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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.

Royal Scotsman Scores with ‘Limited Edition’ Confections

7 Mar
IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman.

IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman. Photo courtesy of the Montgomerys

One of the world’s most intimate luxury trains — the Royal Scotsman — threw open its doors this week for 2016 bookings, even as space this year is dwindling on many departures.

During the last several years, the train has inaugurated several “limited edition” tours, which have proven to be very successful, said Valerie J. Ottofaro.

Ms. Ottofaro is Director of Sales, Belmond Trains & River Cruises. (The train’s official name is Belmond Royal Scotsman, honoring the company’s new brand.)

“The Grand Tour of Great Britain will continue to run as an exclusive tour in 2016,” she said. The dates are July 8-15, 2016.

The popular, 7-night annual tour is for true devotees of history, food & spirits, culture, and life in England, Scotland and Wales.

The varied, exclusive activities include a castle tour with its owners, a ride on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway and dinner at a country estate.

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“IRT guests who have done this trip have raved about it,” said Eleanor Flagler Hardy, President of The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

Other special trips are for devotees of whisky, golf and Scottish country life.

The “Classic Whisky Tours” — in partnership with the Scottish Malt Whisky Society — “have proved very successful over the past two years,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The five-day whisky tour includes visits and tastings at a number of distilleries as well as on-board tastings in the train’s lounge car. For 2016, one trip is planned: April 25–29.

Belmond plans one Classic Golf Tour for June 13-17, 2016.

“This is a four-night journey through the heart of the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Ottofaro said, “offering three rounds of golf at some of the country’s finest and most northerly of the UK’s championship golf courses.” One of the courses will be Gleneagles.

“The Heritage Homes and Gardens tour,” meanwhile, “has been received very well over the past two years,” she said. Next year the trip runs June 6-10.

“This is an exploration of Scotland’s most fascinating and scenic country homes and gardens,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

“It’s a special four-night tour hosted by an experienced gardener, a professional photographer and a freelance garden writer who provide guests with gardening tips and fascinating history along the way.”

Taking the perfect photo on the Royal Scotsman's outdoor rear platform. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Taking the perfect photo on the Royal Scotsman’s outdoor rear platform. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Meanwhile, officials said space was almost gone for several 2015 specialty tours, including the annual Grand Tour.

Just one double and one single cabin remain for the 8-day Grand Tour of England, Scotland and Wales, a Belmond reservations specialist told IRT yesterday. This year’s dates are July 10-17.

This year’s April 27-May 1 “Classic Whisky Tour” has one twin and two single cabins left.

A second 2015 “Classic Whisky” departure, July 5-9, has just one twin cabin remaining.

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

More space is available for this year’s annual Heritage and Garden Tour, the spokesperson said: five twins and two singles. The dates are June 5-9.

Call (800) 478-4881 or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com, if you’d like to grab a spot. IRT will accept bookings on a first-come, first-served basis. A 15% deposit is required to secure your booking. If the trip is within 60 days of travel, full payment will be required.

(Book by March 31 for value-added special offers for certain departures. Restrictions apply.)

“Booking soon gives you a better chance of getting just what you want,” IRT’s Mrs. Hardy said.

RedLady

Lively conversation in the Royal Scotsman lounge. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

“Also, in general, the earlier you book, the closer you’ll be to the lounge and dining car. And that’s especially true for singles, since there are only four single cabins on each departure — with no single supplement.”

Another success story is the 2014 addition of the 3-night Edinburgh-London tour, Majestic England. An add-on return trip, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is an overnight London-Edinburgh journey whose emphasis is on-board food, spirits and ambience.

“We have seen encouraging sales for both journeys,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The 3-night Edinburgh-London trip includes Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family; York, site of the National Railway Museum; Sandringham, the Norfolk retreat of the Royal Family; and Cambridge.

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Thus, a traveler could combine this 3-night Edinburgh-London trip to the one-night London-Edinburgh return journey.

“And twice each season — in August and September — the London itinerary has been scheduled so it can be added to a 5-day Classic journey through the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Hardy said.

For questions or to book, call (800) 478-4881 (U.S. and Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (elsewhere). Or email us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Historic Budapest-Tehran Luxury Rail Tour Wins Praise

9 Jan

IsfahanThe company which pioneered the rebirth of overnight luxury train travel with its Moscow-Vladivostok Trans-Siberian Express has scored perhaps its greatest coup: opening Iran to luxury rail.

