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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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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

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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com, 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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

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.

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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

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.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Adds 3 New Grand Suites for 2020

28 Jun
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New Vienna Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Three new Grand Suites will join the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for the 2020 season, Belmond, the train operator, has just announced. This brings the total number of Grand Suites up to six.

The new Grand Suites — named Vienna, Prague, & Budapest, after three iconic European capitals to which the VSOE travels every year — will reflect each city’s unique history and architectural style, while embracing the train’s Old World charm and meticulous attention to detail. They join the three existing Grand Suites, named Venice, Paris, & Istanbul.

I was the only advisor from the Western Hemisphere to inspect the first three Suites on their inaugural journey in April, 2018. Read my glowing reporting here and here — and see my video above for the grand reveal of Istanbul Grand Suite!

After seeing the Suites in person, I had a serious hunch that our travelers would love the opulent design and the amenities, and I was absolutely right.

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Venice Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

IRT travelers love the dedicated 24-hour cabin steward, the caviar and free-flowing champagne, the included private transfers to and from the train, and the option to dine privately in their cabin whenever they wish. And the private bathroom with underfloor heating, rain shower, sink, & toilet answered the prayers of those who didn’t want to travel on the VSOE previously because of the lack of en-suite facilities.

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Lead Steward Francesco in Istanbul Grand Suite. Only the most senior staff attend guests in Grand Suites. IRT Photo by Rachel M, Hardy

The suites also include a large double bed that can convert into twin beds, and a separate living area with couch, table, & chair.

With only a few on each departure, the Grand Suites sell out in the blink of an eye.

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Orante bathroom in Istanbul Grand Suite. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

The first set of Grand Suites won several design awards, including the AHEAD World’s Best Suite, Gold Key Awards – Best Specialist Design and the Historic Renovation category in the Contract Interior Awards. The suites were also nominated for the Inside Awards, Civic Culture & Transport and the Blueprint Awards.

We at IRT also won our very own Grand Suite distinction, as the #1 global seller of the suites in 2018 (click here to read about it). When you book your suite with IRT, you book with the world’s most experienced Grand Suite luxury rail specialists.

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Belmond staff present IRT with our very special award — a vintage VSOE sign with plaque in recognition of our Grand Suite sales.

Like their existing Grand Suite sisters, the new suites will  “evoke the individual city experience, whether it is walking along the Charles Bridge in Prague, or exploring the contrasting Gothic and Ottoman architecture of Budapest. They will pay tribute to the romance and glamour of Europe, and the golden era of rail travel,” says Gary Franklin, VP, Trains & Cruises, Belmond.

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Prague Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Baroque and Gothic architecture, along with theatrical flourishes in rich golds and maroons, will be represented in the Prague Grand Suite. The balance of ancient and modern will be captured through layers of hand-embroidered cushions and Cubist-inspired mosaics. Hints of red garnet will appear in the marquetry.

The Grand Palaces and imperial nature of the Austrian capital will be reflected with an ornate and classical design in the Vienna Grand Suite. Rich hues of gold and emerald green will reflect the romance of the city. An ornate curved headboard with feminine silk fabric panels will contrast with touches of dark wood.

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Budapest Grand Suite.

The Budapest Grand Suite will capture the essence of both sides of the Danube river, taking equal inspiration from Gothic and Ottoman architecture. The suite will be adorned with intricate marquetry and sumptuous silk embroidery.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express travels throughout Europe from March to November and travels to Istanbul from Paris, and back again, once annually in late August.

 

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Paolo, one of the tireless stewards on the VSOE, welcomes guests aboard at Venice Santa Lucia Station. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

A one-night journey in a Grand Suite from Venice to London or vice versa starts at £6,200 per person.

To book your Grand Suite, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1-502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

 

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.

Belmond Grand Hibernian Shines Brighter Than Ever

10 May
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Striking a pose outside the Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photo by N. Kremer.

We step out of the car at Dublin Heuston Station and come face to face with a young man clad in a black leather kilt, a snare drum secured about his waist.

“Follow me!” he shouts, and we amiably fall in line, Pied Piper-style, marching behind our raucous host to the beat of his drum.

