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Flexible? Try Orient-Express, Rocky Mountaineer, India’s Deccan Odyssey This Autumn

24 Jul

Europe, Canada or India calling? If so, now hear this:

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Get two free nights at the super luxurious Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice when you book the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express London-Paris-Venice on trips running Oct. 25-26, Oct. 29-30, Nov. 1-2 or Nov. 5-6. Click here for more info.

Get the same deal when you book the VSOE the other direction, Venice-Paris-London, for trips running Oct. 28-29, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 or Nov. 4-5. Click here for more info.

The offer is valued at $1,300 per person, is for new bookings only and must be made by Aug. 31. Restrictions apply.

Can’t tell you how much we love this hotel: it is fabulous. See our review and photos here.

Rocky Mountaineer

Get $1,000 per couple in extra services when you book a qualifying 2016 Rocky Mountaineer package of 7 nights or more.

The luxurious GoldLeaf service gives you a ring-side seat on the glories of the Rocky Mountains’ natural beauty.

Our recommendation: opt for the 12-day “Grand Rail Circle” tour, which packs in three scenic rail routes.

Great plus by booking this trip with us: two complimentary airport limo transfers — a value of $240.

Deccan Odyssey

With Delhi as the beginning of the Deccan Odyssey’s itinerary, a complimentary night in a top Delhi hotel, as well as a free private transfer upon arrival or departure, will be welcome news. The offer includes breakfast and taxes.

Choose a deluxe room from either the chic, modern Lait Hotel or the sumptuous, classical Kempinski Ambience.

The offer is valued at $300-$400. We love the Deccan Odyssey, as you know. Its onboard operators are some of the best in the luxury market.

For more information on the Deccan Odyssey, click here. For more information or to book any of these trains, email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Or call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.

Tales of the Orient-Express: Berlin, Iconic Italy, Ms. Agatha

26 Jun
Kurfürstendamm

Berlin boasts a vibrant outdoor café scene. Pictured here is the famous Kurfürstendamm. Photo: Visit Berlin

The famed Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has much to celebrate:

Berlin
The historic overnight trip to the German capital begins June 2, 2016 when the VSOE’s sister train, the Belmond British Pullman, departs London’s Victoria Station for the three-hour journey to the coast. The excursion continues on the VSOE to Paris and from there to Berlin, where it arrives June 3.

The reverse itinerary begins June 4, with arrival in London June 5.

Whichever direction passengers choose, the new trip offers myriad possibilities for extended stays in London and Berlin. For detailed information, click here.

A VSOE staff member prepares for boarding at Venice' Santa Lucia station.

A VSOE staff member prepares for boarding at Venice’ Santa Lucia station. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Romantic Italian Holiday
The Romantic Italian Holiday connects passengers on the VSOE’s classic overnight run between London, Paris and Venice with extended stays at the Belmond Cipriani in Venice and the Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence.

Now, extended stays are possible at four additional Belmond sites in Italy, all of them palatial:

  • Portofino: Belmond Hotel Splendido and Belmond Splendido Mare,
  • Amalfi Coast: Belmond Hotel Caruso,
  • Taormina Mare: Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea,
  • Taormina: Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo

For more information, email tourdesk@irtsociety.com or call (800) 478-4881 within the U.S. or Canada,  or, elsewhere, (502) 897-1725.

Dame Agatha
Honoring the 125th birthday of the novelist famous for writing “Murder on the Orient-Express,” head chefs from the VSOE, Istanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah and Venice’ Belmond Cipriani plan a July 1 celebration at the Cipriani.

According to the New York Times, they’ll prepare a buffet of “several dozen” Turkish, Italian and French dishes. (Dame Agatha wrote the novel at the Pera Palace following an Orient-Express trip from Venice).

The price is 130 euros (about $140, the Times says), and includes alcoholic drinks and entertainment, as well as an orchestra performance and a water show.

