Tag Archives: Belmond Grand Hibernian

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 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.

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.

IRT Wins Big at Virtuoso Travel Week, Leads Luxury Rail Competition

17 Aug
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IRT’s Nora Elzy, Angela Walker, and Rachel Hardy with Lucy Clark, Director of Sales for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Eastern & Oriental Express trains, enjoying the Bellini Club party with Bellagio’s famous fountains as a backdrop.

We at IRT just returned from the most exclusive luxury travel show on earth — Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas at Bellagio Hotel & Casino.

We met with many of our top travel partners over the course of the last six days, and now we are brimming with exciting news, IRT accolades, and fresh travel ideas to share with you.

First, a brief primer for those who don’t know: Virtuoso is the world’s foremost luxury travel network, with about 25 billion dollars a year in buying power. IRT’s membership in Virtuoso expands our reach and capability when planning your journey by connecting us to the best luxury travel partners all around the world.

Also great for you, the traveler: exclusive amenities at all Virtuoso hotels, and special access to unique travel experiences through our other partners. Virtuoso amenities and complimentary upgrades resulted in an average of $450 in added value per booking last year.

Now, a few highlights from our week…

IRT Top Seller (yes, in the world!) for VSOE Grand Suites

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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 and overall astounding 2018 sales.

We met with our great travel partners at Belmond  — owners of several of our World’s Top 25 Trains®, including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Belmond Royal Scotsman, Belmond Grand Hibernian, Belmond Andean Explorer, & Eastern & Oriental Express.

We were thrilled to receive special recognition as the top agency in the world for sales of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express‘ new ultra-luxe Grand Suites!

IRT was the only agency in the Western Hemisphere to be invited to the unveiling of the Grand Suites earlier this year (read Rachel Hardy’s blog post here describing her first impressions).

In short: Grand Suites are the only accommodations aboard the train that are entirely en-suite with private bathroom and rain shower. They also feature a large double bed, separate sitting area, and many other exclusive amenities.

Interested in booking your very own Grand Suite? E-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com, or call 1-800-478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada).

A list of departures on the VSOE can be found here. Space is very limited! Only 3 Grand Suites are available per departure.

Rachel Hardy Nominated for Cruise Award

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Rachel Hardy honored as a ‘Virtuoso Rising Star’ for luxury cruises.

Rachel Hardy, our Vice President of Sales & Marketing and a luxury travel advisor, was nominated for the ‘Rising Star’ award for luxury cruises.

While our niche is luxury rail travel, we do have a few particularly enticing cruise offerings that we think have great parallels with luxury train travel.

One example: the stunning Sea Cloud sailing yacht that plies the Dalmatian Coast between Athens and Dubrovnik, among other itineraries. IRT CEO Owen Hardy calls the Sea Cloud the ‘Orient Express of the Ocean.’ Read Owen’s blog post here, or find itinerary details, dates, and pricing on our website here.

 

IRT President and co-owner Eleanor Hardy Inspires as Featured Speaker

Our very own Eleanor Hardy was a featured speaker at this year’s Virtuoso Travel Week. The aptly-named panel was called “Excellence is no Accident.” The room was packed! Watch a short clip below:

 

Exciting New Rail Destinations in the Works!

We aren’t at liberty to give you details now, but two of our valued rail partners are planning exciting new rail destinations that will be unveiled in the near future. We will update you as soon as we are allowed, so please stay tuned!

If you are ready to book your trip, or if you have questions, please call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725 if outside the US / Canada — or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic Visit Gets Personal on Ireland IRT Luxury Train Tour

21 Oct
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Belfast, Northern Ireland’s “Titanic Experience” museum, one of the stops on the Belmond Grand Hibernian seven-day tour.

It’s not often you walk into a huge museum in a foreign country and find your great uncle’s story staring back at you.

It happened to me last month.

I was visiting the “Titanic Experience” in Belfast, Northern Ireland with a group of fellow Society of IRT travelers. Belfast, where the doomed “unsinkable” ship was built, was one of the stops on our Belmond Grand Hibernian journey.

My great uncle was Carlos F. Hurd, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the journalist who scored “the scoop of the century,” the museum said: he broke the story of the Titanic.

Here’s how it happened:

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Carlos and Katherine Hurd vacationing in Naples following the “scoop of the century.” Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Uncle Carlos and his wife Katherine were on the steamship Carpathia heading from New York to Europe for a vacation. Before they boarded, they made a friendly call to Charles Chapin, editor of the New York World, sister newspaper of the Post Dispatch, both Pulitzer newspapers.

The Carpathia set sail the same day the Titanic left Ireland. When the tragedy occurred, the Carpathia was first to the rescue.

And Uncle Carlos jumped into action.