The train staff stands at attention, waiting to welcome us aboard with glasses of champagne. A festive red carpet beckons. Two more drummers join the first, adding to the volume, and our general excitement.

So begins our journey on the Belmond Grand Hibernian — a thrilling start to our elegant romp through the Emerald Isle.

 

It’s been almost three years since IRT chartered the inaugural departure of the Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first and only luxury train.

So, when we were offered a spot on an exclusive Belmond study tour featuring the Belmond Grand Hibernian itself, we jumped at the chance to see how the train has since evolved.

I just returned from Ireland last week. My overall take?

Belmond Grand Hibernian is better than ever. The kinks our IRT group experienced on the train’s debut journey in August, 2016 (read IRT CEO & Founder Owen Hardy’s full report here and here) have long since been resolved.

The staff is now a well-oiled — and exceedingly hospitable — machine. Daineal (pronounced Doh-nal), the bar manager, is the consummate host, always ready with an expertly-poured drink and a witty aside.

“Welcome to Europe!” he cracked one evening, as he welcomed a Belfast-based musician on to the train who had traveled south to play for us.

The border between Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland is no laughing matter to Irish folk of an older generation. But thankfully, it’s fair fodder to the younger set.

The musician from the North thought Daineal was hilarious, and clapped him warmly on the back before he departed.

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Daineal, bar manager on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, pours us farewell Bellinis. IRT Photo by R. Hardy.

The meals, cooked to order by a talented three-person culinary team lead by head chef Alan Woods, are a wonderful mix of old and new.

Expertly-prepared classics emphasize local ingredients, like the roasted Connemara mountain lamb cutlet with slow-roasted tomato & rosemary chutney. Other dishes inventively combine unusual flavors to great effect, like the avocado and seaweed salad with watermelon.

Portions are perfect: not too big, not too small. And pastries and fresh-baked breads — fennel and sesame loaf, caramelized onion roll, and sourdough baguette, to name a few standouts — are always in abundance.

Specially-paired wines served in Waterford Crystal glasses accompany lunch and dinner. Fresh-squeezed juices are offered at breakfast. And the two dining rooms themselves inspire conviviality and conversation with four- and six-person seating arrangements.

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Head chef Alan Woods (center), sous chef Domagoj Matanović (left), & assistant. IRT Photo by R. Hardy.

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Roasted Connemara mountain lamb cutlet with slow-roasted tomato & rosemary chutney. IRT Photo by N. Kremer.

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Avocado salad with seaweed & watermelon salsa. IRT Photo by R. Hardy.

The train itself is as lovely inside as it is out. Its nine gleaming blue carriages sparkle in the sun.

And its interiors — neutral plaids and calming lavenders and grays — complement the vibrant green grass and rust-yellow fields of blooming wildflowers of the Irish countryside.

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Lounge car on the Belmond Grand Hibernian. (cozy wool blankets can be found throughout the train.)

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One of two dining cars on the Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photos by R. Hardy.

And lest you think otherwise, substance has not been overlooked for style. Every detail has been designed for optimum comfort and usability.

Our cabin featured a double bed (some have twin beds) with reading lights; individually-controlled heating for chilly mornings; ceiling fan for warm afternoons; full-size wardrobe with plentiful hangers; writing desk and chair; in-cabin safe; tiled bathroom with powerful rain shower, toilet and sink; and hair dryer.

There is a certain egalitarianism on board (albeit egalitarianism for the luxury traveler set!) in that all cabins are the same dimensions — approximately 85 feet square. There is also one smartly-designed accessible cabin located nearest the public cars. (Ask us for more details.)

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Double-bedded cabin on the Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photo by N. Kremer.

A large picture window that opens about five inches at the top allows plenty of natural light — and a small blast of fresh air, if you so choose — to flood the cabin. At night, a privacy screen and curtains keep out the light. Fresh wildflowers in a spectrum of pinks — Sweet William, St. John’s Wort, heather — adorned our desk.

And the double bed, which appeared diminutive at first glance, was shockingly comfortable for both myself and my 6’3″ partner.

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Fresh flowers in our cabin. IRT Photo by R. Hardy.

Our three-day trip was painfully brief—I highly suggest you go all-in for the seven-day Grand Tour of Ireland instead.

