Tag Archives: deluxe trains

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

Flexible? Try Orient-Express, Rocky Mountaineer, India’s Deccan Odyssey This Autumn

24 Jul

Europe, Canada or India calling? If so, now hear this:

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Get two free nights at the super luxurious Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice when you book the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express London-Paris-Venice on trips running Oct. 25-26, Oct. 29-30, Nov. 1-2 or Nov. 5-6. Click here for more info.

Get the same deal when you book the VSOE the other direction, Venice-Paris-London, for trips running Oct. 28-29, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 or Nov. 4-5. Click here for more info.

The offer is valued at $1,300 per person, is for new bookings only and must be made by Aug. 31. Restrictions apply.

Can’t tell you how much we love this hotel: it is fabulous. See our review and photos here.

Rocky Mountaineer

Get $1,000 per couple in extra services when you book a qualifying 2016 Rocky Mountaineer package of 7 nights or more. The offer is good until Aug. 28.

The luxurious GoldLeaf service gives you a ring-side seat on the glories of the Rocky Mountains’ natural beauty.

Our recommendation: opt for the 12-day “Grand Rail Circle” tour, which packs in three scenic rail routes.

Great plus by booking this trip with us: two complimentary airport limo transfers — a value of $240.

Deccan Odyssey

With Delhi as the beginning of the Deccan Odyssey’s itinerary, a complimentary night in a top Delhi hotel, as well as a free private transfer upon arrival or departure, will be welcome news. The offer includes breakfast and taxes.

Choose a deluxe room from either the chic, modern Lait Hotel or the sumptuous, classical Kempinski Ambience.

The offer is valued at $300-$400. We love the Deccan Odyssey, as you know. Its onboard operators are some of the best in the luxury market.

For more information on the Deccan Odyssey, click here. For more information or to book any of these trains, email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Or call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.

IRT Awards High Marks to Golden Eagle Danube Express

29 May
Belgrade Dancers

Serbian dancers greet the Golden Eagle Danube Express in Belgrade. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

It was the photo op of a lifetime.

As the “new” luxury train Golden Eagle Danube Express departed Venice’s Santa Lucia station, the world-famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was pulling in.

The two elegant European touring trains slowly passed each other, as passengers waved and marveled.

Thus began the inaugural run of the newly dubbed Golden Eagle Danube Express on its Venice-Budapest Balkan Odyssey tour. The luxury train rolled through eight countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria & Romania. Its 54 passengers hailed mostly from the U.S. & Australia.

See Angela Walker’s photos from her Balkan Odyssey adventure here.

Ljubljana Sculpture

Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Stellar Itinerary

Among the highlights awaiting those passengers:  visiting the museum and tomb of Josip Broz Tito, former president of Yugoslavia; hearing a first-hand account of escape through the Sarajevo Tunnel during the siege of the city during the Bosnian War; and, most poignant, standing in the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, an event that triggered World War I and the deaths of more than 8 million soldiers and countless more civilians.

Zagreb

Golden angels in Zagreb’s Kaptol Square.             IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Excellent local guides offered fascinating insight to the complex history of these Balkan nations. Summoning personal experiences, they often focused on the conflict just 20 years ago, when Yugoslavia was divided and these countries were at war.

Earlier that week, the Golden Eagle Danube Express was christened with much pomp and circumstance in Budapest by a military band, festive speeches and no less a personage than His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent. For more on the ceremony as well as specifics of the luxury train’s accommodations, please click here.

Diners

Happy IRT guests on the Golden Eagle Danube Express. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Sumptuous Dining

Two dining cars seat 42 passengers each (which combined is more than the train’s 56-passenger capacity). The dining cars are attractive and comfortable, offering tables for 4 or 2.

“Albert” has a green and cream color scheme; “Pannonia” is crimson and beige.

The tables are resplendent with white tablecloths, crystal glassware and china emblazoned with the double-headed eagle logo of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

Guests enjoy breakfast on board. One can choose from a buffet of fruit, breads, cereal, cold meats and cheeses. In addition, diners can order a hot breakfast including omelets, French toast, bacon and sausage.

Guests have either lunch or dinner off the train in a local restaurant, with the other meal on the train.

Thee Ladies 2

IRT guests playing cards in the lounge car of the Golden Eagle Danube Express.  IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

On-board meals are served in three courses, with choice of vegetarian or meat starters and main courses.