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IRT travelers John and Julia Cordukes pose in front of the Titanic Experience in Belfast, N. Ireland. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

He interviewed as many of the survivors as he could. Katherine helped too, interviewing female survivors.

But — wary of bad publicity — the Carpathia’s captain tried everything he could to prevent the story from being told.

He confiscated writing paper. He had their room searched. He ordered that no radio messages be delivered to or from my great uncle or his wife.

Katherine scrounged the ship for paper – even toilet paper. And she had to sit on their notes and hand-written stories in their second-class cabin, because the captain wanted to confiscate them.

But he did not count on having such a tenacious reporter on board.

Even though Uncle Carlos never received the radio messages from his boss or Editor Chapin, he knew what the Pulitzer men would say: “Interview all the survivors you can! Throw your story overboard to our tug in New York harbor.”

And that’s just what happened.

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Society of IRT Founder & CEO Owen Hardy with Titanic Experience staff.

Uncle Carlos’ story ran 5,000 words. Family lore has it that he bundled it up, wrapped it in some kind of waterproof material, stuffed it into a cigar box crammed with champagne corks and secured it with string.

As the Carpathia entered New York harbor, tugboats brimming with newsmen — many shouting through megaphones —swarmed the liner. Among the throng, Uncle Carlos spied Chapin, the New York Pulitzer editor.

With sailors struggling to restrain him, Uncle Carlos pitched his story overboard. But the package fell short, landing in a Carpathia lifeboat. And the crew had been advised not to help reporters in any way.

But one sailor sided with Uncle Carlos and disobeyed orders! As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: “ A Carpathia sailor freed it, and to the cheers of Titanic survivors, tossed it onto Chapin’s tug.”

By the time Uncle Carlos and his wife touched dry land, an abbreviated story in the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was already on the streets. And the next day, his complete, 5,000-page report took up three whole pages of the Post-Dispatch.

Uncle Carlos didn’t pull any punches. He bravely reported that the Titanic sped through the night at nearly full speed, that she was woefully short of lifeboats and that many passengers could not believe that disaster had struck.

titanicexperiece-2“The glassy sea, the starlit sky, gave them the feeling that there was only some slight mishap,” he wrote, “that those who got in the boats would have a chilly half-hour below, and might be laughed at.”

Uncle Carlos died before I was born – but he lived on in the many stories in my St. Louis, Missouri family. My mother adored him and quoted him constantly. He had a dry wit, sharp intellect and mild manner.

His story is a thriller – and we felt the “Titanic Experience” told it well.

To see a St. Louis Post-Dispatch video on Uncle Carlos and the Titanic, click on the link below:

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For more information on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, please click here or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Belmond Grand Hibernian: IRT’s Newest World’s Top 25

16 Sep
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IRT Society guests gather for dinner in the “Wexford” dining car, whose tables are arranged for six, allowing for wonderful socializing.   IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

With bagpipes peeling and young Irish dancers snapping out lively rhythms, members of The Society of International Railway Travelers® christened Ireland’s first luxury train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian. Our tour ran Aug. 30 – Sept. 5.

We were thrilled to be the first official group on board and to experience the beautiful train —shining navy and chrome outside and muted greys, greens, buff and rose inside.

Such was the beauty, elegance and spirit of the fledgling train and its staff — not to mention Ireland itself —that we were proud to announce on board its new status as one of our  “World’s Top 25 Trains®

While not perfect, the Belmond Grand Hibernian seems to be clearly aiming for the stars.

We have no doubt it soon will shine as brightly as the other luxury trains in Belmond’s  firmament (the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Belmond Royal Scotsman, Eastern & Oriental Express and Peru’s Belmond Hiram Bingham, to name a few).

The IRT Society chartered the entire Belmond Grand Hibernian — a first in our company’s 33-year history. Our itinerary was the seven-day “Grand Tour of Ireland.”

The result was a rolling, rollicking party among friends old and new. From breakfast in the two beautiful diners through days of touring Ireland’s iconic sites to live music or storytelling nightly in the bar car, the merriment seldom flagged.

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Belmond Grand Hibernian staff Mark O’Doherty and Stevie Devine ham it up for a photographer on the Belmond Grand Hibernian. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

We enjoyed sumptuous meals: delicious appetizers, inventive main courses—the freshest seafood, for example—with tasty, freshly baked breads and wonderful desserts — all locally sourced and prepared on board.

Chef Alan Woods outdid himself. Previously head chef at the Michelin-starred Thorton’s in Dublin, he showcased the very best and freshest Irish ingredients.

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Tea time aboard the Belmond Grand Hibernian. All food is locally sourced and prepared fresh on board. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Dishes included roast Killarney venison loin, fresh seafood from the Beara Peninsula, Donegal turf-smoked salmon and traditional seafood chowder. All were spectacular.  And with drinks included in the fare, we put a serious dent in the bar car’s stock as well.

