Tag Archives: Blue Train

What a Week! Chic Italian Hotels, Posh Irish Castles, Cute Polar Bears…and Great Trains!

21 Aug
The Oliviero Restaurant, at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, is famous for its seafood specialties. The hotel enjoys a prime slice of Sicilian real estate.

The Oliviero Restaurant, at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, is famous for its seafood specialties. The hotel is located on a prime spot of Sicilian real estate. Belmond photo by Genius Loci

We’re just back from Virtuoso Travel Week, luxury travel’s biggest pow-wow of the year, hosting almost 5,000 travel professionals from all over the world.

Here are some goodies from our take-home bag, soon to appear on our website. Email me, and I’ll update you as news becomes available.

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    Venice Simplon-Orient-Express‘ “bread-and-butter” route is Venice-Paris-London, and vice-versa. The addition of a week’s worth of fabulous Belmond Italian hotels — there are six — makes for even more memories. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

    ITALY: Our popular “Romantic Italian Holiday” will be even more over-the-top when you upgrade it with Belmond’s “Grand Tour of Italy” package. The package price is starts at 3,780 Euro (currently about $4,300) per couple for seven nights at a minimum of two of Belmond’s iconic Italian properties (there are six in all).

    You have 30 days to complete your hotel stays. Blackout dates apply, but the price includes daily buffet breakfast. (Our agency’s “Bellini Club” status earns guests even more; please call.)

    Add a fanciful train ferry twist if you stay at either of the company’s Sicilian retreats (that’s right; Italian Railways still operates a train ferry to Sicily for the 30-minute “voyage” to the island). Click here to ask for more info.

Japan's Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train includes 12 suites, 2 deluxe suites, a diner and (above) lounge, with bar. By all accounts, the train is a work of art, boasting exquisite woods and fabrics. Kyushu Railway Photo

Japan’s Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train includes 12 suites, 2 deluxe suites, a diner, and lounge (above) with bar. By all accounts, the train is a work of art, boasting exquisite woods and textiles throughout. Kyushu Railway Photo

  • JAPAN: We organized a custom tour that includes the “impossible-to-get-a-ticket-on” Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train.

Kyushu dazzled the luxury train world two years ago when it debuted this artwork on wheels. And the Japanese love it — so much so that it’s almost impossible to get space on the 30-passenger train.

We’re working with a Virtuoso partner in Japan to finalize a deluxe rail tour that will include the Seven-Stars’ four-day trip. We’ve already got the train reserved. November, 2016. Click here to ask for more info and to get on our “first notification” list.

ashford castle

  • IRELAND: Add an extended stay at magical Ashford Castle, voted last week as Virtuoso’s “Hotel of the Year.” It’s a perfect add-on to the new Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury train or to Lindblad/National Geographic’s 2016 Orion cruises, which will visit Ireland on two trips: June 12-19 or June 19-26. Click here to ask for more info. 
Enjoying a drink in the Royal Scotsman stylish, but very comfortable, bar car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Enjoy a drink in stylish comfort in the Royal Scotsman’s bar car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

  • EUROPE: The good ship Orion’s 2016 Bergen-Glasgow cruise also offers tantalizing add-ons to the Belmond Royal Scotsman, whose Edinburgh terminus is just 30 minutes by train from Glasgow by ScotRail. The Lindblad/National Geographic cruise, dubbed “Norway and Scotland: Fjordlands to the Inner Hebrides,” runs July 17-24 and 24-31. We thought this would be a grand combo. Click here for more info.
  • A polar bear inspects Natural Habitat tour participants (viewing him from the safety of their NH 'Polar Rover' tundra truck. Natural Habitat photo

    A polar bear inspects Natural Habitat tour participants (viewing him from the safety of their NH ‘Polar Rover’ tundra truck.) Natural Habitat photo

    CANADA: Polar bears up close and personal: that’s what you’ll get when you travel with adventure specialist Natural Habitat. There’s convenient VIA Rail Canada service to the tour’s jumping-off point, Winnipeg. The tours run in October and November. We love NatHab, voted “Most Sustainable Tour Company,” at Virtuoso Week. Click here to ask for more info.

  • The National Geographic tour of Switzerland and Italy is a 10-day journey from Zermatt and the Upper Engadin Valley to Italy’s Lake Como featuring two of the IRT Society’s “World’s Top 25 Trains”: the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. National Geographic photo

    EUROPE, ASIA, N. AMERICA: National Geographic specialists accompany luxury rail tours for in-depth explorations. Among the offerings are “Swiss Trains and the Italian Lake District,” “India by Rail Photo Expedition” and “Norway’s Trains & Fjords.” Click here to ask for more info.

  • India's Deccan Odyssey offers the best of both worlds: incredible, close-up vistas of Indian culture and life through the picture windows of a luxurious hotel on wheels, with warm, attentive service, wonderful meals (with local as well as Continental cuisine) and supreme comfort. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

    India’s Deccan Odyssey offers incredible, close-up vistas of Indian culture and life through its large picture windows. Service is warm and attentive. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

    INDIA: Deccan Odyssey luxe train upgrade: luxury travel specialist Cox & Kings now supervises off-board AND on-board services, which is a blessing to the discerning traveler.

Its classic 12-day, 11-night Mumbai-Delhi itinerary includes visits to the monuments of Vadodara, the lakes and palaces of Udaipur, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the tiger reserve at Ranthambore (where tigers are making a comeback) and the Pink City of Jaipur.