On my trip, starters included asparagus with hollandaise sauce and zucchini rolls with ricotta stuffing, served in a char-grilled pepper sauce with basil olive oil. Other choices were foie gras terrine with spicy apricot chutney and toasted challah bread.

Main course options ranged from Moroccan baked vegetables with prunes and spicy couscous to beer-braised beef cheek with malted onions and ale sauce, served with carrots, green beans and onion mashed potatoes.

(The beef cheek was so tender and delicious, it was difficult to pass on seconds – which were offered!)

Swan Dessert

Special “Swan Lake” dessert served on the Golden Eagle Danube Express.

Desserts were a highlight (which pleased my sweet tooth immensely!) “Swan Lake” was a pastry shaped into a swan sitting on a “lake” of vanilla and chocolate sauce.  The Swan Lake won the beauty contest. But for taste, I preferred the strawberry panna cotta and the chocolate mousse.

Meals off the train were generally set menus. But they still were multi-course affairs, with many featuring seafood. Vegetarian options also were available.

And some of the restaurants were in scenic locales. One example: our morning walking tour of the Belgrade fortress ended at Kalemegdanska Teresa restaurant within the fortress grounds, overlooking the Danube and Sava Rivers.

Budapest

Budapest tram stop. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Service was good, although there is room for improvement. In the dining car, tables were not cleared and cleaned at breakfast as quickly as they should have been on a luxury train. Breakfast buffet items were not refilled once emptied.

I chatted with Edit Mészáros, the ever-present on-board guest relations manager, and these actions were corrected the following day.  Edit is very receptive to feedback and eager to please her guests.  No doubt these small lapses in service will be rectified and perfected in the coming months.

Also, some of the train staff (mostly car attendants) do not speak English, or speak it poorly.

Princess Michael

Princess Michael of Kent peers out of the train. Prince & Princess Michael of Kent officially launched the Golden Eagle Danube Express in Budapest in early May. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Lounge Car

Lounge car “Budapest” is the social center.  Unfortunately, the current lounge car only seats 28 – not enough to accommodate the train’s capacity.

But it is rare, if ever, that all passengers visit the lounge for a pre-dinner drink or nightcap (all drinks, with the exception of some premium wines, are included in the tour fare).

That’s a shame, as the train’s pianist, Eszter Kisgyörgy, was perpetually entertaining and an absolute delight.

A new lounge car (with a proper bar) is currently under construction and is set to replace the current lounge. [Editor’s Note:  The new lounge car was added to the Golden Eagle Danube Express in early 2016.  Click here to read our post about the new car.]

Border Crossings

The journey was not without other glitches. Passing through numerous borders with a private train led to a few complications, mostly in the form of delays at the borders.

In some cases, the border control officials wanted to see each passenger with his/her passport in hand. Unfortunately, the timing of one of these crossings (Croatia to Bosnia) meant a knock on the cabin door in the middle of the night.

balkan odyssey2 1392

Religious paintings at a market in Sofia, Bulgaria. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Scenic Bus Ride

Another setback: the train was not allowed to travel on the line from Sarajevo to Mostar, requiring a 2 ½ hour bus ride each way and lunch en route.

Although the motor coach ride was extremely scenic – running along glacial lakes through ridges, mountains and canyons – it would have been fantastic by train along a similar route, through countless tunnels and over many bridges (this will ideally be incorporated in future journeys).

The bus trip did serendipitously allow for an exceptional lakeside lunch in the town of Konjic – my favorite meal of the entire journey.

Angela Walker Vice President, The Society of International Railway Travelers. Photo by Arthur McMurdie

Angela Walker Vice President, The Society of International Railway Travelers. Photo by Arthur McMurdie

Lofty Dreams

The Golden Eagle Danube Express has lofty dreams: to become the leading luxury touring train in mainland Europe. True, it lacks the polish of the famed Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

But its riveting itineraries, fully inclusive pricing and comfort undoubtedly put it in the forefront of luxurious European railway travel. The future seems bright for this up-and-coming luxury train.

To book this journey or ask questions about the itinerary or train, please call IRT’s Angela Walker at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Angela Walker is Vice President of The Society of International Railway Travelers and a senior luxury travel advisor. She has traveled the world over reviewing The World’s Top 25 Trains.®

Danube Express Strikes Gold with Upgrades, New Itineraries

16 May

 

MilitaryBandBudapest (2)

Hungarian military band serenades passengers as they board the Golden Eagle Danube Express May 2 in Budapest’s Nyugati Station. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The Golden Eagle Danube Express celebrated its new name — plus new itineraries stretching all across Europe and a host of luxury upgrades — May 2 at Budapest’s Nyugati Station.

