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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Soon to Unveil Its 2017 Schedule

7 Apr
Dining Car 4110 "Etoile du Nord"

Marquetry panel from dining car 4110 “Etoile du Nord” VSOE Photo

The train whose name whispers “elegance” — the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) — opened for its 35th season several weeks ago.

As always certain trips sell out more quickly than others. The longer, once-a-year Istanbul trips — Paris-Istanbul and Istanbul-Venice — always are in short supply.



Detail from VSOE diner “L’Oriental,” with Chinese lacquered walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Success in Booking the Orient-Express

“Those truly interested in an Istanbul trip need to plan far in advance,” says IRT’s president, Eleanor Hardy. “We’re taking names for fall, 2017.” (Contact us now to get on the ‘list.’) If the past is any indication, next year’s trips should be announced soon.

Other limited runs include:  Venice-Prague-Paris-London, Venice-Vienna-Paris-London and Venice-Budapest-Paris-London.  Also popular with IRT guests: IRT’s Romantic Italian Holiday, which includes the VSOE between London or Paris and Venice.

Then come two nights each at over-the-top, five-star hotels: the Hotel Cipriani in Venice and the Villa San Michele in Florence. Both are operated by Belmond (as is the VSOE).

In other news, the VSOE has air-conditioned its three dining cars as well as its bar car, which also has been redecorated.

And Head Barman Walter Nisi has added tantalizing specialties to his bar menu. See the full story here.

For more info or to book, send an email, call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Or book directly from our website.




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 offer is good until Aug. 28.

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 Or call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.

The Ukraine by Sleeper Train: Kiev to Lviv in Cozy Comfort

19 Nov
Ukrainian Railway Station

A local train at Lviv Station. Photo by Bruce Anderson

Picture this:

It’s 8 in the evening at a large metropolitan railway station. The departures board shows multiple tracks of sleeping-car trains bound for various locations throughout the country – and beyond.

Is this North America in the 1950s? No, it’s Kiev’s main railway station a few weeks ago. It’s crowded with passengers heading for their cozy compartments for overnight trains to faraway places both in the Ukraine and beyond. With my friend Yana from Kiev, I boarded Train #13 bound for Lviv (also spelled Lvov) in western Ukraine.

I counted at least 15 sleeping cars of various configurations, all appearing to be full.

The boarding process is simple. Locate your track, and head down the stairs. The train is platformed 45 minutes before departure (Amtrak, are you listening?)  Once on board, the stoic car attendant, no doubt a holdout from Soviet days, takes your tickets and offers tea or coffee, which he brings to your room. The next day’s wake-up call is provided by the attendant without asking, 30 minutes out. Beds are typical Soviet style: narrow and with a small space in between the two in our first-class compartment. Facilities are down the hall.

Our arrival into Lviv was on time at, gulp, 5 a.m. It’s just enough time for a good night’s sleep on smooth, broad-gauge track.

Citidel Hotel

The author’s friend Yana stands before Lviv’s Citadel Hotel, a converted 19th-century fortress. Photo by Bruce Anderson

Unlike most Ukrainian cities, Lviv was untouched by the war and has wonderful architecture dating from the 13th century. Not to be missed are the Coffee Museum (Lvivska Kopalna Kavy, Rynok Pl. 10), located in an old salt mine, Opera House, and, if you like chocolate, the most wonderful store full of every type imaginable (Lviv Chocolate Factory, 3 Serbska Street).

Our last meal was at the secret Kryivka  (secret place) restaurant, which is devoted to the WWII insurgent Ukrainian army called UPA – you can’t get in without a password. (Sorry, I can’t divulge the address on line!) Our return to Kiev on Train #144 over a slightly different routing was much the same, with a 20-minute early arrival.

Lviv estate

Pidhirtsi Castle near Lviv. Many of Lviv’s fine old country estates and manor houses are being renovated. Photo by Bruce Anderson

I highly recommend traveling by train in the Ukraine or in any former Soviet country. It’s an efficient and relatively inexpensive alternative to internal flights on sometimes questionable airlines.

A trip to the Ukraine would be a great add-on to a Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express journey or Black Sea cruise. For more information, call The Society of International Railway Travelers® at (800) 478-4881 within the U.S. or Canada; (502) 897-1725 elsewhere.

Al-Andalus: Whirlwind Tour Through Southern Spain, Part II

3 Jul

Editor’s note: To read Part I of Ms. Walker’s adventures, please click here.

The staff on the Al-Andalus is gracious and attentive, including the manager, Marcelino, who was careful to note the occasional kink in the trip for future improvements (we were traveling on the first consumer departure since the train’s refurbishment, so kinks were not unexpected!). Announcements are made in Spanish, English, and French. All staff members could speak basic English (and most spoke excellent English), which was a relief to the monolingual on board.

