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A Shining Asian Constellation: Japan’s Seven Stars in Kyushu

17 Mar

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Seven Stars mascot in “Blue Moon” car. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

“Who’s this?” I asked, spying a little dog lying patiently in a dark corner of the bar car.

“Oh, it’s a kind of joke by the designer,” smiled Mr. Hironobu Yanagawa, Kyushu Railway’s Assistant Manager, Cruise Train Headquarters.

Normally, I’d have overlooked the little canine sculpture.

But in the short time I’d been aboard the Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu, I’d already learned an important lesson: look for details.

In other parts of the train, I found more subtle “jokes”: tree frogs climbing a wall, wasps tending their nest, a simple white button nestled in a rich, gold picture frame.

And almost 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.

In sum, even my short, two-day ride on the Seven Stars yielded a plethora of extraordinary experiences — visual, culinary, musical — even spiritual, if you believe the train’s tagline: “a journey to discover a new way of life.”

Seven Stars, a special sightseeing train of Japan’s JR Kyushu, began life in summer, 2013, and it’s never looked back. Despite its steep price, not even all the Japanese who want to ride can get tickets, much less the hapless foreigners clamoring for a ride.

That’s why The Society of International Railway Travelers® chartered the entire train for a four-day, three-night itinerary as part of our luxury Seven Stars Over Japan tour, which ran last November.

The tour sold out all 28 spots within months. And that’s why we’re running it again this year: Nov. 3-21. This includes the “Sweet Train” extension, which you won’t want to miss.

A year and a half ago, I made a quick visit to Kyushu – Japan’s southernmost island – to enjoy a rare, non-revenue ride offered by JR Kyushu to a small group of journalists.

Granted, two days and a night were not nearly enough time to take in all this train has to offer. But it was long enough for me to declare without hesitation: the Seven Stars elevates the standards of world luxury train travel to an even higher level.

Seven Stars stands for Kyushu’s seven prefectures (similar to U.S. counties). The train has seven cars: the “Blue Moon” bar / lounge car whose entire rear wall is a giant picture window, dining car “Jupiter,” and four sleeping cars, each with three spacious suites measuring 108 square feet.

One regular suite is handicapped-accessible. The train also carries a wheelchair.

At the other end of the train, the seventh car contains two “deluxe suites”  which can accommodate two or three guests each.

Deluxe Suite A is 226 square feet and boasts a private glass picture window at the end of the car. It is by far the most popular accommodation on the train, JR Kyushu says.

The other deluxe suite is beautifully appointed but, at 183 square feet, is slightly smaller.

Everything on the train was specifically designed for the Seven Stars, save one element (I won’t spoil your experience by naming it; see if you can guess.).

This surfeit of over-the-top design elements is matched by an expert staff, who know how to combine Asian elegance and hospitality with genuine warmth.

When I misplaced my iPhone charger, for example, Mr. Yoshiharu Aritou, the train manager, insisted on giving me one of his (For the record, I’m sent it back to him, along with a heartfelt note and bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon.).

Moreover, the Seven Stars staff is bilingual and couldn’t be friendlier. Menus and signs are in English and Japanese. (Our November tour, of course, will be conducted in English.)

Also near perfect is the Seven Stars kitchen, which turns out delicacies as beautiful as they are tasty. I enjoyed three meals on the train: two lunches and a dinner, all of them set menus.

Kyushu is known for its variety of seafood, vegetables and fruits, and I was happy to let the Seven Stars chefs choose for me.

Here are just a few of the offerings from our “Heartfelt bento lunch from Bungo, Oita Prefecture:

“Red sea bream cured with Ryuhi Kombu…Egg tofu with wakame seaweed, Assortment of separately prepared vegetables, Food of the season [in my case, autumn] cooked in paper made with kozo tree fiber…”

The spirits from the Blue Moon bar were equally inspired. I made a point of ordering a Blue Moon cocktail, whose contents included Japanese shochu, a liquor made from sweet potatoes.

It was mixed with some of the tastiest juice – was it grapefruit or tomato? – I’ve ever had.

One of my favorite menu items was actually French-inspired: a chocolate sphere served at tea time. The thin, edible outer shell revealed a rich, creamy center: decadent and delicious.

(For the true dessert-lover, try JR Kyushu’s new Sweet Train, which I also sampled on my visit. More about that in another Track 25 post.)

Click here for Seven Stars’ off-train excursions and what to expect in your Seven Stars cabin.

To download a 24-page PDF brochure, please click here.

For more information on our luxury Japan by Rail tour running Nov. 3-21, 2017 (which includes the Sweet Train extension), please click here. Or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Call (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881.

2-Train Luxury Tour Revels in Peru’s Culture, Beauty, Spirit

20 Jan
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IRT passengers enjoying the outdoor viewing area on the Belmond Hiram Bingham. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy.

Is Peru on your top 10 bucket list?

You’re not alone. It’s one of the world’s hottest travel destinations.

