Train travel speaks of nostalgia and romance, harking back to past eras and calling to mind glamorous images of long, leisurely journeys in the lap of luxury. More than with any other form of transport, an extended train trip is one where it really is as much about the journey as the destination. While we might be in the final grips of the recession, The Guardian revealed recently that “first class rail travel has hit a 10-year high in Britain, thanks to an increase in “leisure travellers” buying pricier seats”. According to the article, booking early, using a railcard and travelling on weekends is the best way to bag yourself a bargain on premium seats. And train rides aren’t just proving popular with adults. The Telegraph listed a number of top routes that kids are bound to love including the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Beijing, the Mumbai to Goa and the Bermina Express in Switzerland.
Gazing out of a window with an ever-changing landscape rolling by, eating and sleeping onboard, it’s an adventure for even the most jaded and travel-weary folk. With endless journeys to pick from, it can be hard to know where to go – try these five fantastic trips for size.
The Hiram Bingham chugs through Peru in all its old-fashioned splendour, the train taking its name from the American explorer who discovered the ancient site of Machu Picchu, where the trip from Poroy ends up. Take in the spectacular scenery from within the lavishly-upholstered confines of this blue-and-gold liveried train.
At just 8 miles in length, a trip on the Hiram Bingham may be short on distance, but it’s certainly long on spectacle – taking in both mountain peaks and the waters of the Urubamba river. The four carriages are decked out in polished wood and brass, and a visit to the observation car at the rear is a must. The day-long round trip means you’ll take both breakfast and dinner on board.
Everyone considers Swiss railways as synonymous with efficiency, but judging by the Glacier Express route, it’s also rather deeply rooted in some seriously beautiful countryside. The train departs from the foot of the Matterhorn and wends its way to the ritzy resort of St Moritz, via the majestic Gotthard pass – the source of the Rhone and Rhine. The idyllic landscapes include flower-filled meadows, lakes and rivers, and quaint villages.
The fresh mountain air makes passengers feel in the rudest of health, and also ignites a healthy and abundant appetite, perfectly catered to with the three-course meal served on the 7-hour trip. Trains are designed for maximum visibility, with panoramic windows letting in plenty of light and providing the best views possible.
Pride of Africa
Whether you want to discover the wineries of the Cape, the majestic Victoria Falls, or go on an intrepid safari in Durban or Namibia, a trip on the Pride of Africa is the perfect way to discover all the country has to offer.
A journey on this luxe train provides an excellent mobile introduction to Africa, as well as a gastronomic one. Each day, meals served in the elegant, Edwardian dining cars focus on seasonal, local produce and are complemented by fine South African wines; the standards upheld by passengers donning formal dinner attire.
Observation cars provide the chance to recline in comfortable chairs and take in the scenery, whilst lounge cars often play host to informative lectures and events. On-board accommodation includes Edwardian and Victorian features, like wooden panelling and full-scale baths in the Royal Suites, alongside modern luxuries like air conditioning.
Palace on Wheels
The Palace on Wheels offers a train journey to suit the most pampered would-be Maharajahs and Maharanis, even boasting two luxurious restaurants by those very names. A trip on the Palace on Wheels is undoubtedly the most indulgent way to while away a week crossing the Indian subcontinent. Each of the 14 saloon cars is decorated in traditional Rajasthani style and features 4 bedded chambers with bathroom and refreshment facilities and dedicated personal attendants.
The week-long circular route departs from New Delhi and takes in a host of stops including the cities of Udaipur and Jodhpur, as well as the final mandatory stop at Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. The detailed itinerary with plenty of expert-guided excursions and activities means you’ll have ample opportunity to discover as you travel.
Travelling the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest rail journey you can take, the original line built from St Petersburg right through to Beijing or Vladivostok – both journeys of over 9,000 km. Post-1920, passengers had the additional option of routing via Mongolia on a slightly shorter trip of just under 8,000km.
This is not luxury train travel – the heating is effective but compartments are simply furnished with beds, toilets are shared, and you’ll have to stump up a fare for a shower. When it comes to eating and drinking, the restaurant car is pricey, although you are permitted to consume your own alcohol on board. Non-stop, the route takes a week to complete. Break it into a series of shorter journeys and make plenty of stops – this is one journey where the transport is merely an effective means to discover a vast swathe of the world’s wonders on one unique cross-continental trip.
As with all travel abroad, it pays to ensure you are fully prepared before you depart in terms of insurance and currency concerns. Unlike airports, not all train stations are equipped with the latest and greatest ATMs and exchange offices, so it pays to be fully prepared before you leave. Being stranded in the middle of the Russian continent or a isolated Goan station with no funds is a no-no. Prepaid cards are essential on adventure holidays as they give you peace of mind and security. You can be assured that your rate is fixed, your account loaded and protected with up to the minute chip and pin technologies. Shop around online, but don’t cheap out on insurance when it comes to train travel. Get adequate coverage for medical and accident. With those important factors taken care of, all that’s left is to by a guide book and language phrase book.