Rovos Rail Rarity: Cape-Dar Trek Still Has 3 Cabins to Let

2 Jun

DSC_0680-TrainOverFallsVert2SmallIt’s almost unheard of.

Rovos Rail’s coveted Cape Town – Dar es Salaam tour, normally sold out up to a year in advance, has one Pullman and two Deluxe cabins available on its Sept. 26-Oct. 10 two-week excursion.

“Lots of people ask us: What’s your favorite destination? What’s your favorite train?” says IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy.

“That’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. Except in our case, it’s our World’s Top 25 Trains,” Mrs. Hardy says.

But at the risk of hurting her other “children’s” feelings, Mrs. Hardy says Rovos Rail’s Cape to Dar and Dar to Cape journeys stand out for their adventure, excitement and connection with the local people.

IRT Traveler Gary Ellman on 2w011 Cape-Dar tour. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

IRT Traveler Gary Ellman at his favorite spot: on the rear, outdoor platform during 2011 Cape-Dar tour. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“These two-week treks started out being just twice a year – once north, and then south. But they became very popular. People who went on Rovos Rail for just one night or two frequently came back to do the Dar trips – and they came back often,” Mrs. Hardy says.

“There’s even a group of guests who are called ‘Repeat Offenders.’ They’ve traveled on the train many times.”

DSC_0223-JeffWithChildrenSmall

IRT traveler Jeff Grinspoon surrounded by well-wishers in Mlimba, Tanzania. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Now the train has several DAR departures each year, but demand almost always exceeds supply, she says. Except for this fall.

Here’s Mrs. Hardy’s advice:

  1. Book more than a year in advance for the greatest selection of cabins and dates. The IRT Society already has blocked space for its guests for next year and 2017. If a particular date looks attractive, grab it, she says.
  2. If you can make this fall’s trip, don’t wait. These last three cabins will go fast.
DSC_0822-Bunk

IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy. IRT photo by Owen Hardy

“Life’s too short to hem and haw,” Mrs. Hardy says.

“I’ll never forget the big smiles of our clients on the rear, open-air deck one sunny afternoon, descending the spectacular pass to Mlimba, Tanzania,” Mrs. Hardy says. “One of them said it was the ‘best railroading I’ve ever done in my life.’ ”

For details on the Cape-Dar dates, pricing and itinerary, click here. For more on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa train, click here. To book now, click here, call (800) 478-4881 or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Belmond Grand Hibernian ‘Arrives’ in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal

29 Apr

Artist’s rendering of the Belmond Grand Hibernian Lounge Car

New York, NY — The Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury train, made its formal debut in America April 28 at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The train is under construction; service is planned to begin August, 2016.

Authentic Irish music, draughts of Guinness and Irish Bell floral corsages underscored Belmond’s hopes for its newest “dream train:” a genuine, sensual, over-the-top experience of the Emerald Isle’s true spirit, both north and south.

The IRT Society joined a group of about 150 Belmond officials and representatives from the travel trade and press at a gala celebration in the station’s ornate Campbell Apartments.

As with the Belmond’s other luxury trains, such as the Royal Scotsman and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Grand Hibernian will offer “land cruises,” with no need for guests to pack or unpack.

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

The tours will include all locally sourced, exquisite meals as well as “shore excursions” to castles, manor houses, distilleries as well as visits to exclusive venues normally not open to the public. It will also include all drinks throughout the program – including exclusive distillery tastings.

The six-night itinerary, the train’s longest, looks like a winner, if advance interest by guests of The Society of International Railway Travelers is any measure.

IRT chartered the Grand Hibernian’s Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2016 “Grand Tour of Ireland” just last week, and already only three of the train’s 20 cabins remain unsold.

The six-night tour combines two shorter tours: a four-night tour of the Republic of (south) Ireland and a two-night tour of Northern Ireland.

“Ireland is the epitome of a comfortable, beautiful vacation destination,” said Gary Franklin, Belmond’s managing director, Trains & Cruises. “And Ireland has the element of romance.”

