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IRT’s Eleanor Hardy Named Condé Nast Traveler ‘Top Travel Specialist’

24 Mar

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The Society of International Railway Travelers® (IRT) is thrilled to announce that IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy has been named a 2020 World’s Top Travel Specialist by Condé Nast Traveler magazine (CNT).

“I am speechless,” Eleanor told me, uncharacteristically. “I don’t know what to say.”

OK, I’ll say it (even as I admit I am her husband):

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Eleanor on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express for IRT’s 25th anniversary trip from Vladivostok to Moscow. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Eleanor has devoted her professional life to the welfare and happiness of her worldwide list of clients, many of whom call her a friend. This official and prestigious recognition is highly deserved.

Eleanor began her professional life as a newspaper reporter – the kind who won’t take “no” for an answer.

She began working for IRT as soon as Rachel, our second daughter and now IRT Vice President, Sales & Marketing, started second grade.

While I published our IRT magazine, Eleanor took charge of our new travel planning department.

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Eleanor with staff of first journey of the Belmond Grand Hibernian IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

She never looked back.

Within several years, we joined the Virtuoso luxury travel consortium, at Eleanor’s urging. This immediately gave IRT access to the world’s top travel partners.

Meanwhile, she logged millions of miles, on every continent except Antarctica, gaining a deep knowledge of the world’s top luxury trains.

Eleanor’s luxury train “information bank,” coupled with her naturally outgoing personality, are gold for IRT and our clients.

Want the lowdown on sleeping car berths on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Rovos Rail or the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express?

Need info on where to stay in Moscow, Madrid or Lima?

Want the best guide ever in Berlin, Vancouver or Vienna?

Eleanor’s your go-to travel guru.

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Eleanor prepares to travel to Machu Picchu aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

But should people really be thinking about their future travel, given the current world health crisis?

“Ironically, there isn’t a better time,” Eleanor says.

What places do you want to visit?  Which of our World’s Top 25 Trains do you want to ride — or ride again? She says now is the time to be thinking about this for 2021 and 2022.

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Pisco sour in hand, Eleanor toasts her trip to Peru’s Machu Picchu aboard the Belmond Andean Explorer. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“Now’s the time to keep dreaming — and to start making those plans,” Eleanor says. “Because I guarantee you, when this crisis ends — and it will — there will be a surge like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Get at the front of the line,” advises this Condé Nast Traveler 2020 Top Travel Specialist. “Let’s start planning now. We will be here when you are ready.”

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IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

For a complimentary, 15-minute appointment with Eleanor, call (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or email [email protected].

 

Peru by Luxury Rail Tops Bucket Lists for 2020, 2021

9 Mar

Exterior_smallWhat’s so special about our private 11-day Luxury Rail Journey of Peru?

Reason #1: Belmond Andean Explorer

The train is gorgeous, the staff eager to please. And the off-train excursions – sunrise at Lake Titticaca, floating villages of Uros and Taquile, Sumbay Cave paintings – are other-worldly. Our 11-day Luxury Rail Journey of Peru includes a 3-day trip on the Belmond Andean Explorer from Cusco-Arequipa.

Other advice?

Treat yourself to a Junior Suite (only two per departure). They include a spacious double bed, private bathroom and shower, ample storage and large picture windows.

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Junior Suite on Belmond Andean Explorer. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

Nurse an expertly-prepared pisco sour from its open-air platform as you travel through wild Andean landscapes and wind-swept altiplano.

Then end your day with an 80-minute Andean Ritual Massage in the very popular Spa Car. (ask us to book it for you in advance, as spa times sell out fast.)

Reason #2: Belmond Hiram Bingham

Step back in time and board the 1920s-style Pullman carriages of this delightful day train to legendary Machu Picchu, the Incan “lost city in the clouds.”

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IRT co-owners Owen & Eleanor Hardy enjoy the open-air platform on Belmond Hiram Bingham.

The 3-hour trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes includes a sumptuous brunch, live Andean music, and breathtaking sights of the Urubamba River and Andes – best seen from the open-air observation car.

Bonus: our Luxury Rail Journey of Peru includes two journeys on the Belmond Hiram Bingham. Enjoy a daylight brunch one way and a multi-course dinner by starlight the other.

Reason #3: Food Scene

Peru has its finger on the pulse of the foodie movement – and nowhere is this more apparent than on Belmond’s two luxury trains.

Star chef Diego Muñoz heads up the operation at Belmond Andean Explorer, planning menus based around regional seasonality and availability.