Peru offers “truly some of the most breathtaking and inspiring scenery in the world,” says IRT’s President, Eleanor Flagler Hardy, who counts Peru as one of her favorite destinations.

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Belmond Andean Explorer lounge

“Crossing the Peruvian Altiplano (aboard a luxury train), with the Andes in the background, is astonishing,” she says.

When Belmond — the company that gives you, among other luxury trains, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express — announced it was debuting this summer its new luxury train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, we knew we had to be on it.

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Belmond Andean Explorer bedroom

The result is our tour  Peru: Journey to a Lost World.

The special tour runs June 1-11 using the Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury day train between Cusco and Machu Picchu.

The tour uses the Belmond Andean Explorer overnight luxury train for the three days and two nights between Cusco, Puno (Lake Titicaca) and Arequipa. Other dates also are available.

Why go? Peru is a fabulous destination, Mrs. Hardy says.

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View from the current Andean Explorer train, en route to Puno from Cusco. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Its friendly people, rustic luxury, glorious five-star hotels, great dining, amazing architecture and fascinating culture make this a “must do” journey. Every IRT journey to Peru has been a huge hit.

To download a copy of this special itinerary, click here.

To download a PDF describing the new train and its itineraries in pictures, diagrams and words, click here.

Call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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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New Luxury Train Reflects Peru’s Beauty, Culture, Spirit

2 Dec

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-32-02-pm“I wanted to connect the interior with the location and make it a holistic journey of discovery.”

So says Inge Moore, interior designer of South America’s first overnight luxury train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, in Belmond’s newly arrived brochure. The train’s debut is scheduled for May, 2017.

“Colors and textures are inspired by Peruvian nature,” Ms. Moore continues. “Soft ivory alpaca tones, Andean slate greys and woven textures and handicrafts”

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Artist’s conception of Belmond Andean Explorer lounge car. The new luxury train’s decor will draw its inspiration from Peru’s natural beauty.

To download a PDF copy of the brochure, which describes the new train and its itineraries in pictures, diagrams and words, click here.

Or email us for a hard copy (very limited supply).

We’ve blocked space on one of the train’s first itineraries — Cusco to Puno to Arequipa. It’s part of a special trip June 1-11 that also includes the Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury train, which runs between Cusco and Machu Picchu. To download a copy of this special itinerary, click here.

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View from the current Andean Explorer train, en route to Puno from Cusco. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

“This truly is some of the most breathtaking and inspiring scenery in the world,” says IRT’s President, Eleanor Flagler Hardy, who traveled the special IRT route. “Traveling across the Peruvian Altiplano, with the Andes in the background, is astonishing,” she says.

Peru itself is a fabulous destination. Its friendly people, rustic luxury, great dining, amazing architecture and fascinating culture make this a journey not to be missed.

To reserve your spot, call or email us. (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Golden Eagle Grabs for Gusto: in Russia, Sicily, Athens, USA

28 Oct
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Natasha Baker, Sales and Marketing Director for Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, left, with Eleanor Flagler Hardy, President of the Society of International Railway Travelers.®

It’s a journey of immense proportions: St. Petersburg to Moscow and on to the Pacific Ocean.

In 26 days, you’ll traverse Russia’s river and rail networks on board the luxurious MS Volga Dream and Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express.

Natasha Baker, Golden Eagle Sales and Marketing Director, broke the news of this exciting trip — and much more — today at our office during a whirlwind U.S. visit.

“It’s the perfect way to see Russia in its entirety,” Ms. Baker said. The Grand Tour of Russia runs July 12 – Aug. 6, 2017.

Beginning in St. Petersburg, the MS Volga Dream takes in some truly incredible scenery as it ventures towards Moscow.

Following three days in the ancient Russian capital, guests board the Golden Eagle for its epic, 5,772-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean.

For details on this landmark tour — it runs just once next year — click here.

Meanwhile, Ms. Baker had more to share for 2017:

  • The Golden Eagle Danube Express, operating from its home base in Budapest — will offer new “superior deluxe cabins” — four to a car — each with a double bed.
  • New GE Danube Express trips next year include Budapest-Athens and Venice-Sicily.

The Sicily trip offers different routes within Italy. Travelers new to Italy should opt for the north-bound tour, she says. Repeat visitors would prefer the south-bound route.

Finally, Ms. Baker honored us with this scoop:

Golden Eagle plans to run two trans-continental luxury rail trips in the U.S. in 2018 — one of which spends two nights in our home town of Louisville, KY! (Those visiting our fair city should be ready for Society of IRT festivities!)

The big 2019 news concerns the 150th anniversary of the Trans-Continental Railway in the U.S. We’ll let Ms. Baker make the announcement in the video below.

(Hint: It has to do with steam.)

(Actually, Ms. Baker said “centenary” in the video. “I really do apologize,” she said later. “I was getting mixed up with 100th year anniversary of the Trans-Siberian this year!”)

No big deal. It’s still great news!

For more information on any of the above, call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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