Franklin, a native New Zealander, fell in love with Ireland decades ago as a young man, he told his guests.

Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Nortthern Ireland

In 1991, when he journeyed to Ireland to watch the rugby world cup, his team lost, but Ireland won his heart. The germ of an idea was born: the Grand Hibernian.

Last night’s events were mostly celebratory, as Belmond’s plans for the Grand Hibernian have been known for months. (Click here to see particulars.)

But following the reception, Yann Guézennec, Worldwide Sales & Marketing Director, Belmond Trains & Cruises, did divulge one important detail to IRT over dinner at his company’s famous “21 Club.”

The Grand Hibernian’s dress code will be “casual luxury” — neckties for men will be optional. Based on IRT’s over 30 years experience in the luxury train market, this news will be greeted with cheers by many (and perhaps shrugs by a few, this writer included).

“But the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will maintain its dress code,” he quickly assured us. “That will not change.”

Download the Belmond Grand Hibernian’s three itineraries below:

Six-night, seven- day “Grand Tour of Ireland”

Four-night, five-day “Legends and Loughs”

Two-night, three-day “Realm of Giants”

Update: Celebratory Breakfast in VSOE’s New Champagne Bar

9 Apr
Screenshot 2015-04-06 13.57.37

Pascal Deyrolle, General Manager, VSOE

Planning a gala celebration on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) with its new Champagne Breakfast?

Here’s additional info from last week’s report, provided by VSOE General Manager Pascal Deyrolle:

Reserve your spot with your cabin steward once on board. Those in cabin suites will get priority booking.

The only itinerary offering this at the moment is the southbound London-Paris-Venice journey. Dine more informally at the bar, with seating for 10. Or opt for a table.

VSOE Champagne Breakfast menu

VSOE Champagne Breakfast menu (click to enlarge)

The Champagne Breakfast is served in an intimate space in dining car Côte d’Azur, which the VSOE calls the “Champagne Bar.” There are 5 tables seating a maximum of four guests each.

“However, as most of these tables are used by couples celebrating, my expectation is to welcome 10 guests” at the 5 tables, Mr. Deyrolle says.

While the special breakfasts are served only on the southbound London-Paris-Venice route, the Champagne Bar is open on all routes except the annual Istanbul journeys.

The Champagne Bar serves only champagne; no other drinks. There are no changes in the VSOE’s glamorous bar car, which includes a baby grand piano.

Guests of The Society of International Railway Travelers® starting in 2015 receive additional perks through our membership in the Bellini Club®. The Club is an exclusive group of the top travel agencies with special ties to Belmond, operator of the VSOE as well as the Royal Scotsman, the Eastern & Oriental Express and other luxury trains.

The Society of IRT’s membership in Virtuoso®, the world’s largest luxury travel group, also translates into VIP treatment and valuable, exclusive benefits for our clients.

For the latest info on the VSOE, including 2016 dates and prices, please click here.

VSOE Uncorks the Bubbly with Open Doors for Istanbul Tours, Champagne Bar, Berlin Visit

3 Apr
OrientExpressCrest

Classic Orient-Express crest. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The most famous “World’s Top 25 Train®” has much to celebrate .

Booking doors just swung open for rare spots on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ annual Istanbul extravaganzas — for 2016. (2015 sold out long ago.)

Dates for the 6-day, 7-country  Paris-Istanbul tour are Aug. 26-21, 2016.  Istanbul – Venice is Sept. 2 – 7, 2016. See prices here.

Space already is dwindling, due to heavy sales to wait-listed clients (some have been in line for 2 years or more). Cabin suites remain for the Paris-Istanbul journey; both classes of service for Istanbul-Venice. Email IRT or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725 for more info. To book, click here.

Meanwhile, the VSOE makes its first trip to Berlin next year via Venice, and London / Paris. Dates are June 1-6, 2016. Also in 2016: transfers to/from the VSOE in Venice will be included in the fare.