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Chefs are trained at Belmond Hotel Monasterio. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

In addition to delicious meals on the trains, our itinerary also includes meals at some of the country’s most beloved institutions: Restaurant Tragaluz in Lima; El Huerto in Urubamba; Limo Restaurant in Cusco, to name a few.

Reason #4: 5-Star Lodging

Our itinerary includes some of South America’s most exclusive addresses: Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley; Belmond Hotel Monasterio in Cusco; and Belmond Miraflores Park in Lima.

One night is also included at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge—right outside Machu Picchu. (IRT Tip: request TWO nights at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge for an even more relaxed experience at the famous Incan citadel.)

Bonus: receive complimentary massages at all Belmond properties when you book with IRT.

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Belmond Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley.

Reason #5: Peruvian people

Peruvians are some of the most welcoming and fun we’ve met anywhere. From private guides and hotel and train staff, to regular people on the street, they’re sincerely happy you’re in their country.

Reason #6: Easy flights, No Jet Lag

Nonstop Miami-Lima flights clock in at just under 6 hours, so travel from North America to Peru lasts just a day.

And no extra time is needed to shake off jet lag. (Peru is equivalent to Eastern Time half the year and Central Time the other half.)

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For more information, or to book your own luxury rail journey of Peru, call The Society of International Railway Travelers at (800) 478-4881; (1-502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada); or email us at [email protected].

Click here for more details on our 11-day private luxury rail journey of Peru journey.

Top Five Reasons to Choose GoldLeaf Service on Rocky Mountaineer, Prestige Class on the Canadian

2 Mar
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Rocky Mountaineer. IRT Photo by Nora B. Elzy.

Considering Canada this year?

Go for the gold. Or, rather, the GoldLeaf.

Once you’ve experienced the Rocky Mountaineer’s double-decked GoldLeaf Dome service — as I did — you won’t settle for anything less.

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Youthful, energetic, and dedicated to their passengers: Rocky Mountaineer hosts serve drinks and snacks as they provide expert info about the passing scene. IRT Photo by Nora Elzy

Here are IRT’s top five reasons to book GoldLeaf on Rocky Mountaineer:

  1. The curved panoramic windows allow for 180-degree viewing and are unbeatable for spotting wildlife like bears & eagles.
  2. The lower-level dining area is like a swanky restaurant on wheels, with food to match. All meals and drinks on the train are included — and the chef bends over backwards to accommodate dietary preferences.
  3. The seats are utterly relaxing. I wish I could have brought mine home! They boast several seat-back positions and heating functions. You can even rotate your seat 180 degrees to make a miniature seating area for four.
  4. The wind-in-the-face, outdoor viewing platform at the end of the train is perfect for drinking in the fresh Canadian air — and maybe even spotting a moose.
  5. The friendly & energetic attendants, who point out landmarks along the way, offer snacks and beverages and are always on the lookout for wildlife. (Staff-to-guest ratio is higher than in the single-level cars.)
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Rocky Mountaineer Gold Class includes wind-in-the-face viewing from an open-air platform. IRT photo by Nora Elzy

(And for those extra-discerning travelers, kick your Rocky Mountaineer adventure up another notch and book our exclusive Ultra-Luxe Canadian Rockies Adventure, with all-private touring, transfers, & upgraded hotels.)

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I began my Canadian rail adventure with a totally different, yet no less luxurious, train: VIA Rail’s retro-styled, silver overnight classic, the Canadian.

Again, your most important decision will be to select great accommodations. In this case, that means booking VIA’s Prestige Class.

The list of Prestige Class perks is almost as long as the Canadian itself. Here are my top five:

  1. The large double bed and en-suite bathroom with shower;
  2. Unlimited free drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic);
  3. Reserved seating in the Park Car during peak viewing hours;
  4. 24-hour butler service;
  5. First choice for meal sittings.

For a full list of Prestige Class perks, click here.

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The Canadian’s classic diner sports such touches as charming Canadian birds etched in glass. Photo provided by VIA Rail Canada

The most important Prestige Class amenity for me was the exclusive access I had to the Park Car at the end of the train.

The lower rear half of the car boasts a well-appointed lounge with plenty of windows. The lower front half includes the Prestige bar with dedicated Prestige-only staff and ever-present snacks and beverages.

The upper level is almost entirely glass with — most important of all during high season — reserved seating for Prestige passengers. Watch the stars with an after-dinner drink and revel in the relaxation.

