"I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it"
I love this quote, written by one of my favourite travel writers, Paul Theroux. I suspect that he wasn’t referring to the 07:10 from Peterborough to Kings Cross, but about some of the world’s more amazing train journeys to experience.
The modern world often seems to be a place where getting somewhere quickly is imperative, but perhaps it is time to slow down a little and start making the most of the journey itself, as well as the destination.
When my parents retired, we took a family trip right across Canada by train. Those that know me, will know just how much I love Canada, so travelling coast to coast across this beautiful country was a very special adventure and is up there with my favourite treasured holiday memories.
We started in Halifax, Nova Scotia, headed to Montreal, onto Toronto then picked up the Canadian, through to Jasper, before boarding the Rocky Mountaineer to the Terminal City, Vancouver.
Train has become an increasingly popular way to travel and there are many great holidays that include a journey as a key ingredient. I wanted to share just a few of my personal favourites and those I have sent clients on that may just provide some inspiration.
Starting close to home, day trips on the British Pullman out of London Victoria are fabulous, from a few hours for an afternoon tea through to an overnight jaunt down to Cornwall.
Rekindle the romance of the rails travelling between Europe’s most captivating cities on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the private luxury train service that operates between London and Venice. This is an extremely popular booking with clients celebrating a special anniversary and combining it with a few romantic nights in Venice, Verona or Paris.
Hiring a car to drive around Italy is not for the faint hearted. Fortunately, its trains are a super way to visit many of the fine cities. Flying into Naples to visit Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast is easy and then take a train to Rome, Florence, Venice and even the Lakes.
Switzerland has a couple of incredible journeys. The Glacier Express travels from St Moritz to Zermatt providing spectacular panoramic vistas and the Jungfrau Express from Kleine Scheidegg to Europe’s highest railway station at Jungfraujoch. These trains operate all year round and are as popular in the winter as in the summer.
The European train network is comprehensive and simple to move between the delightful cultural cities of Cologne, Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna.
Another lesser requested iconic journey that clients have travelled is the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is the third longest railway line in the world connecting Moscow to Vladivostok, taking seven days, moving through eight time zones and over 6,000 miles with most passengers making stops along the way in Russia and Mongolia. This is a journey where no two days are the same and time spent aboard the train is as valuable as time spent off it.
In addition to owning the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, the Eastern Orient Express operating between Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok and several stunning hotels, Belmond also owns the Belmond Hiram Bingham, which travels between Cusco and Machu Picchu and the Belmond Andean Explorer, renowned as one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, which goes from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and is the only luxury sleeper train in the South American Andes.
South Africa’s luxury trains induce regular debate within both the trade and with consumers as to which is better. From the client feedback I have received, both the Blue Train and Rovos Rail and score equally highly and you will not be disappointed with either.
The Blue Train travels an approximately 1,600-kilometre journey between Pretoria and Cape Town whilst in addition to this route, Rovos Rail also travels to Durban, Victoria Falls, Namibia and Tanzania.
India is a fantastic country to experience by train and it offers a total of 7 luxury ones such as the Deccan Odyssey, Palace on Wheels, the Golden Chariot and perhaps the most famous of all, the Maharajas’ Express.
These elite trains cater to tourists wishing to explore the rich cultural heritage of India in the lap of luxury. Their grandeur is evident from mind-boggling interiors, majestic ambience, lavish gastronomical fare, stringent security arrangements and matchless comfort onboard.
The Maharajas' Express, also known as the Orient Express of the West, incorporates everything that was befitting to an Indian monarch and is not just a journey but a lifestyle and a bucket list experience.
There are three luxury trains on my radar in Australia; the most well-known is the Ghan, that runs between Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin and is an incomparable way to travel to the two jewels of the Northern Territory, the Red Centre and the tropical Top End.
The Indian Pacific will transport you on the epic cross-continental journey from Sydney to Adelaide and onto Perth, spanning the entire distance between the Indian and Pacific Oceans in three days and three nights.
Finally, the Great Southern route between Adelaide and Brisbane taking three days and two nights marks a new chapter in Australian luxury rail travel. Its inaugural journey departed from Adelaide on 6 December 2019 and with a capacity of 214 guests per departure is a welcome addition, enabling passengers to explore the incredible landscapes across Australia’s diverse south-eastern corner.
In New Zealand there are train journeys that can be incorporated into your holiday, but you won't necessarily find them featured in luxury guides and it will be more about gazing out of the window and absorbing the beautiful scenery than the train itself.
The Northern Explorer travels between Auckland and Wellington, the Coastal Pacific between Picton and Christchurch and the most popular is the TranzAlpine, a 5-hour journey from Christchurch to Greymouth through the majestic Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps of the South Island.
The USA has numerous train journeys I could mention but highlights would be the California Zephyr that runs between Chicago and San Francisco, the Pacific Surfliner that hugs the Southern California coast between San Luis Obispo and San Diego, the Adirondack that heads along the Empire Corridor between New York City and Montreal and finally the Sunset Limited which you can take all the way from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
There are some amazing train journeys to be found in Alaska and I was lucky enough to travel on the McKinley Explorer train. If you are planning an Alaskan Cruise, I would highly recommend flying into Anchorage and seeing some of inland Alaska before hitting the water.
After journeying around the world, I will conclude my train adventures back where I started - in Canada.
The trip I book the most is the famous Rocky Mountaineer that operates from Jasper or Banff in Alberta to Vancouver in British Columbia. It takes two full days with an overnight on route in Kamloops and I can vouch for its claim of being one of the world’s most beautiful train trips. The route through the Rockies is by far the most popular but the Rocky Mountaineer also offers alternative journeys which I will be more than happy to discuss further on request.
VIA Rail operate the earlier mentioned Canadian on which I travelled across the country, but they also run some 'adventure routes', such as Jasper to Prince Rupert via Prince George, and from Winnipeg to Churchill to see the polar bears.
If you want to see more of the eastern Canadian cities, the train is a great way of doing so with Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, a great itinerary.
I do hope to have provided a glimpse into the many options for incorporating a train journey into your holiday experience - it’s a truly delightful way to travel.