Lalique_Detail

Lalique Panel from Côte d’Azur dining car. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

And this season, guests traveling south from London to Venice can enjoy something brand new: a celebratory champagne breakfast in the train’s “Côte d’Azur’ restaurant car. The diner, with its striking, Art Deco Lalique crystal nudes, features a 20-seat “Champagne Bar” in the corner of the car. Hours are 8-10 a.m.

The breakfast hour is timed to take advantage of the optimum scenery of the Swiss lake region, according to Valerie Ottofaro, Director of Sales, Trains & River Cruises.

Finally, a new concept — the “Simplon Suite” — shortly will be available exclusively to guests booked in “Cabin Suites,” which are two Double Cabins connected by an interior door.

Among “Simplon Suite” benefits are private transfers to/from appropriate stations and priority reservations for the aforementioned Champagne Breakfast spots. They’ll also receive a “luxury amenity” and “free-flowing champagne” in their private quarters. Price is £250 (about $370) per person.

VSOE champagne on ice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

VSOE champagne on ice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Most intriguing to this VSOE fan is the Champagne Breakfast. The menu, designed by VSOE head chef Christian Bodiguel, includes a luxurious and mouth-watering selection of freshly baked breads, smoked salmon, eggs, truffles and caviar. Guests can book the special breakfast with the cabin steward once on board. Cost is 100 Euros (about $110) per person.

In the evening, the Champagne Bar offers many champagne varieties, sold either by the glass or the bottle, with champagne cocktails, some bespoke.

Hungarian military band greets guests during annual, over-the-top VSOE Paris-Istanbul sojourn. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Hungarian military band greets guests during annual, over-the-top VSOE Paris-Istanbul sojourn. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“The brand-new bar will add to the sense of occasion and give guests more of an excuse to celebrate aboard the world’s most famous train,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

Speaking of the 2016 Berlin itinerary, Ms. Ottofaro said: “Timings are subject to railway confirmation. Arrival in Berlin will be be approximately 6:30 p.m. Berlin departure is estimated to be 11 a.m.

“Our tour manager, Simon Wallace, is currently working on inclusive package experiences in support of this new destination,” Ms. Ottofaro added.

VSOE Tops in Classy Travel For Those Who Like to Play the Part

13 Mar
Eleanor Hardy on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Eleanor Hardy on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

If you ride just one luxury train, make it the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. But not if you hate dressing up.

So says Eleanor Flagler Hardy, president of The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

“What’s wrong with dressing up once in a while?,” she says. “My husband always says, ‘It’s like being in a play. You have to do your part.’”

Mrs. Hardy’s been booking guests on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) for 25 years. She’s also been a frequent guest and is acquainted with several of the staff. So she knows her stuff.

Track 25 caught up with her recently for a quick “Orient-Express FAQ” session.

Track 25: When’s the best time to travel on the VSOE?

Eleanor Flagler Hardy (EFH): Whenever you can go.

My favorite time is spring, because I love gardens. I recently received for my birthday 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die. Many are in locations served by the VSOE.

Track 25: Which itinerary do you and your guests like the most?

Local women in downtown Istanbul. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Local women in downtown Istanbul. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

EFH: One of the most popular trips on any of our World’s Top 25 Trains® is the Paris-Istanbul VSOE.

Track 25: Tell me something people may not know about the VSOE.

EFH: For one thing, it only travels March-November.

Plus, the Paris-Istanbul journey only goes once a year, in late August-early September.

And because of Paris-Istanbul’s popularity, we keep a wait list. Eight friends signed up two years ago to be on the 2016 “first notice” list. They’ll get called first (when the booking window opens).

Track 25: What about showers, etc.?

The VSOA ready for boarding in Venice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

VSOE ready for boarding in Venice. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

EFH: There are no showers. And the toilets are down the hall.