Dinner on board the Al-Andalus

A main dinner course on the Al-Andalus: tuna with small pieces of crispy Iberian ham and vegetables.

Our on-train meals –breakfast daily and four other multi-course dinners – were delicious, though not for the health conscious. Some travelers may wish to request half portions or other dietary needs before departure. Off-train meals in top-notch restaurants gave us a taste of the local Spanish cuisine, where aromatic pork and delicious fish dishes abound.

The musical acts that performed in the Al-Andalus lounge car – an excellent singer on the second night and a lively trio of traditional singers and flamenco dancers on the last night – were extremely entertaining and a real highlight for most passengers. The musicians did not begin playing until close to midnight, which proved too late for some early-to-bed passengers. But late nights and long, leisurely meals are part of experiencing the “Spanish way.”

Al-Andalus staff

Staff members of the Al-Andalus line up to say goodbye to passengers.

The weather in late April was consistently warm and occasionally downright hot. I’d recommend traveling on the Al-Andalus no later than early May and no earlier than September to avoid both the heat and the crowds. Off-train tours will sometimes run a bit long for some passengers, and a good deal of walking is involved, but almost all sites we visited were well worth the exercise.

In short, the Al-Andalus is a great choice if you want to take in a wide sweep of southern Spain and are prepared for the occasional long day of touring in order to do so.

You will be well tended in the process – both onboard and off.

Editor’s note: To read Part I of Ms. Walker’s adventures, please click here.

For more information and for reservations on the Al-Andalus, visit The Society of International Railway Travelers’ website or call us at (800) 478-4881.

The Al-Andalus: Whirlwind Tour Through Southern Spain

9 Jun

IRT writer Angela Walker and traveling companion Shawn Bidwell enjoy dinner on board the Al-Andalus.  IRT photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Embarking on the Al-Andalus for the first time from Seville was a bit of an adventure, as my traveling companion Shawn and I had to feel our way around the Santa Justa station in lieu of proper signage. But once on board, the train was a welcoming and luxurious oasis that was well worth the initial confusion.

View of the Alhambra from our wonderful local restaurant in Granada. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Al-Andalus passenger Shawn Bidwell disembarks the train in Granada. IRT photo by Angela Walker.

After being welcomed with champagne in the lounge, we settled into our Superior cabin, equipped with a lovely golden couch – which folded into a comfortable and roomy double bed at night – a writing table and chair, a spacious closet, and a full en-suite bathroom. The modern touches, such as vacuum toilet and individually controlled air conditioning do not take away from the beautiful Belle Époque design – striking sconces accentuate the carefully crafted inlaid wooden flower designs throughout the train.

Most of the Al-Andalus sleeping cars were built in France in the late 1920s, as were all four public cars: lounge, two diners and bar car, which are as comfortable and beautiful as the sleepers. The dining and bar car is lovely in tones of red and gold, while the lounge car is a more muted gray with large welcoming couches.

We could have spent a week enjoying the comforts of the train alone, but the many stops along the way – Cordoba, Baeza, Ubeda, Granada, Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez, Sanlucar, and Sevilla – provided an exciting and whirlwind six-day tour through southern Spain. Granada’s stunning Alhambra, built by the Moorish rulers in the 14th century, was among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites we took in on our journey, as was the famed Seville Cathedral – third largest in the world.

The staff of the Al-Andalus is always at the ready with hot coffee and tea during daily breakfast on board. IRT photo by Angela Walker.

Some stops were difficult to navigate with a group (the small and winding streets of Cordoba, for example), but the Al-Andalus guides did an excellent job of keeping everyone lively and on track. Most travelers on our departure were Spanish-speakers – but not to fear. As we were two of only three English-speakers on board, Mercedes, our fantastic translator employed by the train, became our de facto personal guide. She was patient with any questions we had and made us feel quite at home.

For Part II of Angela Walker’s adventures on the Al-Andalus, please click here.

Futuristic Luxury Train to Call at Quebec Ski Resort Complex

25 Aug

Credit: Morelli Designer

Two years in the making, and inspired by a co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil, Canada’s “Train de Le Massif de Charlevoix” is scheduled to begin running Sept. 9 between Québec City and La Malbaie.

The eight-car train will provide guests with scenic vistas along the St. Lawrence River, fine dining and a high-tech, touristic program, its promoters say. The one-way trip will last three and a half hours.

The train is a project of the Canadian ski resort and leisure company Le Massif de Charlevoix.

During the trip, the company says, “passengers discover the Charlevoix terroir at its best, savoring a refined lunch served on the morning cruise and a lovely four-course gastronomic dinner on the return journey. All along the way, a unique multi-media presentation accompanies the rail experience.”

Le Massif de Charlevoix

The 87-mile route hugs the St. Lawrence River shoreline, passing the 272-foot Chute Montmorency waterfall, the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Reserve (famous for bird-watching) and several historic seaside towns.