By all accounts, Golden Eagle Luxury Trains’ inaugural running of the 4,100-mile Budapest-Istanbul-Tehran “Jewels of Persia” tour was a smashing success.

“The much-heralded arrival of this luxury period-style service,” proclaimed The Telegraph, “the first private European train permitted to enter the country, is being seen as headline evidence of the thaw in relations between the West and the Islamic Republic…”

The tour visits five countries and offers its guests a smorgasbord of experiences of Western and Eastern culture dating from the present to the beginnings of recorded history.

DE_In_Mountains“Iran is home to some of the world’s most magnificent historical and archaeological sites,” wrote Saeed Kamali Dehghan in The Guardian, which also covered the event. He said the tour’s itinerary includes relics of a proud civilization:

“Persepolis, the capital of the largest empire that the world has ever seen; the city of Isfahan; and Shiraz, the city of love and poetry.”

MilitaryBandThe Financial Times‘ Sophie Ibbotson was moved by Persepolis, founded by Darius the Great in 516 BC: “I sat transfixed by a single depiction of a Bactrian camel, lifelike and unscarred by man or time. The forces of Alexander the Great sacked Persepolis but, somehow, this image survived.”

IRT Society Member Marnie Schulz, interviewed by NBC News, said she was impressed by the hospitality and friendliness of Iran’s people. A seasoned world traveler, Ms. Schulz said she’s visited seven continents, but Iran was high on her list of must-see countries.

For the tour’s itinerary, prices and dates, please click here. To download a brochure, click here.

For more information or to book space on the Jewels of Persia tour, call The Society of International Railway Travelers at (800)  478-4881 (U.S. & Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (elsewhere).

Or use the contact form below to request more information.

 

Irish ‘Grand Hibernian’ Next Deluxe Train in Belmond Stable

6 Nov
ArtistsConception of Grand Hibernian cabin

Designers concept of a Grand Hibernian deluxe compartment. Photo courtesy of Belmond

The company that brings you the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Royal Scotsman plans another of its “Grand Hotels’ on wheels: the Grand Hibernian.

Debuting summer 2016, the Belmond Grand Hibernian will be the first luxury overnight rail experience of its kind in Ireland.

The train “will tour the magnificent open countryside, dramatic coastal scenery and fascinating cities of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Belmond said in a press release.

Belmond has acquired 10 cars from Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), which it will transform into a luxury sleeper train with accommodations for up to 40 guests traveling in 20 elegant, en-suite cabins, it says. The interior design project is being carried out by James Park Associates, who have worked on other train projects for Belmond, including the Belmond Northern Belle and Eastern & Oriental Express.

The Irish train’s design “will draw inspiration from Dublin’s classic Georgian architecture and blend it with elements of Ireland’s ancient folklore and traditions,” Belmond says, “evoking the country’s celebrated cultural heritage with a contemporary twist. Belmond Grand Hibernian will feature four interconnecting suites to accommodate families, two restaurant cars and an observation bar car.”

“With a name derived from Hibernia, the classical Latin name for the island of Ireland, Belmond Grand Hibernian will journey throughout the island offering two-, four- and six-night rail experiences that visit the major destinations of the North and South, including the train’s Dublin base, Belfast and Cork.”

The train’s program will offer “daily excursions such as tours of historic estates, or a round of golf on one of the finest links courses in the world, visits to the Titanic Belfast center, or an immersion into the world of Ireland’s legendary writers, musicians and artists.”

IRT Society members enjoy dinner aboard the Royal Scotsman, 2005.

IRT Society members enjoy dinner aboard the Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo

The Grand Hibernian program most resembles that of Belmond’s Royal Scotsman, whose luxurious, on-board ambiance is matched by its equally exclusive, off-train touring program of majestic castles, exquisite manor houses and estates and stunning gardens.

Belmond Grand Hibernian’s haulage services and Dublin depot facilities will be provided by Irish Rail, Ireland’s national train operator and rail infrastructure provider.

David Franks, Chief Executive of Irish Rail said, “We are proud and delighted to welcome Belmond Grand Hibernian to Ireland’s rail network. Our railways provide a unique aspect on the countryside, towns and cities of Ireland. Rail is therefore a key element of our national tourism product, and the launch of Belmond Grand Hibernian represents a strong endorsement of Ireland as a destination by Belmond.”

Sales of Grand Hibernian trips begins next spring. To sign up to receive latest reports regarding tours and booking, please fill out the form below.

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