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Peru’s New Belmond Andean Explorer Makes the Livin’ Easy

10 Jun
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Society of IRT President Eleanor Hardy snaps a photo from the observation/lounge car — complete with outdoor viewing area — on the new Belmond Andean Explorer. IRT photo by Owen Hardy

“Summer time!” the young Peruvian woman sang. “And the livin’ is easy.”

Backed up by a soulful tenor sax, the two belted out the Gershwin ballad in the rear bar/lounge of the new Belmond Andean Explorer.

Outside on the spacious, rear open-air platform, guests nursed their Pisco Sours as they watched the outskirts of Cusco shrink into the distance.

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High times in the rear lounge car: a Peruvian duo performs a soulful rendition of “Summertime” as the Belmond Andean Explorer pulls out of Cusco for its first 3-day journey. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

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The Belmond Andean Explorer chugs past the Sibinacocha volvano, blowing smoke and ash. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

This newest thoroughbred in the Belmond stable is every inch a champion. In fact, we’ve just named it one of our newest ‘World’s Top 25 Trains.”

The train and its services are beautiful. The staff is bright and eager to please. Many developed their high customer service standards at Belmond’s fabulous five-star hotel in Cusco, the Monasterio.

And the wild, mountainous Andean landscape stuns with its soaring peaks, beautiful altiplano and volcanoes, occasionally snow-peaked and sometimes blowing smoke and ash.

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The kitchen staff hard at work preparing another fabulous meal. Note the homage to the train’s Australian origin: the old logo of the Great South Pacific Express etched in the window.                 IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

The train has a fascinating history.

Built in Australia in the 1990s, it began service as the Great South Pacific Express luxury train running between Cairns and Brisbane, only to be shut down after four years, the victim of poor track and rough rides.

There it languished for 13 years, awaiting its fate.

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Some of our favorite traveling companions: this lively family from Lima relaxes in the piano lounge. We can attest that these kids had a ball. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Finally, last year, it was shipped to Peru — complete with the baby grand piano, podium for train check-in, the boarding steps and even the tags for luggage.  In Peru, its transformation to a remarkably Peruvian train began.

In May, 2017 it emerged like a butterfly from its cocoon, transformed into a rolling work of art.  Peru Luxury Trains manager, Javier Carlavilla Lindo, is palpably proud of “his baby,” the first luxury sleeper train in South America.

It is gorgeously outfitted with bright local textiles on pillows, throws and ottomans, not to mention local art throughout.

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Sunrise over Lake Titicaca — something that you, too, can witness — if you’re willing to wake up at 5:30 a.m. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Throughout the train are remnants of its luxurious past in Australia: Art Deco brass fittings and lamps, hammered steel bathroom sinks in the powder rooms, charming lights throughout. The large cabins in the deluxe double-bedded suites and the bunk cabins are other remnants — now decorated in distinctive Peruvian style.

But even though the longest trip is just three days and two nights, we highly recommend booking a suite, if you can swing it. It’s great to have room to spread out.

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The Belmond Andean Explorer Junior Suite boasts ample storage and three windows. IRT Photo by Eleanor Flagler Hardy

Eleanor and I loved our Junior Suite. It boasts a double bed with two windows on one side, plus a sliding window on the other, which allows a view out the other side of the train.

It also has incredible storage capacity. That includes overhead racks, a big closet, a chest of drawers and 2 comfortable easy chairs. The ensuite shower, sink and toilet worked very well, too.

Our only trouble with our room was a sticky lock — we got trapped inside for a few minutes wondering if we would ever escape.

(We phoned our concierge at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio back in Cusco, who in turn called train manager Christopher Mendoza to secure our release.)

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Belmond Andean Explorer train manger Christopher Mendoza takes a break from his very busy schedule in one of train’s two restaurant cars. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Dining is a big part of any luxury train, and in this area, Belmond does not disappoint. Head of the culinary program is none other than Diego Muñoz, named by the New York Times as one of the world’s leading chefs.

The last day, we all applauded the chef for our trip, Julio Serrano, who was “on loan” from Lima’s famed Astrid & Gaston, which Chef Muñoz once led.

Chef Serrano produced one Peruvian specialty after another. Much of the food prep is done at the Monasterio, where Serrano once worked, and loaded on in Cusco.