But look, this is an antique train. The cars date from the 1920s and 1930s. This was luxury travel back then; it was the way Agatha Christie traveled.

And the cars are gorgeous. The polished brass, the Lalique crystal, the intricate wood inlay, the attention to detail. You’re literally traveling in another world.

Décor from the VSOE dining car L'Oriental. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Décor from the VSOE dining car L’Oriental. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy. IRT Poster by S. Sebree.

Track 25: The VSOE has three dining cars. Which is your favorite?

EFH: That’s like asking which of our two daughters I love more. I like the Lalique diner for dinner; L’Oriental for lunch.

Breakfast you have in your cabin, which I love. I love sipping my coffee or tea, having my breakfast in my room as the world rolls by.

Track 25: Is the VSOE for everyone? Won’t I feel like I’m in a geriatric ward?

EFH: No! There are people of all ages celebrating on the VSOE. If you’ve got something to celebrate, this train is for you. But if you absolutely hate wearing a tie, don’t go.

Track 25: What if I’ve never been on an overnight train before. Is this a good one to start with?

EFH: Since the VSOE has plenty of one-night experiences, I’d say yes.

Track 25: Which itinerary do you recommend for a first trip, and why?

EFH: I’d recommend Venice-Paris-London, or vice versa. Both are just one night, and there are plenty of dates. And in both directions, the departure and arrival times are very convenient.

I recommend starting or ending in London without question.

BritPullLady

Aboard the British Pullman. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

If you get off in Paris, you miss the trip to or from London on the British Pullman, a delightful day train whose food, service and décor rival those of the VSOE.

Also, if you get on in Paris going south, you’ll dine at 9:30 or 10 at night.

If you’re getting off in Paris traveling northbound, you have to get up early in the morning, have your breakfast and be off the train by about 8.

Track 25: I’ve already been on the VSOE. Is it worth going again?

EFH: Of course. There lots of great itineraries.

One is Venice-Prague-Paris or London. It has 2 nights on the train and 2 nights in Prague. We can book your four- or five-star hotels in Prague, Venice, Paris or London. In fact, we can custom-design your whole trip, with transfers, hotels, opera tickets, you name it.

Track 25: My wife and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary in May. Would the VSOE be good for that?

Toddy time on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Toddy time on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

EFH: Of course. The VSOE staff is excellent, and they know just how to make you feel special. And IRT will throw in something extra too.

Track 25: What kind of accommodations would you suggest for that, and why?

EFH: If your budget allows, the cabin suite gives you twice the space (of a regular double compartment) with two lower berths, two vanities, two windows. But it’s more expensive.

Track 25: What itinerary would you suggest for our anniversary?

Owen Hardy at the Cipriani, Venice, prior to boarding the VSOE

Owen Hardy at the Cipriani, Venice, prior to boarding the VSOE. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

EFH: Romantic Italian Holiday, an itinerary my husband and I created for our 30th wedding anniversary. Two nights in Florence, two nights in Venice, a night on the VSOE, and, as an option, two nights in London. It was fabulous.

Or you can get creative. I have a couple attracted to the Romantic Italian Holiday package, but they decided to substitute the Lake Como region for Florence. Our Virtuoso partner hotels there are fabulous, too.

Track 25: Thanks, Mrs. Hardy. Any parting words for our readers?

EFH: Back to the dress code. I don’t mean to sound stuffy, but you have to understand that many people on the VSOE are celebrating a major life event. They don’t want it spoiled.

IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Aboard the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

And the VSOE keeps up its standards. If you don’t dress appropriately, they’ll be happy to serve you your elegant dinner in your room.

Which would be sad, because you’d be missing out on one of the most delightful dining experiences in Europe.

Want more Luxury Trains 101? Write or call: tourdesk@irtsociety.com or 800-478-4881 (US and Canada) or 502-897-1725. Or see our web site: http://www.irtsociety.com.

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