied
Heather-strewn hillsides, legendary Loch Lomond, Harry Potter’s Glenfinnan Viaduct and sulky Ben Nevis are just some of the sights on the tartan-trimmed Royal Scotsman’s Western Journey from Edinburgh across the Highlands to the fishing town of Mallaig on the scenic northwest coast.
This mobile Scottish country B&B sleeps 36 in ensuite staterooms, feeds them in two dignified dining carriages and provides scenic entertainment from an observation car with a viewing veranda in between stops at Inverlochy Castle and the Isle of Bute. The Royal Scotsman runs from April to October on several routes around the Highlands on trips of two to seven nights.
The Western Journey of four days/three nights costs from $5080 a person ([color=#07416c]belmond.com, ph (freecall) 1800 000 395).[/color]
Glacier Express travels through Hospental, Switzerland. Source: Supplied
Switzerland isn’t falling behind when it comes to awe-inspiring train rides and one of the best, and slowest, is the slothful Glacier Express.
Meandering between the country’s ritziest ski resorts, St Moritz in the Engadin and Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn, the bright red “express” takes 7½ hours to cover the 290km through 91 tunnels and across 291 dramatic bridges, skylights and panoramic windows reveal the jagged magnificence of the Swiss Alps, the forested mountains above Visp and on to Oberalp Pass at 2030m.
There’s a bar, snacks and drinks are available, and in your cushioned seat you’ll be served your pre-ordered three-course menu or dish of the day.
Fares from $200 2nd class - $327 1st class ([color=#07416c]glacierexpress.ch).[/color]
Restaurant Sheesh Mahal aboard the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, India. Source: Supplied
The ancient “Land of the Maharajahs” is pretty impressive from any angle but Rajasthan looks even better surrounded by the regal grandeur of a bygone era.
Launched in 2009 with lavish Indian decor, gourmet cuisine and impeccable service, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels runs from Delhi on a seven-day journey exploring the majesty of 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. There’s a spa, a well- stocked bar, two opulent lounges and two old-world restaurant cars.
Fares from about $660 twin share, $1800 for suites ([color=#07416c]royalrajasthanonwheels.com).[/color]
Business/economy fares covering the same route total $2340.
California Zephyr passes the Book Cliffs in Utah. Picture: David Gubler Source: Supplied
Heading west from Chicago’s Union Station, the California Zephyr Superliner spans 3923km between Chicago and Emeryville (San Francisco), California in about 54 hours, one of North America’s most scenic train trips.
The journey crosses America’s heartland through the flatlands of Nebraska, through Denver and the canyons of the Colorado River, Glenwood Canyon, the Utah desert and the High Sierras.
The dining car serves full-service hot meals and you can view the scenery through the panoramic windows in the Sightseer Lounge and Cafe. Sleeping cars have a range of private rooms from Superliner roomettes to Superliner bedrooms with private ensuites and showers.
In coach there are wide, comfortable reclining seats with leg rests, folding tray tables and free pillows.
Fares from about $US745- $1400 ($A830-$1555) ([color=#07416c]amtrak.com). American Airlines flies Chicago-San Francisco business class for $826.[/color]
Dining aboard the Hiram Bingham luxury train that links Cuzco and Machu Picchu in Peru. Source:Supplied
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- styled carriages with two lavish dining cars, a kitchen car and a bar/observatory car and live on-board entertainment.
Six days a week, the journey of just over three hours from Poroy near Cusco to Machu Picchu winds through some of the Andes’ most breathtaking scenery, thick jungle, the rapids of the Urubamba River and across two mountain passes almost 4000m high before arriving at Machu Picchu where passengers do a five-hour tour before heading back to Cusco with a fine Andean dinner.
Fares from about $834-$848 include refreshments, tours, entrance fee and gourmet dinner ([color=#07416c]belmond.com, freecall 1800 000 395).[/color]
The Indian Pacific train on the Nullarbor Plain. Source: Supplied
Back home, the Indian Pacific is a silvery tube of air-conditioned luxury, fine food and fine wine that snakes 4352km across the continent between Perth and Sydney through scenery as diverse as deserts, the rural heartland of New South Wales, legendary mining towns, the lush majesty of the Blue Mountains and the sprawling emptiness of the Nullarbor Plain.
Platinum Service has large private cabins with full ensuites and pampering service. Gold Service passengers have private twin-sleeper cabins with ensuites and showers. Both have access to the plush Queen Adelaide restaurant car and the Outback Explorer lounge with complimentary meals, beers, standard wines, tea and coffee.
Red Service has comfortable reclining daynighter seats, hot showers in each carriage and the Matilda Cafe with meals, snacks, soft and alcoholic drinks for purchase.
Fares from $899- $3999 ([color=#07416c]greatsouthernrail.com.au).[/color]
Business class flights Sydney-Perth on same day — Qantas $1429, Virgin $1999.
Luxury lounge on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Source: Supplied
No reference to illustrious trains is complete without mentioning the classic Art Deco Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, possibly the benchmark of sequined and dinner-jacketed style on rails.
Board the British Pullman train at London’s Victoria station bound for Gare de l’Est in Paris where French chefs on the Orient Express prepare the Michelin-grade menu to be served in one of three sumptuous 1920s dining cars.
Start with bellinis by the baby grand piano in the Art Nouveau bar car before the four-course dinner served attentively but unpretentiously by white-gloved waiters (think lobster, scallops and caviar).
Slip between crisp damask sheets in the vintage polished oak and mahogany panelled cabin amid crystal glassware, silk lampshades and large picture windows and wake to breakfast in bed before the train arrives in Venice.
“The Orient Express is a fabulous train,” Smith says. “So fabulous, my wife and I got carried away and ended up engaged somewhere in the Brenner Pass.”
Fares from $3080- $6190pp include all table d’hote meals ([color=#07416c]belmond.com, freecall 1800 000 395).[/color]
British Airways has business class fares London to Venice from $967.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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