Most of the train’s staff, in fact, were recruited from the Monasterio.  We found them amazingly accomplished for the first full run of the train. A few were receiving close on-the-job training – but most were very capable.

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Between Cusco and Puno, guests disembark to visit the ruins of the massive Inca temple and food storage center of Raqch’i. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

One of the great advantages of a trip on the Belmond Andean Explorer is the train’s “birds’-eye view” of the passing scene — including local people living their everyday lives — and the fabulous outdoor deck for viewing it all.

Hundreds of people waved excitedly as we passed by.

The itinerary included  carefully planned stops — a favorite was a visit to the Uros people on their reed islands at Lake Titicaca. Another was a stop to see 6,000-year-old cave paintings in volcanic stone created by nomadic herdsmen.

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A young Peruvian boy waves to the Belmond Andean Explorer. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Some of the folks knew the train was coming — such as at La Raya, at 14,150 feet one of the highest points on the line. They smiled. They were hospitable. And they were ready to sell. But not to worry: the handicrafts — especially the textiles — are exquisite and excellent buys.

And speaking of altitude, consult your doctor before travel. Our highest point was 14,200 feet in Saradocha, where we stopped for the night.

Several passengers (I was one) experienced headaches and some shortness of breath here. But the fabulous, cheerful nurse, Liz Mery Fuentes Galvez, took great care of us and administered oxygen. (Each cabin has a box with an oxygen tank, just in case.)

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Chugging high in the Peruvian altiplano during the afternoon of the luxury train’s third and final day. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

With the altitude came some of the most striking scenery — the Andes — the second-highest mountain range in the world. But not everyone was on board to experience it.

In the middle of our third and final day, the train stopped to let off people wanting to visit Peru’s magnificent Colca Canyon.

The downside, however, is the that trip involves a long bus ride over two-lane, winding roads. And you miss the final, spectacular descent high in the Andes over some of trip’s most magnificent scenery to Arequipa.

We chose to stay on board, and we’re glad we did.

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Enjoying the views from the Belmond Andean Explorer rear, outdoor viewing area. These Peruvian youngsters, their sister and parents were delightful traveling companions. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

That last afternoon, we enjoyed several fabulous meals and hours of luxuriating on the open-air deck. We spied herds of vicunas and guanacos. We laughed with the charming, bilingual family from Lima, photographing the train as it wound around every bend.

And we were thrilled that we were among the very first to take this historic new train — the first of its kind in South America — the whole way — from Cusco (11,300 feet) to Puno at 12,600 feet, and down to Arequipa (6,900 feet).

For more information on the Belmond Andean Explorer or any of the Peruvian Belmond hotels, please call The Society of International Railway Travelers: (800) 478-4881; (502) 897-1725;  or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

To see a detailed itinerary of our 11-day Peru journey, which includes the Belmond Andean Explorer as well as the Belmond Hiram Bingham train to/from Machu Picchu, please click here.

 

 

 

 

Japan’s ‘Seven Stars In Kyushu’ Named A World’s Top 25 Train®

31 Mar

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The Society of International Railway Travelers® is proud to announce that the Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu, as it’s officially known, is the first Japanese train to be awarded status as a World’s Top 25 Train.®

We are also proud to announce that The Society of IRT is the first agency/tour operator in the Western Hemisphere to charter the Seven Stars. (See our 2017 tour itinerary here.) And IRT is the first to sign a contract to offer additional dates for our honored travelers.

Operated by JR Kyushu, the Seven Stars began service in  October, 2013. The luxury train was an immediate hit. Space on the train — which accommodates a maximum of 30 guests — routinely sells out many months in advance.

High demand has caused JR Kyushu to hold periodic lotteries to determine who gets to ride the Seven Stars.

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“That’s not a big problem for most Japanese, who are just a bullet train ride or two away” from Fukuoka, Kyushu, where guests board the Seven Stars, said Society of IRT CEO & founder Owen Hardy.

“But basing your travel plans on winning a lottery is unworkable for most travelers from the Western Hemisphere, who need to book flights, hotels, and itineraries months in advance.”

The Society of IRT’s package, conducted in English and accompanied by a professional English-speaking guide, solves this issue beautifully – and takes care of every other conceivable detail along the way.

Participants will spend 16 days touring some of Japan’s most famous cities – among them

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Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Hakone. They’ll ride several of Japan’s famed bullet trains. And they’ll ride special trains such as the Odakyu Romance Car, the Yurikamome Train and the Hitoyoshi steam train in Kyushu.  They can also enjoy the fabulous Sweet Train.