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VIA Rail Canada’s Prestige Class includes reserved seats in the Canadian’s classic dome cars. IRT Photo by Bruce Anderson

Finally, I can’t talk about the Canadian without praising the staff. Many are “lifers,” having worked for VIA for years. From their quirky Canadian humor to their quick assistance, I wanted for nothing during my journey.

My last suggestion might be most important: these trains book up fast, especially in peak months. So don’t delay.

For more info, click here for our journeys on Rocky Mountaineer; click here for our expertly-designed Trans-Canada Adventure that pairs the Canadian with the Rocky Mountaineer.

Email us, or call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if you’re outside of the US/Canada).

Nora Elzy is a Luxury Travel Associate with The Society of International Railway Travelers. She joined our team in December, 2016. She is a graduate of Centre College. Nora most recently traveled with IRT to Italy and the UK for a memorable trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Among her other notable international travels was her study abroad in Japan.

Eastern & Oriental Express: Gracious Train, Lovely Staff

24 Feb

“Tap-tap-tap.”

There’s a soft knocking at my cabin door.

It’s Sarawut, my steward on the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train, gently awakening my husband, Shawn, and me.

He quickly begins making up our cabin.

“How long have you been working on the train?” I ask him, as he converts our snug bedroom into cozy, daytime seating for two.

Since it began running, in 1993, he tells me. Twenty-six years.

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Sarawut enters the author’s cabin with continental breakfast, a private, relaxing way to welcome the morning on the E & O. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

As Sarawut lays out our continental breakfast — coffee, pineapple juice, bananas, cereal, English muffins with egg and bread basket — he tells me that almost half of his colleagues have also been with the train since the beginning.

After my recent journey, I can see why. Everything about this gentle train is pure heaven.

Its standard Bangkok-Singapore itinerary offers a variety of off-train tours. But it’s the train itself — and its staff — that will lure me back.

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Dancers perform in Bangkok station. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

One morning last December, my husband Shawn and I arrive in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station, when we spot Thai children on one platform, outfitted in colorful costumes and masks, performing a traditional dance.

Typical Belmond, I think. They know how to get a party started.

It’s the company’s characteristic grand welcome for guests boarding its worldwide portfolio of luxury trains, which includes the world-famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

But in this case,  it’s the Southeast Asian version: the Eastern & Oriental Express, bound for Singapore.

Our steward, the aforementioned Sarawut, shows us to our cabin with welcome drinks.

He points out two attendant call buttons in our room and insists we ring him if we need anything.

Later, we dress for dinner and join our group in the dining car, Malaya.

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E & O kitchen staff member readies a basket of hot bread. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Dinner service is flawless. The waiters present the dishes beautifully and quickly clear finished plates.

Our four-course meal begins with a memorable “Tom Yum Cappuccino”, a delicious foamed version of the popular Thai soup, served in an espresso cup. It’s delectably creamy, and I find myself wishing it was a full bowl…but there are still three courses to go.

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Lunch service on the Eastern & Oriental Express. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Next comes a dish featuring more local flavors: rice noodle with coconut minced pork, prawn and peanut with Nam Jin sauce and a crab, mango and cucumber maki (sushi).

I opt for the glazed duck breast with wild mushroom and charred cabbage for my main course – cooked to perfection.

Dessert is a chocolate mousse with ice cream and caramel sauce; petite fours follow but go untouched because we are full to bursting.

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The author with dancers in the piano bar car. IRT Photo by Shawn Bidwell. 

After dinner we repair to the piano bar car for entertainment: first, Thai dancers perform, accompanied by a drum and khene (a mouth organ with bamboo pipes).

Later, as the E & O chugs into the steamy Thai night, the bar car morphs into something out of a Joseph Conrad yarn.

Pianist Peter plays and sings, as he gleefully implores guests to join in. Meanwhile, the attentive and friendly staff keep us well supplied with drinks and spirits (included in our fare; premium drinks are additional).

It’s been a great night, but now to bed.

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The author’s husband, Shawn, takes photos from their cabin window. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Returning to our cabin, our turned-down twin beds await, robes and slippers neatly laid out. The train is stationary the first night, so sleeping is easy.

(On the remaining two evenings, the train is moving. I had no trouble sleeping either night, but some report problems on the second night, as the tracks are rough in southern Thailand.)

Our State cabin is roomy, boasting a couch, comfy fixed chair, small collapsible table, and desk chair. The couch faces two large windows for watching the passing scenery; fresh yellow orchids add a pop of color. We have a private bathroom with small cubicle shower, sink and toilet.