No less than a member of British Royalty, Prince Michael of Kent, drove the steam engine for an inaugural run to the nearby Hungarian Railway Museum and Park. I was happy to join in the festivities and to review the train.

The former Danube Express’ golden moniker is more than a new name. The Budapest-based private train boasts a raft of luxury upgrades ranging from service and amenities to cuisine and off-train touring. “I have every confidence that this is an experience that will be shared in the years to come by many thousands of guests,” declared His Royal Highness to a crowd of dignitaries, press and travel executives in the Budapest station’s Royal Waiting Room.

A pianist entertains in the Golden Eagle Danube Express lounge car. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

A pianist entertains in the Golden Eagle Danube Express lounge car. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

After speaking of his passion for railway travel, the bewhiskered prince climbed into the cab of the Hungarian Railways’ ‘Buffalo’ class 424 steam locomotive. A Hungarian military brass band serenaded the passengers as they boarded the waiting train.

The Prince then drove “his” train out of the station.

The following day, Prince and Princess Michael joined a small group of passengers for the train’s inaugural overnight run to Venice.  The journey included lunch on board, an excursion to Lake Balaton in Hungary, followed by dinner and drinks in the bar car, with a harpist entertaining.  It was a brief glimpse into the experience many passengers will have on the newly operated train in the future.

The special journey celebrated the Danube Express’ management takeover by UK-based Golden Eagle Luxury trains. The company is best known for its Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian journeys in Russia and Central Asia as well as its ground-breaking luxury rail tours to Iran, begun last year.

GE Danube Express Deluxe Cabin has two lower berths. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

GE Danube Express’ spacious Deluxe Cabin has two lower berths. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The Golden Eagle Danube Express comprises five sleeping cars, a lounge car and two dining cars.  Four sleeping cars contain Deluxe cabins with two lower berths. One sleeping car has Heritage class cabins with upper and lower bunk-style berths. The spacious Deluxe cabins have private shower, sink and toilet. The bathrooms even boast towel warmers.

Heritage class cabins are budget-oriented —about a third of the size of the Deluxe. Toilets and showers are shared and located at the end of the car.

Buffet breakfast in one of the two dining cars. Guests also can order hot items from an a la carte menu. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Buffet breakfast in one of the two dining cars. Guests also can order hot items from an a la carte menu. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The upgraded train includes two 42-seat dining cars which serve delicious meals and wines. The lounge car accommodates 28. [Editor’s Note: A new lounge car was added to the Golden Eagle Danube Express in early 2016.  Click here to read our post about the new car.]  Drinks are served (and included in the fare) throughout the day while a pianist entertains.

Golden Eagle Luxury Trains offers a range of itineraries on its new train, covering a swath of Western and Eastern Europe.

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Evening place setting. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Sample itineraries include the 12-day Balkan Odyssey (Budapest to Venice via Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria & Romania) and Balkan Explorer (Venice to Istanbul, traveling through nine countries in 12 days).

For more information on the Golden Eagle Danube Express, click here, or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. To book, click here.

Angela Walker is Vice President of Operations and Senior Luxury Travel Advisor. She has criss-crossed the world to review many of the World’s Top 25 Trains, in India, China, Scotland, Canada, Uzbekistan and Peru, to name a few countries, for The Society of International Railway Travelers, a Virtuoso travel agency.

Belmond Grand Hibernian ‘Arrives’ in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal

29 Apr

Artist’s rendering of the Belmond Grand Hibernian Lounge Car

New York, NY — The Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury train, made its formal debut in America April 28 at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The train is under construction; service is planned to begin August, 2016.

Authentic Irish music, draughts of Guinness and Irish Bell floral corsages underscored Belmond’s hopes for its newest “dream train:” a genuine, sensual, over-the-top experience of the Emerald Isle’s true spirit, both north and south.

The IRT Society joined a group of about 150 Belmond officials and representatives from the travel trade and press at a gala celebration in the station’s ornate Campbell Apartments.

As with the Belmond’s other luxury trains, such as the Royal Scotsman and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Grand Hibernian will offer “land cruises,” with no need for guests to pack or unpack.