The tour’s “grand finale” will be the four-day trip on the Seven Stars, which is the pride of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island.

“During my two-day trip in 2015, we were greeted at every station by throngs of smiling locals, waving flags and greeting us like royalty,” Hardy said. “They ranged in age from young children to aged grandparents. Unbelievable!”

Why the hysteria over a train — even a luxury train?

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“The Seven Stars is truly a work of art on wheels,“ said Hardy, who test-rode the train in November, 2015.

“Everywhere I turned I saw stunning fabrics, gorgeous glasswork, richly hued posters, shimmering porcelain. Most spectacular of all was the intricate floor-to-ceiling woodwork from a variety of trees of varying colors.

“The cuisine is “as beautiful as it is tasty,” Hardy continued. “And the expert staff exude a combination of Asian elegance and hospitality with genuine warmth.”

The Seven Stars more than deserves its “World’s Top 25 Train®” status, he added, placing it among such luxury rail stars as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Belmond Royal Scotsman, and the Golden Eagle.

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IRT is also holding space on Kyushu’s equally popular Sweet Train, which runs between Sasebo and Nagasaki. Much like its “big sister,” the Seven Stars, the Sweet Train is a delightful amalgam of design, delicious food and impeccable service, Hardy says.

Space on the “Deluxe Rail Journey of Japan” group tour is booking steadily. To download a PDF copy of the itinerary (2.7 MB), click here.  Then contact us:

Your 2017 Luxury Rail Planning Guide: A Train for All Seasons!

23 Dec

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To our friends worldwide: Greetings!

A luxury train tour makes a great gift. Below is a ‘curated list’ of client and staff favorites:

January
Eastern & Oriental Express: Bangkok-Singapore

February
Golden Eagle: Russian Winter Wonderland
Deccan Odyssey: Delhi-Mumbai

March
Blue Train: Cape Town-Pretoria-Kruger Nat’l Park 


April
Al-Andalus: Tour of Southern Spain
Golden Eagle: Heart of Persia

May
Golden Eagle: Trans-Siberian Express 

June
Belmond Andean Explorer: Peru by Luxury Rail 


July
Belmond Royal Scotsman: Grand Tour of England, Scotland & Wales

August
Belmond Grand Hibernian: Grand Tour of Ireland 

September
Golden Eagle Danube Express: Sicilian Odyssey
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE): Istanbul-Venice


October
Rovos Rail: Cape Town to Dar es Salaam
VSOE: Venice-Vienna-Paris-London

November
Kyushu Seven Stars: Deluxe Japan Rail Journey 

December
G. Eagle Danube Express: New Year’s in Vienna


For more information, or to book:

email tourdesk@irtsociety.com

or call (800) 478-4881 (US & Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (everywhere else)

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IRT’s Eleanor Hardy ‘Stars’ in New York Times Travel Section

30 Nov
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Left to right: Society of IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy with IRT travelers Esther S. Müller-Meyre, of Scherzingen, Switzerland, and Ron Fischer, of Arlington, VA. They stand before Ireland’s Belmond Grand Hibernian, whose “maiden voyage” the IRT Society chartered. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“Traveling by train is a fabulous way to see any country unfold,” Society of International Railway Travelers President Eleanor Hardy tells The New York Times’ travel writer Shivani Vora.

Look for the story’s print version to appear this Sunday, Dec. 4, in the Times Travel section.

The Times shared four of Mrs. Hardy tips: Pick the right train, make sure it matches your budget, pack light and plan wisely.

Her fifth tip — book with an experienced travel advisor — didn’t make the cut. But it’s important nonetheless:

“If you value your time and you want the best value, and the right cabin on the right train — not to mention your piece of mind — book your rail journey with an experienced rail specialist.

“We’ve worked with some of our suppliers for over three decades. They know us. They trust us. That’s especially important when the unexpected happens,” Mrs. Hardy said.

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Society President Eleanor Hardy appeared on cover of the Society’s 2011 tour catalogue. Mrs. Hardy is dining aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.                 IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Mrs. Hardy cites VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer as ideal for families with young children. She recommends Golden Eagle’s 21-day Beijing-Moscow Silk Road and Rovos Rail’s 15-day Cape Town-Dar es Salaam tours for a longer, more relaxed rail trip.