Our cabin’s intricate wood marquetry—cherry wood and elm burr in a criss-cross pattern—is beautiful. And I soon realize the decor, in varying patterns, is consistent throughout the train, all perfectly polished.

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The author drinks in the scenery from the open-air, rear observation car. IRT photo by Shawn Bidwell.

And so we lazily spend the next few days: private, continental breakfast and afternoon tea in our cabin, multi-course lunch and dinner in the dining cars, entertainment in the bar cars. We could get used to this.

As superb staff members meticulously tend to our every need, we enjoy the ever-changing scenery: the small villages and occasional temples in Thailand giving way to the hills and jungles of Malaysia, before reaching the modern metropolis of Singapore.

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E & O guest snaps a photo at Thailand’s Hua Hin station from the observation car. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Off-train excursions are brief but impactful.

Day 2 — The E & O stops near the River Kwai Bridge, infamous for its bloody, WWII history. Guests have three options for excursions:

  • a leisurely cruise down the river, with commentary on the history and building of the bridge, ending with a visit to the bridge museum and war cemetery;
  • a bike ride through a nearby village, stopping at a local farm for refreshments;
  • Or a visit to a local wet market, followed by a Thai cooking class on a raft cruising along the River Kwai.

We choose the first option, which is quite moving, if somber.

Day 3 — The train stops in Padang Rengas in rural Malaysia, with a choice of two excursions:

  • a tour of a traditional village to gain insight into the daily lives of a beekeeper, rubber plantation worker, knife maker, and finally to a local home to explore a spice garden;
  • for those who want an active afternoon, a trek to the top of a hill for panoramic views, while identifying local flora and fauna en route.

We loved the village tour — especially the visit with the spice gardener, a gracious host who was happy to share his home and garden.

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Angela and Shawn enjoy drinks in their cabin. IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

The excursions were great, if only because they allowed us to get off and stretch our legs. But for us, the E & O itself was the star of this show.

The train shows no sign of wear – it’s as if it could have begun service yesterday, rather than 26 years ago.

It accommodates up to 82 guests, although the average number is about 60, I’m told. Public spaces, the heart of any luxury train worth its salt, abound.

The E & O boasts a dining car, saloon car (includes reading room, dining area and boutique), piano bar car and observation car with large, rear open windows for wind-in-the-face viewing.

The rear observation car is a bit of a hike for those in the front of the long train. But it’s worth it.

The large, open-air, verandah-style observation deck allows unparalleled views of this beautiful world, Singapore Sling (or other favorite cocktail) in hand.

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The author’s husband, Shawn, discovers his future, courtesy of the E & O’s onboard fortune-teller. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

And there are more on-train pleasures:

  • shopping at the on-board boutique (I recommend an exclusive Jim Thompson scarf);
  • peering into your future, courtesy of a fortune-teller offering complimentary palm-readings;
  • a perfume presentation;
  • at additional (but reasonable) cost, a foot massage.

I sprung for that foot massage. And I’m so glad I did.

As I relax and enjoy my lovely massage, I admire a beautiful silk tapestry in the saloon car. It depicts a roaring tiger, the symbol of the Eastern & Oriental Express.

Indeed, I think to myself: in the increasingly crowded “jungle” of  IRT’s World’s Top 25 Luxury Trains, the E & O is one of the mightiest.

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Angela Walker is Vice President, Operations and senior luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers. Ms. Walker’s has been with IRT since 1998 and has traveled on most of the World’s Top 25 Trains.

Party Hardy with Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

10 Feb

The classic 32-hour journey on the world-renowned Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) from Venice to London is always a whirlwind of fun and fancy.

But for one weekend next month—March 27-29—guests will arrive earlier, stay up later, and party longer.

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Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice’s most exclusive 5-star hotel. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

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Greeted by the concierge at Belmond Hotel Cipriani. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

“The Party” begins on the enchanted Venetian island of Giudecca, home to the Belmond Hotel Cipriani. For one night only, the city’s most exclusive luxury hotel will transform itself into a secret speakeasy full of 1920s flair.

Don your fringiest flapper dress or shiniest spats and dance into the wee hours.

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IRT Advisors Natalie (L) and Nora (R) with new friends on the VSOE. IRT Photo.

Next morning, board the world-renowned VSOE for a glamorous departure from Santa Lucia station.

As the train winds through Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France—passing snowy Alps and glassy lakes — sip champagne, enjoy the entertainment in the bar car, and go back in time… if only for a brief spell.

“The Party” is a one-off, special departure.

Pricing begins at £3,760 per person. Included in the price: one night in a Garden View Room at Belmond Hotel Cipriani; Twin Cabin aboard the VSOE; celebratory dinner at the hotel and all meals and drinks aboard the train.