But my memories of the Belmond Grand Hibernian will stay with me for years to come. Among them:

  • fleeting images of old castle ruins surrounded by placidly grazing cows and sheep;
  • returning to our comfortable bed after a day of activity, rain gently thrumming on the roof;
  • live Irish harp music performed in the lounge after dinner one night;
  • the gracious staff welcoming us to yet another five-star meal in the dining car;
  • and the food itself…Oh, the food!

 

To book your own grand 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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

And check this space soon for additional reporting from our trip.

I’ll detail our stays at Belmond Cadogan Hotel in London, the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, and Adare Manor (voted Virtuoso’s 2018 Hotel of the Year!)  in Limerick, Ireland.

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.

Marvelous Madras Mail: South India by Luxury Deccan Odyssey Train

26 Jan
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A musician in traditional costume heralds the departure of the Deccan Odyssey. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

I sat down with Owen Hardy, IRT’s Founder and CEO, who’s just back from India.

And guess where he wants to go next?

India.

And the Madras Mail aboard the Deccan Odyssey is just the ticket, he says. Why?

“Aside from the fact that my older daughter Katy lives there, India is a world unto itself. I’ve been there three times, but I feel I’ve just scratched the surface.”

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You’ll be greeted by local dancers and musicians when you board the Deccan Odyssey. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

“This itinerary takes you places — and gives you experiences — you’d never think to do on your own.”

OK, give us some examples.

#1: “I love riding trains, big and small. On the Madras Mail, besides the incredible Deccan Odyssey, you have the chance to ride not one, but two, of India’s beloved mountain railways, so tiny and slow you can almost get off and walk.

(“And if you’re adventurous, there’s another train you shouldn’t miss…more later in a future blog.”)

#2: “Two nights at Mumbai’s unforgettable Taj Palace & Tower, India’s first locally-built five-star hotel, and more Victorian than anything the British ever produced.

#3: “Visiting Goa on the Arabian sea, a thriving port and capital of the old Portuguese empire, followed by Cochin, another lovely port city  further south, with its fantastical Chinese fishing nets — IRT’s Eleanor Hardy even helped bring in a catch when we were there!”

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Chinese fishing nets in Fort Cochin. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

#4: The Deccan Odyssey itself. This is a class act. The staff is excellent; very capable and ready to please. The food is incredible, all cooked fresh on board. The excursions are well-planned and guided.

#5: The itinerary. True, it doesn’t include the Taj Mahal. My response: See it, and the other mainstays of the “Golden Triangle,” at least once. But do so before or after the main tour. (IRT’s team can design a fab extension for you.)

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Hyderabad, India

Finally, there are certain things about India that cannot be explained but must be experienced: the way people drive (lanes are only suggestions); a ride in an “auto rickshaw,” a three-wheeled vehicle that looks like an overgrown carnival ride; the sacred cows, who wander where they please (aforementioned traffic be darned!); the public laundries (the one you’ll see in Mumbai covers an area as large as several football fields), the stunning textiles in a rainbow of colors and patterns.

Most important are the people of India. They are invariably kind, curious, and welcoming. The sense of hospitality that will greet you throughout the trip — on the train and off — is exceedingly memorable.

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Crawford Market, Mumbai. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

More later — about the train, and about a little toy train you can add to your experience.

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

The Madras Mail tour runs Dec. 5-19, 2019, Oct. 22-Nov. 5, 2020 and Nov 4-18, 2021 (provisional). The 2019 departure is now confirmed. Click here for full itinerary details and pricing.

Click here for details of the Deccan Odyssey train.

To book your space on the Madras Mail tour, call (800) 478-4881 or +1 502-897-1725, or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Golden Eagle’s Imperial Suites: Palatial Quarters for Discerning Travelers

17 Oct

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Want to take your Trans-Siberian Express train journey into stratospheric levels of luxury?

Book an Imperial Suite, complete with large double bed, lounge area, fully en-suite bathroom with underfloor heating, and more.

There are only three per departure (up from two — a third was just added for all future departures) and they are always the first cabins to sell out.

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Imperial Suite made up for night with large double bed.