We visited such landmarks as Blarney and Ashford Castles and Connemara National Park. We tried our hands at falconry, tasted triple-pot distilled whiskys at the Jameson works, enjoyed afternoon tea with Lord and Lady Waterford — and toured the famous crystal workshop that bears their name.

We visited the amazing Titanic Experience in Belfast. Almost all these visits were exquisitely arranged — and often private or after-hours.

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IRT travelers (at left) Maria Vera Rossell and Jose Becerra Martin, and (at right) Orlando Herrera, enjoy a “jaunting cart” ride through Connemara National Park to the Lakes of Killarney. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Most special of all, though, was our time aboard the Belmond Grand Hibernian itself.

The train  truly is an “Irish country house on wheels.” The stylish Belmond Grand Hibernian, with its navy blue and chrome livery, and its friendly, eager-to-please, youthful staff shared the spotlight for “best in show” on this trip.

“You can teach people to do tasks,” said J.P. Kavanaugh, Belmond Grand Hibernian General Manager. “But you can’t teach attitude.”  And an upbeat, can-do, super-friendly attitude was what they delivered.

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Belmond Grand Hibernian Second Chef Ursula Fischer poses behind bread and pastries just out of the on-board ovens. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

To be sure, the maiden run of anything as unusual as a privately owned, five-star hotel on wheels is going to have glitches. That’s especially true on government-owned tracks and under the supervision of a publicly operated railway.

For the Belmond Grand Hibernian, they ranged from the most serious — a carriage door, which temporarily malfunctioned — to occasional tardiness filling breakfast orders and coffee cups or a trashcan not being emptied.

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IRT traveler John Cordukes prepares to “launch” his “falcon” (actually, a Harris hawk) during a        “Hawk Walk” sponsored by the Irish School of Falconry at the Ashford Castle.                                                    IRT Photo by Owen Hardy             

But overall, the trip ran quite smoothly, both on train and off. (The carriage door malfunction meant that the train could not travel, as planned, to Belfast. We did that by motorcoach.)

And in the “off-train” category, we need to single out our indefatigable, silken-voiced guide, Marie Fitzpatrick. She was all the things you hope for in a person you’ve entrusted to spend a week telling you where to go and what to see.

As our first-ever train charter, the IRT Society had plenty riding on this trip. Our sold-out Belmond Grand Hibernian (capacity: 40 passengers in 20 luxury cabins) was the result.

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Wearing her evening uniform, a Belmond Grand Hibernian staff member tidies up in dining car “Wexford.” The train’s cars are named after Ireland’s counties. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

And how certain are we that the Belmond Grand Hibernian has a brilliant future?

Just this: I traveled on it Aug. 29 on a pre-tour “test drive,” after which I immediately requested a charter for 2017. I know it will be that popular — and that space will be hard to get.

Our Belmond Grand Hibernian departure for next year will be Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2017. Click here for more information.

• • •

Once the Belmond Grand Hibernian returned to Dublin’s Heuston Station, we said our fond goodbyes. Then a group of nine IRT travelers continued the party with a visit to, among other places, a jaw-dropping country estate known as Ballyfin.

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IRT President Eleanor Hardy plays “Downton Abbey” while breakfasting at the Irish country estate turned resort, Ballyfin. Behind her are other IRT guests. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, and you want to get as close as possible to living the life of a titled gentleman or lady, Ballyfin is the place to indulge your fantasy.

Our post-tour itinerary included a visit to Birr Castle, built in the 1620s and ancestral home to the Seventh Earl of Rosse, Brendan Parsons.

Lord and Lady Rosse hosted our group for a private luncheon, a tour of the castle, and a stroll through the magnificent grounds (including a look at the gigantic telescope “Leviathan,” constructed by an ancestor in the 1840s and the world’s largest until 1914.)

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IRT post-tour group members pose with Brendan Parsons, Seventh Earl of Rosse, in front of Birr Castle, constructed by an ancestor in the 1620s. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Again, for more info on our Belmond Grand Hibernian charter next year, as well as pre- and post-tour itineraries, please click here or call (800) 478-4881; (502) 897-1725. (We have already booked 10 rooms at Ballyfin. Please let us know if you would like to be among the lucky ones to stay here.)

• • •

After we bade farewell to our Ballyfin friends, Eleanor and I spent two nights trying out the Sheen Falls Lodge, a Virtuoso hotel and Relais & Chateau property in Kenmare, County Kerry.

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The view from the balcony of our suite at Sheen Falls Lodge, Kenmare, County Kerry. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

We highly recommend it for its obvious pleasures: the cozy fires in the many fireplaces, the roaring waterfall in full view from our fantastic suite, and the lovely candlelit dining.