To book (or for more info): Call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada), or email us at [email protected].

Writer’s Note: I caught a grainy glimpse of myself in the promotional video for “The Party” around the 10-second mark. Big props to anyone reading this who can find me!

P.S. For those who want a more leisurely (and more private) party, check out our 6-day Romantic Italian Holiday, which includes two nights at the incomparable Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence, two nights at Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice and one night on the VSOE from Venice to London. Also included: private touring in Florence and Venice, all private transfers, and first-class train tickets from Florence-Venice.

 

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Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada. Ms. Hardy was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

The Society of International Railway Travelers® is a proud member of Virtuoso.

2021 Departures Now Available on Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Belmond Royal Scotsman, more

27 Jan
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The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express outside Innsbruck. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

Hoping to grab a cabin on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express‘ famed Paris-Istanbul annual adventure in 2021?

Good news: Belmond, owner of the famous luxury train, recently announced its 2021 schedule.

Which means you can plan your dream luxury rail vacation a year and a half in advance.

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IRT guests on a Belmond Grand Hibernian outing. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

Three other Belmond trains, all of which occupy a coveted place on our ‘World’s Top 25 Trains‘ list, have also released their 2021 calendars: Belmond Royal Scotsman, Belmond Grand Hibernian (Ireland) and the Eastern & Oriental Express (Thailand, Singapore, & Malaysia).

(2021 schedules for the company’s Peru luxury train — Belmond Andean Explorer and Belmond Hiram Bingham — are still being determined.)

Other than the 2021 calendar, what else is new with each train?

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE)

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Grand Suite Istanbul on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Three more Grand Suites are being built for the 2020 season (for a total of six). They will be called Prague, Budapest, and Vienna.

The Paris-Istanbul and Istanbul-Paris journeys are perennial favorites — and they tend to sell out the fastest.

In addition to the sumptuous amenities included in each Grand Suite (private bathroom, rain shower, large double bed), Grand Suite guests on the Istanbul journeys will also enjoy having a private car and driver for touring in Budapest and Bucharest.

What’s more, all house drinks are now included for Grand Suite guests.

Belmond Royal Scotsman

People continue to rave about the Bamford Haybarn Spa Car, added three years ago.

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Guest on the Belmond Royal Scotsman enjoys a manicure. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

We highly recommend making an appointment in advance of your departure. It’s not always possible — but we can often wrangle the train manager into getting your massage scheduled ahead of time!

Really get to know the train and the countryside on a longer sojourn like the 8-day Grand Tour of Great Britain.

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Fancy yourself a horseman or horsewoman? Consider the brand-new ‘Gardens and Gallops of Unseen Ireland’ journey. One highlight: a visit to Howardstown Racing Yard for a demonstration and a chat with famed rider and trainer Enda Bolger.
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Convivial head barman on the Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Or, if you have a more culinary persuasion, join a special departure of the 3-day Taste of Ireland’ hosted by famous Irish chef Clodagh McKenna.

Finally, see a large swath of the Emerald Isle with our all-time favorite, the 7-day Grand Tour of Ireland.

Eastern & Oriental Express

The Eastern & Oriental Express is now much more intimate, with a maximum guest count of only 82 (down from about 120).

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Guests love the open-air platform on the Eastern & Oriental Express.

And, well drinks and house wines are included for all cabin types.
What’s more, the E&O now offers excursion options on all journeys.
Care to stretch your legs between fabulous, five-course meals? Sign up for a bicycle tour through rice paddies and villages.
Or, if you’re a foodie, opt for a culinary tour and tasting in a traditional “wet market” in Kanchanaburi.
Our favorite journey? The 6-day Voyage of Southeast Asia (formerly ‘Fables of the Peninsula’).
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If this is your first Belmond train journey, we sincerely doubt it will be your last. Call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada), or email us at [email protected], to book, or to learn more.

Eastern & Oriental Express Still Southeast Asia’s Brightest Luxury Rail Star

25 Nov
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The Eastern & Oriental Express.

IRT’s Angela Walker travels to Thailand next week to inspect the Eastern & Oriental Express, one of our World’s Top 25 Trains®, and sister train to Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

What should Angela expect from her 4-day Bangkok to Singapore adventure?