If you’re interested in traveling this year or in 2020 on the Trans-Siberian Express — or one of Golden Eagle‘s other great itineraries (Silk Road, Caspian Odyssey, and Arctic Explorer, among others) — call or e-mail us today.

We asked Eleanor Hardy, President of the Society of International Railway Travelers, why she always recommends these palatial Suites for the most discerning travelers.

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The Golden Eagle rounds Lake Baikal.

What kind of traveler do you recommend book an Imperial Suite?

The Imperial Suite is ideal for those who prefer upgraded rooms in hotels and larger staterooms on cruises. In other words, if you value your space and need a bit of extra room to spread out, the Imperial Suite is for you.
You’ll be in your cabin for 12 nights on the Trans-Siberian Express, so being comfortable is a must. Most travelers take this journey only once in their lives, and booking the Imperial Suite really amps up the ‘wow factor’.

What do travelers love most about the Imperial Suite?

Past travelers love the expanse of space, the large double bed, and the roomy bathroom. They love the special attention from their steward, not to mention the optional in-room dining for a romantic dinner.

But the thing they end up loving the most is the private sightseeing with private car and driver throughout (where possible). This service has been a huge plus to those who want a truly custom experience off the train.

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Impeccable service in the Golden Eagle dining car. Guests who book Imperial Suites can also choose to dine privately.

Anything commensurate with the Imperial Suite on other World’s Top 25 Trains®?
Yes! Many of our trains now offer extremely opulent cabin choices.
The newest luxury accommodation on any of our World’s Top 25 Trains®
are three Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Expresswhich began service to rave reviews during the 2018 season.
The Grand Suites offer expansive space, plus many extras including free-flowing champagne, private transfers throughout, and private dining in your cabin if you wish. (Click here and here to read IRT’s firsthand reporting of the Grand Suites.)
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Grand Suite ‘Istanbul’ on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa offers the Royal Suite, which is half a train car (its bathroom contains a Victorian tub and separate shower), the Deccan Odyssey in India offers an enormous Presidential Suite (each of which has not one but two private bathrooms), and the Golden Eagle Danube Express now offer Superior Deluxe cabins, which feature a bit of extra square footage — and covetable private wi-fi.
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Presidential Suite on the Deccan Odyssey.

The Eastern and Oriental Express offers two Presidential cabin on every departure, and there are likewise two Deluxe Double cabins on every departure of the Belmond Andean Explorer. (See blog post here about IRT’s exclusive luxury rail journey of Peru — personally vetted and designed by Eleanor Hardy).
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Deluxe Double cabin on the Belmond Andean Explorer.

And India’s Maharajas’ Express offers Presidential Suites that at 220 sq. ft. are still the largest train accommodation in the world.
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Enormous Presidential Suite on the Maharajas’ Express.

Last but not least, in the non-train realm, our favorite historic sailing yacht the Sea Cloud, (IRT CEO Owen Hardy calls it the ‘Orient Express of the Seas’ in his firsthand account here) features two extra-opulent choices:

 

Marjorie Merriweather Post’s eponymous Suite, which she decorated herself, is dazzling in whites and pinks. Her husband E.F.Hutton’s Suite, meanwhile, is handsome in dark teak.

Both feature Carrara marble bathtubs, working fireplaces, golden bath fixtures, walk-in closets, polished teak, and antique furniture.

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Enormous king bed in the Marjorie Merriweather Post Owner’s Suite aboard the Sea Cloud. IRT Photo by Owen C. Hardy.

Any parting words?
Book one of these over-the-top cabins today and expand your idea of what it means to travel by train! Call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Our expert staff look forward to speaking with you.
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Eleanor Flagler Hardy is President and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers. She has traveled on almost all of the World’s Top 25 Trains®, including Golden Eagle in Russia and central Asia, Golden Eagle Danube Express in Central Europe, Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa in South and East Africa, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Western and Central Europe and Turkey, Eastern & Oriental Express in Singapore and Thailand, Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru, Belmond Grand Hibernian in Ireland, Belmond Royal Scotsman in Scotland and England, Ghan and Indian Pacific in Australia, and Tren Crucero in Ecuador, among many others.
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