Upon arrival in La Malbaie, passengers have a three-hour stopover for strolling down the pier, wandering along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, admiring the Fairmont Le Manor Richelieu (a luxury Quebec resort) or visiting regional attractions, the company says.

Artist's conception of the Train of le Massif de Charlevoix

In addition, the operator is encouraging rail travelers to stay in the area for extended visits of one or two nights. Activities such as sea kayaking on the St. Lawrence River, paragliding, bicycling, hiking, rock-climbing and a visit to the Charlevoix Museum all are possible in the immediate area.

For a more extended vacation, passengers can stay at the Fairmont Le Manor Richelieu, which boasts a casino, golf courses, spa, restaurants and carriage rides. (One of IRT’s favorite hotel groups: we are preferred agents.)

The train is one element in a massive recreation project by Groupe Le Massif de Charlevoix. The project also encompasses a ski resort and the Hôtel La Ferme lodging complex.

Le Massif de Charlevoix

The train’s bi-level cars were built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1955 and 1956 for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. Before being sold to Groupe Le Massif, they were operated in Chicago commuter service.

According to the operator, the railroad cars resemble an architect-inspired “mobile structure more than a train.”

“Between now and December,” the operator says, “eight dove-grey railcars inscribed with poetic texts… will be coupled to their charcoal grey locomotives.”

Those locomotives are two 1,800 hp RS-18 locomotives built by Montreal Locomotive Works. They’ll pull two power cars that double as baggage cars and eight passenger cars.

La Malbaie - Le Massif de Charlevoix

The service will begin with two 60-passenger cab cars. By the end of the fall season, the company expects to have added an additional six passenger cars, each with a capacity of 68 passengers. The cars will have 11-foot ceilings held up by solid steel beams.

Each passenger car will be equipped with a kitchen designed to serve approximately 70 gourmet lunches and dinners. Menus for the on-board dining service have been developed by Jean-Michel Breton, Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Executive Chef.

Round trip adult fare is $249 Canadian. The fare includes the meals and program aboard the train. The train is scheduled to depart Quebec at 10 a.m., arriving at La Malbaie at 1:30 p.m.

The train will depart La Malbaie at 4:30 p.m., with arrival in Quebec at 8 p.m. The train will operate Friday through Sunday through Sept. 18, and Wednesday through Sunday beginning Sept. 21.

For reservations and more information, call (418) 632-5876 or, toll free, (877) 536-2774.  If you would like IRT to organize a package for you, we’d be happy to.  Our reporter, Anthony Lambert of the UK, is scheduled to review this next spring. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, while we sincerely wish this project well, in the 28 years we’ve been in this business, we’ve reported on many ambitious luxury rail projects. Most have been short-lived or have never reached the operational stage. What are your thoughts about this one?

Thriving on a Corner in Winslow, AZ: La Posada

16 Jun
La Posada Hotel

La Posada Hotel was built in 1929 by the Santa Fe Railroad. Bruce Anderson

If you ever find yourself on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, consider a stop in Winslow, Ariz. – and not just because it’s a line in the famous Eagles song (“standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona”).

It’s also the home of La Posada, a former Santa Fe Railroad hotel, and one of architect Mary Colter’s grandest creations.

During the heyday of passenger rail travel in the United States, the Santa Fe built numerous “Harvey Houses” in the major western cities on its route. Many of these southwestern-themed buildings were designed by Colter, who also was responsible for hotels at several of the western national parks.

Grand Canyon Railroad

Steam charter on the Grand Canyon Railroad. Bruce Anderson

I recently had the pleasure of staying at this wonderfully restored hotel en route to a steam photo charter trip on the Grand Canyon Railroad.

La Posada’s career as a hotel ended in 1957, when rail travel also began to decline. But 40 years later, things changed, when artists Allan and Tina Affeldt bought the building and restored it to its former glory. Allan and Tina moved in and never looked back. They still live there today, and their restoration continues.

Southwest Chief

Amtrak's Southwest Chief stops daily at La Posada. B. Anderson

The inn has 22 guest rooms, the full-service “Turquoise Room” restaurant, a formal sunken garden, and best of all, an adjacent Amtrak station, which is served daily by the Chief.

The hotel is indeed a masterpiece of architecture and art.  It was voted one of the top 10 affordable hotels in the United States by and one of the “World’s Best Places to Stay” by Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List. Room rates range from $109 for a standard to $169 for larger accommodations. All are filled with historic photos, fine art, murals, full baths and views of the gardens. There are also plans to house a Route 66 museum in the Amtrak station.

I highly recommend this hotel for anyone interested in southwestern architecture and railroad history.  A true gem.

To reserve, call (928) 289-4366. Or reserve here on the hotel’s website. (Editor’s note: La Posada is not on the itinerary of the IRT Society’s “Grand Canyon Discovery by Amtrak” independent tour. But the tour could be customized to add La Posada.)

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