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Gracious, friendly steward on the E&O. IRT Photo by E. Hardy

Just take it from IRT guest J. Samuelson, who traveled on the October 2019 departure of Fables of the Peninsula:

“That Eastern & Oriental is something else. It’s a wonderful train. The most impressive part of the whole thing is the staff. They [the train staff] were perfect. They were attentive. Your wine glass was never empty. The food is exceptional…. The presentation is just as good as you’d find in any fine restaurant.”

And, the E&O has undergone several IRT-approved enhancements to its services that make it more all-inclusive, more personalized, and — we think — even more thrilling than before.

The four most exciting new enhancements, in our opinion?

1. All well drinks and house wines are now included (premium drinks are additional). Cheers to that!

2. The train has slashed its maximum capacity dramatically, from 132 to just 82 guests — and typically runs with around 65. The result is an exclusive, clubby feel.

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The open-air observation platform on the train is an IRT traveler favorite.

3. The train now offers guests choice in off-train touring, with an eye towards accommodating those wishing to be more physically active.

For instance, on the classic Bangkok-Singapore and Singapore-Bangkok journeys, guests can choose between a classic cruise along the Khwae Yai River and a visit to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre; a cycle tour through farms and fields to a village; or a culinary tour to a vibrant market and an ancient noodle house.

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Lounge car attendants. IRT Photo by E. Hardy.

On the once-a-year Fables of the Peninsula journey, guests can choose between a tour of the Sungai Palas Tea Garden, where they will experience the tea-making process “from bush to cup,” or a hike with a naturalist on the Jim Thompson trail in the Titiwangsa mountain range.

4. Guests in Presidential Suites now enjoy an even longer list of amenities, including private limousine transfers to and from train stations in Bangkok & Singapore; a bottle of champagne and fruit basket on arrival; complimentary mini bar, stocked with a selection of spirits, local beer, soft drinks and chocolate; complimentary on board pressing service; more.

Two parting IRT tips?

1. Extend your Southeast Asian journey at one of our five-star partner hotels.

Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor is a sparkling gem near Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s fabled temple complex; Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is a tropical oasis in the Laotian mountains. Both are just a short flight from Bangkok.

2. If you want to travel in 2020, don’t delay. Space is already at a premium, especially on the once-a-year 6-day Fables of the Peninsula journey in October.

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The Eastern and Oriental Express runs from September through April. All cabins are en-suite. A few Pullman cabins for sole use are available on each departure without a single supplement. Inquire for availability.

For more information, or to book, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or email us at [email protected].

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso.

New Year’s Eve in Vienna — It’s All About the Romance

30 Oct
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Waltz lesson at Vienna’s prestigious Elmauer Dance School located in the Palais Pallavicini. Learn to dance the Viennese Waltz at the city’s most famous dance school. It only takes an hour!

Prologue: We first published this interview in December, 2018.

Since then, the Danube Express has been voted the second-best train in the world by Condé Nast Traveler readers.

Even more compelling are the many glowing reports we’ve received from IRT travelers who were on the last departure:

“This was a fantastic trip that we thoroughly enjoyed.  The food, accommodations, and service were all great.  Everything was well-planned and ran on time. We loved the special private concerts: the opera singers in Prague, the string quartet at Municipal House, a trio playing at Cafe Slava.  The Four Seasons hotel was beautiful and at a great location in the city. And, we had plenty of time to eat, sleep, tour, and shop… I highly recommend this trip.” – IRT Traveler R. Stewart, January, 2019.

“We really, really, really enjoyed the trip. All of the staff are fabulous. They all go out of their way to make life easier and nicer. And New Year’s Eve was great — the food, dancing, everything. We would recommend it to anyone.” – IRT Travelers R. & P. Wynhoff, January, 2019.

So, take it from them, and from the following conversation with IRT CEO & Founder Owen Hardy. This is one spectacular itinerary!

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Excellent service on the Danube Express. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

We sat down with The Society of International Railway Travelers’ founder and CEO, Mr. Owen Hardy, to discuss his ardent desire to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vienna with the Golden Eagle Danube Express. Tour dates are December 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020. Click here for itinerary details.

Mr. Hardy, please tell us why you “simply must” go on the “New Year in Vienna” trip on the Golden Eagle Danube Express?

Officially, I have four reasons: Budapest, Vienna, Prague and the Viennese New Year celebration.

Unofficially, movies. Specifically, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Orson Welles’ “The Third Man.”

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Pictured left: diners enjoy New Year’s Eve gala dinner at Rathaus City Hall in Vienna.         Pictured right: a festive, snow-capped Vienna.

Say that again? These films aren’t your typical happy tourist fare.

I know, I know. But they exude a delicious atmosphere of romance, love and artistic grit that I project onto their respective cities.