For those not worried about pinching pennies, she recommends Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Belmond Royal Scotsman and the Eastern & Oriental Express in Southeast Asia.

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

Mrs. Hardy’s rail travel luggage recommendations? “Take no more than one small roller bag and one small backpack per person,” she says.

Finally, avoid the three mistakes “rookie” rail travelers make:

  • Confirm the station from which your train departs (many cities have several);
  • Buy your rail ticket before you leave home (they sell out fast); and
  • Allow plenty of time before and after your rail trip, so you’ll have ample time to make your connections.

“Flights can be delayed…trains can be late,” she tells the Times. “And you don’t want to be ruining your relaxing time on the train worrying about making your flight.”

• • •

For more information or to book a trip, call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Society of IRT Clients: ‘We Love the Belmond Grand Hibernian!’

19 Nov
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Belmond Grand Hibernian Train Manager Wolfgang Eipeldauer and crew member Mark O’Doherty pose outside Ireland’s first luxury train.  Mark prepares to serve drinks to passengers returning from a “shore excursion.” IRT Photo by Eleanor Flagler Hardy

Soon after we returned from the “maiden voyage” of Ireland’s Belmond Grand Hibernian, the reviews began arriving.

“The Belmond Grand Hibernian Railway Tour was an outstanding experience,” wrote one IRT guest on Rachel Hardy’s Virtuoso “review page.” “It was luxury rail travel with a broad sampling of the history and heart of Ireland.”  (Click here for more reviews.)

“Just wonderful!” wrote another of the IRT trip — our first-ever charter of an entire train.

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Marus Vera prepares to “launch” her raptor during a falconry outing at Ireland’s gorgeous Ashford Castle, one of the favorite stops on the Belmond Grand Hibernian tour. IRT Photo by Eleanor Flagler Hardy

“This was my seventh trip with the Society of International Railway Travelers,” wrote yet another, extolling IRT’s insistence on excellence.

Summing up, a veteran traveler wrote: “I would heartily recommend the trip to anyone interested in Ireland or train travel or both.”

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Our guide at Ashford Castle was a retired schoolteacher, and wonderful storyteller. In the background, IRT Society tour guest Julia Cordukes looks on. IRT Photo by Eleanor Flagler Hardy

These reactions — coupled with our own experience — prompt us to offer the same journey, at the same time of year, in 2017: Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2017.

We’re happy to book you on any Belmond Grand Hibernian trip next year — there are 22 departures of the 7-day tour from April through October, 2017.

But we think you’ll especially like our group tour. Why? Let one of the Belmond Grand Hibernian crew members explain:

Finally, this, from a long-time Society of IRT traveler:

“When they called it the ‘Grand’ Hibernian, they really knew what they were doing. It was a grand trip.”

To see a photo album of the trip, please click here.  And if you want to talk with one of us who has been on board, please call us: 800-478-4881 or 502-897-1725.

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Society of IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy poses with Belmond Grand Hibernian staff at Dublin’s Heuston Station just before the luxury train’s first-ever trip. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Snazzy Copy, Graphics, Pixels Prompt Four Magellan Awards!

4 Nov
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Seven Stars Over Japan ad campaign materials. IRT Photo

We’re celebrating!

Travel Weekly magazine just published  winners of its 2016 “Magellan Awards” — the travel industry’s “Oscar.”

And The Society of International Railway Travelers® won four: three Golds and one Silver.

Gold Award —Seven Stars Over Japan” marketing campaign:

Mission: Introduce the world’s newest and most exclusive train – Kyushu’s Seven Stars – to the Western luxury travel market.

Time frame: 11 months.

Room for error: None. (We’d chartered the entire train!)

Campaign: Email blitz, oversized postcards, blog posts, brochure, web presence, news release announcing our latest “World’s Top 25 Train®.”

Crowning glory: Two specially commissioned Seven Stars posters/postcards, courtesy of our Magellan Award-winning designer, Stephen Sebree, of Moonlight Graphic Works.

Result: The tour sold out in two months!

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Seven Stars in Kyushu poster. Japan’s first luxury train, the Seven Stars was recently named one of The Society of International Railway Travelers’ “World Top 25 Trains®.”  Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works

2 Gold Awards — IRT Website (www.irtsociety.com):

As a highly focused, independent travel agency, The Society of IRT’s stock in trade is putting our clients at ease – in every situation.