But its staff also was vital for their expert advice:  dining at Kenmare’s incredible new restaurant, the Mews, and hiking at Gleninchaquin, a working sheep farm with magnificent views, waterfalls and people (don’t leave before enjoying Pete’s homemade scones and conversation at the tea house.).

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View of the ever-changing Irish countryside on an Irish Rail train bound for Dublin. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Sheen Falls folks also helped us plan our Irish Rail transportation.

We rode Irish Rail for the post-Ballyfin leg of our trip. I’m happy to report the experience — while not the Belmond Grand Hibernian — was relaxing and pleasant. We  enjoyed it thoroughly — punctual and clean, with pleasant food service from the trolley.

• • •

We’d be remiss if we did not report on our warm welcome to Ireland at the fabulous Virtuoso hotel, The Merrion, in Dublin. It was all we hoped it would be—and more.

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Dublin’s Marrion Hotel. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Historic, gorgeous, fantastic dining and great service—spectacular afternoon tea. Our welcome cocktail party here in the historic Wellington Room was one of the best ever, our guests proclaimed.

Suffice it to say that we will recommend The Merrion to all of our Belmond Grand Hibernian guests.

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.

BGH Sunset (1)

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.

Society of IRT Wins Gold, Silver Travel Weekly Magellan Prizes

26 Sep
Italian_Nuns

A cheerful group of Italian nuns, returning from a holiday at Venice’ Santa Lucia Station, were delighted to see the gleaming Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.  They celebrate the fun of taking the train and its universal appeal. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Belmond Grand Hibernian, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, The Silk Road…the names connote mystery, romance and luxury.

And, artfully displayed as vintage travel posters, they won a 2015 Travel Weekly Gold Award for The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

The Society also won a Silver Award for its lavish, 100-page tour book, The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys.

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“The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys 2014-2015” won a 2015 Travel Weekly Silver Award.

“The Magellan is the award to win if you’re in the travel business,” Travel Weekly says. This brings to 17 the number of Magellan Awards garnered by the Society.

IRT 2015 Hibernian Postcd LR

IRT celebrated the exciting news of the world’s newest luxury train, Ireland’s Belmond Grand Hibernian, with this poster.  Service is scheduled to begin in August, 2016. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; Photo courtesy of Blarney Castle, Ireland.

The Society shared the honor with such industry leaders as Lindblad Expeditions, Seabourn, National Geographic and Micato Safaris.

“From design to marketing to services, The Travel Weekly Magellan Awards honor the best in travel and salutes the outstanding travel professionals behind it all,” the award sponsors said. “It’s the Oscars of the travel industry.”

MGW Logo copyThe Society of International Railway Travelers® salutes graphic artist Stephen Sebree, owner of Moonlight Graphic Works, who has been collaborating with IRT Society Founder and CEO Owen Hardy for 32 years.

“Steve’s vision and creativity perfectly capture the mystery and romance of luxury rail travel,” Hardy said. “He has been integral to our success.”

Below, we proudly display several of the other winning Gold Award entries.

IRT 2015 Silk Rd Postcd LR

The Society of IRT celebrated its 30th anniversary with the 3-week, 2-train extravaganza, “The Silk Road,” stretching from Beijing through Central Asia and ending in Moscow. Owen Hardy spotted this calligrapher while strolling through the Summer Palace in Beijing. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

IRT 2015 Danube Postcd LR copy

Big news from Europe came last year in the form of the newly recommissioned Golden Eagle Danube Express as a true luxury train. IRT’s Angela Walker loved the new elegant feel of the dining room. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Angela Walker

IRT 2015 Maharaja Postcd LR copy

Keeping track of the world’s luxury trains is a full-time job.  IRT’s Angela Walker traveled to India to capture the magic. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Angela Walker

While wandering the streets of Florence, Italy, Owen and Eleanor Hardy heard this captivating violinist long before seeing him. This poster celebrates the beauty and humanity of travel on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It has long held its spot on The Society of IRT's World's Top 25 Trains® list. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

While wandering the streets of Florence, Italy, Owen and Eleanor Hardy heard this captivating violinist long before seeing him. This poster celebrates the beauty and humanity of travel on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It has long held its spot on The Society of IRT’s World’s Top 25 Trains® list. Poster design by Stephen Sebree; IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

Wondering how you can get these beautiful posters and postcards? Unfortunately, they’re not for sale.

But they are given as small gifts to our guests. Please inquire how you can become one!

For more information on the Society’s luxury rail tours, as well as travel off the rails on other romantic icons such as the square-rigged sailing yacht Sea Cloud, please call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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