Sam Lewis looks at the growing appeal of some of the world’s most iconic train journeys
We suggest: Maharajas’ Express in India, Delhi to Mumbai
Why: A palace on wheels, this opulent train makes every passenger feel like a maharaja and last year it was named ‘World’s Leading Luxury Train’ in the World Travel Awards. Numerous excursions offer the chance to see Indian gems ranging from tigers to the Taj Mahal. Guests can explore iconic palaces, forts and UNESCO sites, go in search of wild animals on a 4WD safari, sip sundowner cocktails amidst sand dunes, cheer at an elephant polo match, or play a challenging round of golf. Additional add-ons include the opportunity to book Ayurveda-inspired spa treatments at five-star hotels en-route, allowing every guest to get pampered from top to toe.
The train: Lavish interiors blend modern day amenities with a bygone era, with wi-fi and flat-screen TVs complemented by traditional pastimes such as reading and games in the library. Spacious suites cater for 88 guests, and even the lowest category compartments come with a personal butler. Expect fine dining at its two restaurants, with gold-edged plates and Swarovski hand-cut crystal glasses serving the world’s best wines. the-maharajas.com
We suggest: Glacier Express in Switzerland, St Moritz to Zermatt
Why: There are quicker ways of making the 180-mile journey through the Alpine heartland, but why rush when the scenery is so spectacular? Savour the views of snow-capped peaks and sugar-frosted forests aboard what’s dubbed ‘the slowest express train in the world’ with an average speed of 22 miles per hour. Highlights include views of the Landwasser Viaduct, the 1,300ft-deep Rhine Gorge and the Oberalp Pass where a rack-and-pinion system is used to climb and brake the train to and from the highest point at nearly 6,700ft.
The train: Once a steam-powered locomotive, the train is now an elegant mix of old and new with panorama carriages. Local specialty meals are served at your seats, and include tilted glasses. glacierexpress.ch
We suggest: Trans Siberia/ Mongolian Railway Line, Moscow to Beijing
Why: Although the main Trans Siberian line starts in Moscow and goes east to Vladivostok, arguably the most interesting option is to follow the Trans-Mongolian route, starting in Moscow and ending in Beijing, enjoying the highlights of Russia, Mongolia and China. This journey transports passengers into the heart of Siberia, with views of rivers, lakes, forest and mountains, before stopping at Irkutsk to visit Lake Baikal, the world’s largest body of fresh water. In addition to Mongolia’s endless steppes and the Gobi desert, the trip typically takes in Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital, before ending in Beijing with the chance to explore the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Ming tombs.
The train: There’s no one train called ‘The Trans-Siberian Express’ — this is actually the name of the railway line, so several trains operate along this route. transsiberianexpress.net features a Highlights of Trans Siberia tour on the Rossiya train 002 for the Moscow-Irkutsk leg. The journey continues on train 006, followed by train 024 on the Ulan Bator-Beijing leg. All the trains come with first- and second-class compartments (featuring power sockets for laptops and mobiles), a restaurant car, toilets and washrooms at the end of each corridor. transsiberianexpress.net
We suggest: Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, Pretoria to Cape Town
Why: The fun and active itinerary is ideal for children aged eight and over and is also perfect for those travelling with grandparents on a multi-generation vacation. The scenic journey doesn’t cross any borders, so no visas are required for UK citizens, and the price represents excellent value for money as the rand has slipped significantly against the British pound. Highlights include several game drives in Kruger Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve and Hluhluwe, where passengers get the chance to spot the Big Five. The journey also includes a trip to Addo Elephant National Park, home to over 450 elephants, antelope, Cape buffalo and black rhino, as well as an ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn. There’s also the option to play five challenging golf courses, including an Ernie Els layout, and visit the KWV brandy distillery.
The train: Passengers can expect restored Edwardian carriages with dark woods and period fittings, and an open-air deck where passengers can view the scenery and wildlife. Dining cars have a distinct Victorian atmosphere, where guests feast on traditional dishes and local ingredients, including game, complemented by fine South African wines. Chefs are also on hand to help parents devise a children’s menu. rovos.com
Belmond Royal Scotsman: Experience authentic Scottish hospitality on a luxurious train that’s more akin to a grand country home, with just 36 guests and activities that include whiskey tasting, salmon fishing and clay pigeon shooting. Plump sofas are perfectly positioned to afford glimpses of the rugged countryside, punctuated with castles, villages, glens and lochs. Guests are welcomed onboard by a Highland piper, the interior is swathed in authentic tartan upholstery and passengers can even borrow a kilt for the duration of the journey. belmond.com
Blue Train: This vivid, blue, five-star train covers 994 miles in 27 hours, stopping en-route from Pretoria to Cape Town, to tour the historic diamond mining town of Kimberley. Savour the views and the food, feasting on a five-course banquet in the elegant dining car and enjoying high tea in the charming lounge. Deluxe cabins feature 100% percale cotton bedding, air conditioning, under-floor heating, and an opulent marble and gold-fitted bathroom. www.bluetrain.co.za
Hiram Bingham: The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu may take your breath away, but so will this 84-passenger Belmond/ Orient Express train, departing from Cusco. Travel in stylish, 1920s-style Pullman carriages and tuck into a three-course brunch served on crisp white tablecloths covering polished wooden tables. The three-hour journey passes in a flash, but the views of the Andes from the observation deck will stay with you forever. perurail.com