You said recently that “Downton Abbey” was another of your “inspirational films.” Why?

It was the final scene, when practically the entire cast was waltzing in Downton’s gorgeous ballroom.

That’s exactly what’s going to happen on this tour. You’ll learn to waltz —in an hour! — at Vienna’s most prestigious Elmauer Dance School.

Then you’ll spend New Year’s Eve in one of the most exclusive locations in the city — the Grand ballroom of Vienna City Hall — where you’ll have a gala four-course dinner, musical entertainment and, of course, plenty of waltzing.

What about the train itself?

In my student years, I crisscrossed Europe with a Eurailpass, sleeping next to strangers in couchettes night after night. But these days, I like my creature comforts.

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Superior Deluxe cabins aboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express feature a private bathroom and shower with all the amenities, large double bed, and sitting area. Not pictured: private Wi-Fi that comes with every Superior Deluxe cabin.

A Superior Deluxe cabin (click here for full cabin details) with large double bed, fully en-suite bathroom and shower, and sitting area will do quite nicely — and the three included nights at Budapest’s palatial Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace won’t disappoint, either. (Tip: don’t miss the top-notch spa!)

And how about the food?

As a self-confessed coffee-and-pastry aficionado — I really am excited about the Danube Express‘s new hire, pastry chef, Krisztián Szőke.

Natasha Baker, Sales & Marketing Manager at Golden Eagle Luxury Trains (operator of Danube Express) recently told us that Szőke is chiefly responsible for expanding the waistlines of staff and guests alike with his confections and fresh-baked breads.

One specialty: Golden Eagle Chocolate Heaven, a concoction of dark chocolate mousse with Russian champagne, hazelnut crunch and dark chocolate caviar.

Need I say more?

Another highlight from the itinerary, in your opinion?

Prague! I love Prague because it overflows with stunning architecture. My last tour guide in Prague said she’d lived her whole life in the city but had only scraped the surface of its wonders. I believe her.

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Prague’s Charles Bridge at dawn.

More thoughts?

Already seen Schönbrunn Palace? Try a joy ride on Vienna’s trams instead. It’s a great way to meet people and — if you have time — to visit Vienna Central Cemetery, whose honored guests include Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss II.

So what should interested travelers do now?

Call us (if you’re a Luddite like me) at (800) 478-4881  — +1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada. You can also email us at [email protected].

Anything else you want to say (and make it short!)?

Life is short. Old age creeps up on you. Go waltzing in Vienna at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I guarantee you won’t regret it!


Owen C. Hardy is the CEO, founder, and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

The New Year’s in Vienna tour runs December 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020. Click here for full itinerary details and pricing. Click here for details of the Golden Eagle Danube Express train.

To book your space on the New Year’s in Vienna tour, call (800) 478-4881 or +1 502-897-1725, or email us at [email protected].

 

Royal Canadian Pacific, N. America’s Only Luxury Sleeper Train, Returning!

10 Oct
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Enjoying the view from the Royal Canadian Pacific’s new dome car. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The Royal Canadian Pacific is back — complete with a brand-new full dome car!

After a five-year hiatus, the luxury sleeper train plans to offer two departures to the public in June and July next year. A third exclusive IRT departure in September 2020 is also under consideration.

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Service with a smile on the RCP. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

I traveled to Calgary two weeks ago to inspect the train and learn more about its plans for the future.

My takeaway?

IRT travelers will delight in the RCP’s opulent 1920s-era carriages, with all en-suite cabins, comfortable reading nooks, and outdoor platforms sprinkled generously throughout.

Its professional, full-time staff and its five-star cuisine also will not disappoint.

And they’ll appreciate its historical bonafides (Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, and JFK & Jackie were all passengers).

Of course, the dramatic Canadian Rockies scenery is as lovely as ever—especially when viewed from the comfort of the brand-new glass dome observation car.

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Meringue with homemade Scottish shortbread and lavender honey — crowned with a Maple leaf. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The novelty of a luxury sleeper train returning to North America will excite rail enthusiasts everywhere. We here at IRT predict high interest from travelers—especially confirmed luxury rail enthusiasts.

Ever since the RCP stopped offering public departures five years ago, the continent has been devoid of anything similar.

Itineraries are still being confirmed but will likely include a 5-day circle tour beginning and ending in Calgary. A 4-day Calgary-Vancouver tour also is being considered.

Both tours are expected to offer off-train activities in Golden, Banff, and Lake Louise. Pricing is also still under consideration.