A new 11-day, 10-night trip, the “Hidden Treasures of Gujarat,’ includes a search for Asiatic lions in Gir Forest National Park, a visit to Modhera’s Sun Temple and an exclusive tour of one of the country’s best wineries. Click here for more info.

  • The Blue Train grants free passage for children 5 and under, provided they sleep with their parents. Pictured above, a compartment with twin beds. Blue Train photo

    The Blue Train grants free passage for children 5 and under, provided they sleep with their parents. Pictured above, a Blue Train compartment with twin beds. Blue Train photo

    AFRICA: The romantic Blue Train might not seem the most likely venue for kids, but it can be  a financial boon to parents. One child aged five or under can travel free with mom and dad–so long as he/she shares the same compartment (OK, maybe sometimes not so romantic). Children aged 6-12 pay 50% of the rate. Click here for more info.

The above travel suppliers are some of our top Virtuoso partners. See something you’re interested in? Email us, and let us know what trip interests you, when you want to go and who is traveling with you. We’ll respond ASAP!

The Society of IRT is a proud member of Virtuoso, and also of the Belmond Bellini Club. What does this mean for our guests? Call us: 800-478-4881. Our web site:                       http://www.irtsociety.com

Blue Train: South African Star Shining Brighter Than Ever

9 Jul

IRT's Owen & Eleanor Hardy on the Blue Train

The Blue Train expertly conjures up one’s inner international celebrity. It’s a quality I well remember from my first Blue Train ride 13 years ago.

One of the IRT Society’s World’s Top 25 Trains, it runs weekly in each direction between Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa.

A week ago Monday, I climbed back aboard the Blue Train for another trip, Pretoria-Cape Town, and I discovered that this “celebrity factor” is perhaps more than just coincidence.

Jan September

Our steward, Mr. Jan September, regaled my wife Eleanor and me with stories of the famous personages he’d served over the years: Margaret Thatcher (“you  could tell she was a very powerful person, but she made me feel very comfortable”), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former South African President Nelson Mandela, American musician Quincy Jones, British runway model Naomi Campbell, and American film stars Danny Glover and Farrah Fawcett.

September was hardly name-dropping. Rather, we got the impression that he and the rest of the Blue Train staff are accustomed to treating all their passengers like visiting royalty.

Blue Train deluxe compartment

Our deluxe compartment—the “standard class” on the train—was both spacious and stylishly decorated, with two twin Murphy beds, a nightstand with drawers in between, and room enough for three or four small pieces of luggage above the interior bed. We were also thankful for our in-room safe, double-door closet, full-length mirror, and armchair.

As I’d recommend for any train trip, pack light for your Blue Train voyage—we handed over our bulkiest three bags for storage in the baggage car at the outset of our trip. But the Blue Train accommodations are anything but claustrophobic.

The décor, which includes handsome polished wood walls, brass fixtures, and the ubiquitous Blue Train “B,” is emblematic of the understated elegance throughout the train.

Chocolate Pot "Mandela Microwave"

Our Blue Train dining experience was divine, from our first morsel served in the train’s VIP lounge—a perfectly flaky ham croissant and a hot apricot tart—to our last dessert, a succulent dark chocolate “pot” with alternating fillings nicknamed the “Mandela Microwave” after the famous passenger, who requested it after every meal. The wine, beer, and liquor selection is thoughtful and extensive, too, especially considering that all alcoholic beverages are included in passenger fare.

And, though we were somewhat skeptical about the “crowd” factor when we learned that all 58 places on our voyage would be occupied, the quality of service never wavered.

New friends in the Blue Train diner

Indeed, we thoroughly enjoyed our fellow passengers. They were of all races, creeds and colors and hailed from all over the world—perhaps symbolizing the aspirations of the new South Africa.

Owen in the cab

The Blue Train staff was friendly and competent. Wandering down the platform to the massive electric locomotive, I was invited inside the cab by its driver, who insisted I take his seat so he could photograph me. The dining attendants and stewards, elegantly dressed in the traditional uniform, were obviously proud of their famous train—most considered the Blue Train a lifetime career.

In fact, there was so much going on—meeting people in the rear lounge car with its immense windows, enjoying afternoon tea or exquisite meals and fine South African wines—we almost forgot to look out the window at the passing scene.

To seasoned luxury train travelers, this tension between “inside” the train and “outside” is sure to be familiar. So much to soak in, and so little time in which to do it! The trip covers 994 miles and lasts an all-too-brief 27 hours.

There were some hiccups. The electrical outlet in our bathroom didn’t work; neither did the steward call button.

And the Blue Train VIP lounge at the Pretoria railroad station is tricky to locate, even when you’re in its general vicinity. That meant a few nervous minutes at the end of our hour-long taxi ride from Johannesburg’s Westcliff Hotel, which was 15 minutes longer than we’d planned.

Future Blue Train travelers take note: as you face Pretoria Station, the Blue Train Lounge is at the far left of the building and is mostly hidden by a parking lot. A subtle Blue Train “B” finally led us in the right direction – and into the capable hands of the Blue Train staff.

These minor issues did little to take away from our experience: luxurious accommodations, delicious meals, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and the fascinating South African countryside rushing by outside our windows. Our experience left little doubt: the Blue Train well deserves its place as one of the World’s Top 25 Trains. For a look at our June, 2011, trip,  see this: Photo Album of the Blue Train. 

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