That includes their experience on our recently redesigned website, which we’ve made even more simple yet elegant.

“Bravo” to our web designer, Nick Prebezac, of Nimbus Interactive, Inc.!

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“Seven Stars Over Japan” postcard. Design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works

Silver Award — “Seven Stars Color Blaze” oversized postcard (above):

Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, is awash in radiant, natural color – a perfect complement to the equally spellbinding decor of the Seven Stars luxury train.

The oversized postcard format is ideal for showcasing these twin beauties.

• • •

So how does winning these awards affect you?

Simple. We want to thrill you.

It might be just an overnight Paris-Venice anniversary celebration. It might be a 25-day St. Petersburg-Moscow-Vladivostok “Grand Tour of Russia.

We exist to give you the luxury trip of a lifetime — from the first email or postcard you receive to the final welcome-home phone call.

• • •

For info on our luxury rail charters in Peru, Ireland and Japan next year — or any great luxury train trip — contact us. Email tourdesk@irtsociety.com, or call (800) 478-4881; (502) 897-1725.

The Belmond Grand Hibernian: New Belle of Luxury Train Ball

25 Aug
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Bartender practices for the Belmond Grand Hibernian’s maiden voyage. The IRT Society has chartered the luxury train’s first trip. Belmond photo by Mary-Susan McLoughlin

Dublin, Ireland — As you read this, Society of IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy and I will soon arrive, or will have just arrived, in one of the world’s most beautiful and beguiling countries — The Republic of Ireland.

We’re here to celebrate with 36 Society of International Railway Travelers guests on the “maiden voyage” of the Belmond Grand Hibernian, the world’s newest, and Ireland’s first, luxury train.

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Afternoon tea at the Merrion Hotel.

Following a multi-night stay in Dublin’s five-star Merrion Hotel (a Virtuoso partner), we’ll board our “rolling Irish country house” for a seven-day tour of the Emerald Isle in unprecedented comfort and style.

The Belmond Grand Hibernian comprises 5 sleeping cars, 2 dining cars and an observation/lounge. With just 20 cabins for 40 passengers, it’s designed for intimacy.

Our private luxury train will be our hotel on wheels, a veritable “cruise ship on land.”

There’ll be no schlepping bags from city to city. We’ll unpack just once. At night, our train will stop at quiet sidings for restful slumber.

By day, we’ll “go ashore” for a wide range of cultural, historical and culinary events.

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Seating 20 guests, the elegant dining car “Sligo” is arranged in tables of four, with sleek silver accents and chrome finishes. Belmond photo by Mary-Susan McLoughlin

Here’s a sampling:

• Jameson whiskey distillery visit and tasting
• Private tour of Blarney Castle and gardens, home of the Blarney Stone
• Traditional pony and cart ride to Ross Castle
• Boat trip on the Lakes of Killarney
• Ashford Castle visit, heart of Connemara, for a bit of falconry, plus a guided hike
• Visit to the soaring Cliffs of Moher or to Galway

No one would call our tour inexpensive. But it’s nice to know the trip includes all meals, off-train excursions, entertainment and drinks.

Personally, I’m especially looking forward to the traditional Irish music performed on board.

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Triton Lake at Powerscourt Gardens

Eleanor, for her part, is thrilled with the gardens we’ll see and the hikes we’ll take. She sent a last-minute email to my  cousins to track down my Irish roots.

(Unfortunately, it was too late to arrange to meet our long-lost relatives’ home and linen factory in Ballybay.— maybe next time.)

But we’ll console ourselves with our post-tour option: a stay in glamorous Ballyfin, plus a visit to the nearby Powerscourt Gardens (one of the “1,000 Gardens to See Before you Die”) and lunch with an Earl!

There’s been tremendous interest in the Belmond Grand Hibernian — so much so that 2016 trips are sold out.

If you’re interested in a trip next year, contact us ASAP to  book 2017: (800) 478-4881, (502) 897-1725 or tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Tell us names of passengers as they appear on the passports, number traveling in your party, your mailing address and phone number. Tell us a few dates that will work for you. (See 2017 dates here.) Once you’ve sent your details, we can put a courtesy hold on your spot.

Cabins are flying out the door — and will book even faster once the international news coverage about our journey hits the presses. Don’t be left at the station!

Meanwhile, check this space three weeks from today for our photos and trip report.

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