Interested in joining an RCP 2020 luxury tour next year? Let us know now, and we’ll put you on our “First Notice” list.

Click here to register your interest, and we’ll contact you as soon as we have details.

Click here to read more about the Royal Canadian Pacific itself.

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The author outside the RCP’s new full-length dome car. IRT Photo by Nate Kremer

For more information, or to book any other of our journeys on the World’s Top 25 Trains, call us at (800) 478-4881, or +1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada. You can also e-mail us at [email protected].

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View from the rear platform of the Royal Canadian Pacific. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso.

Belmond Grand Hibernian Transports Guests Through Ireland, Land of Legends

13 Sep
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IRT Guests enjoy a jaunting cart ride, one of many excursions offered on Belmond Grand Hibernian journeys. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

Ever heard of Finn McCool?

How about the Salmon of Knowledge?

Neither had I — until I went to Ireland to ride the Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s only luxury train.

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Belmond Grand Hibernian’s lead bartender greets guests with champagne. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

The train’s gleaming blue and silver carriages, delightful staff and cozy interiors offer the perfect “magic carpet” ride through a fantastical land.

The excursions off the train are no less touched by fantasy.

When we arrived in Cork, for example, our guide greeted us with a cheerful “hallo,” and then launched into an evocative tale about the aforesaid Messrs. McCool and Salmon (of Knowledge).

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“Kindred Spirits,” the memorial to the Choctaw in County Cork. Photo by Gavin Sheridan. (no changes were made to image, link to license is https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Choctaw_Memorial.jpg)

She only paused in her myth-making to point out an interesting — albeit slightly incongruous — statue on the side of the road, comprising 20-foot steel feathers that form a bowl shape.

“The Choctaw Nation heard about our forebears’ plight during the Great Hunger of 1847,” she told us. “And they scraped together what little money they had, and sent it to us to feed our starving children.”

Unlike Finn McCool and his fish, the story of the Choctaw’s sacrifice is no fairytale. But I don’t think Ireland would be Ireland without a healthy mix of truth and make-believe.

*******

Belmond Grand Hibernian, now just finishing its third full season, has matured into an even more delightful experience than when it began operations three years ago.

One welcome tweak the tour operators have made is allowing guests to choose among different activities wherever possible. For instance, guests on the 7-day Grand Tour of Ireland can:

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Cobh, Ireland.

Visit the seaport of Cobh with a local historian, where millions of lives were permanently altered by the Atlantic crossing. Almost half of the 6 million Irish who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950 departed from this port.

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Ross Castle.

Explore Killarney National Park by jaunting cart and boat, where prophecy dictated that nearby Ross Castle was impregnable to outside forces unless a warship attacked from the lake — thought to be an impossible feat. Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads attacked just so in 1653 and took the castle, one of the last to fall in the Irish Confederate Wars.

(Another tidbit: Ross Castle’s first owner, O’Donoghue, is said to live at the bottom of the lake in a great palace, from where he keeps close tabs on the comings and goings of passerby.)

Witness a sheepdog demonstration in Galway and marvel at the shared language between man and beast, or explore the surreal Cliffs of Moher that soar 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

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Westport House.

Visit Westport House, built on the foundations of the Pirate Queen of Connacht’s castle. The Queen’s dungeons can still be seen today.

Tour the Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny, heart of Ireland’s ancient East. The museum is housed in a 13th-century church and contains artifacts dating back 800 years.

*****

In sum, whether you’ve visited the Emerald Isle before or not, Belmond Grand Hibernian will open your eyes to Ireland in a whole new way. In addition to its thoughtfully-planned itineraries, it also earns high points for its dedicated staff, fabulous food, and luxuriously comfortable spaces.

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The author poses with Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photo by Nate Kremer.

And what of Mr. McCool and his erudite fish?

Legend has it that, as a young boy, McCool was asked to cook the Salmon of Knowledge for his druid mentor, who had finally caught it after years of failed attempts.

McCool burned his thumb while cooking the fish, put his thumb in his mouth to cool the hurt, and inadvertently consumed a drop of the salmon’s oils, instantly becoming the wisest man in the world.

*****

Belmond Grand Hibernian runs April-October and offers the 3-day Taste of Ireland, the 5-day Legends and Loughs, and the 7-day Grand Tour of Ireland.

2020 departures are available and are selling briskly.

To book your own adventure on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at [email protected].

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso and the exclusive Belmond Bellini Club. Rachel’s trip on Belmond Grand Hibernian was part of the Bravissimo celebratory journey hosted by Belmond, held every year in honor of the world’s top Belmond agencies.

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