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

The tours will include all locally sourced, exquisite meals as well as “shore excursions” to castles, manor houses, distilleries as well as visits to exclusive venues normally not open to the public. It will also include all drinks throughout the program – including exclusive distillery tastings.

The six-night itinerary, the train’s longest, looks like a winner, if advance interest by guests of The Society of International Railway Travelers is any measure.

IRT chartered the Grand Hibernian’s Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2016 “Grand Tour of Ireland” just last week, and already only three of the train’s 20 cabins remain unsold.

The six-night tour combines two shorter tours: a four-night tour of the Republic of (south) Ireland and a two-night tour of Northern Ireland.

“Ireland is the epitome of a comfortable, beautiful vacation destination,” said Gary Franklin, Belmond’s managing director, Trains & Cruises. “And Ireland has the element of romance.”

Franklin, a native New Zealander, fell in love with Ireland decades ago as a young man, he told his guests.

Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Nortthern Ireland

In 1991, when he journeyed to Ireland to watch the rugby world cup, his team lost, but Ireland won his heart. The germ of an idea was born: the Grand Hibernian.

Last night’s events were mostly celebratory, as Belmond’s plans for the Grand Hibernian have been known for months. (Click here to see particulars.)

But following the reception, Yann Guézennec, Worldwide Sales & Marketing Director, Belmond Trains & Cruises, did divulge one important detail to IRT over dinner at his company’s famous “21 Club.”

The Grand Hibernian’s dress code will be “casual luxury” — neckties for men will be optional. Based on IRT’s over 30 years experience in the luxury train market, this news will be greeted with cheers by many (and perhaps shrugs by a few, this writer included).

“But the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will maintain its dress code,” he quickly assured us. “That will not change.”

Download the Belmond Grand Hibernian’s three itineraries below:

Six-night, seven- day “Grand Tour of Ireland”

Four-night, five-day “Legends and Loughs”

Two-night, three-day “Realm of Giants”

VSOE Uncorks the Bubbly with Open Doors for Istanbul Tours, Champagne Bar, Berlin Visit

3 Apr
OrientExpressCrest

Classic Orient-Express crest. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The most famous “World’s Top 25 Train®” has much to celebrate .

Booking doors just swung open for rare spots on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ annual Istanbul extravaganzas — for 2016. (2015 sold out long ago.)

Dates for the 6-day, 7-country  Paris-Istanbul tour are Aug. 26-21, 2016.  Istanbul – Venice is Sept. 2 – 7, 2016. See prices here.

Space already is dwindling, due to heavy sales to wait-listed clients (some have been in line for 2 years or more). Cabin suites remain for the Paris-Istanbul journey; both classes of service for Istanbul-Venice. Email IRT or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725 for more info. To book, click here.

Meanwhile, the VSOE makes its first trip to Berlin next year via Venice, and London / Paris. Dates are June 1-6, 2016. Also in 2016: transfers to/from the VSOE in Venice will be included in the fare.

Lalique_Detail

Lalique Panel from Côte d’Azur dining car. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

And this season, guests traveling south from London to Venice can enjoy something brand new: a celebratory champagne breakfast in the train’s “Côte d’Azur’ restaurant car. The diner, with its striking, Art Deco Lalique crystal nudes, features a 20-seat “Champagne Bar” in the corner of the car. Hours are 8-10 a.m.

The breakfast hour is timed to take advantage of the optimum scenery of the Swiss lake region, according to Valerie Ottofaro, Director of Sales, Trains & River Cruises.

Finally, a new concept — the “Simplon Suite” — shortly will be available exclusively to guests booked in “Cabin Suites,” which are two Double Cabins connected by an interior door.

Among “Simplon Suite” benefits are private transfers to/from appropriate stations and priority reservations for the aforementioned Champagne Breakfast spots. They’ll also receive a “luxury amenity” and “free-flowing champagne” in their private quarters. Price is £250 (about $370) per person.

VSOE champagne on ice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

VSOE champagne on ice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Most intriguing to this VSOE fan is the Champagne Breakfast. The menu, designed by VSOE head chef Christian Bodiguel, includes a luxurious and mouth-watering selection of freshly baked breads, smoked salmon, eggs, truffles and caviar. Guests can book the special breakfast with the cabin steward once on board. Cost is 100 Euros (about $110) per person.

In the evening, the Champagne Bar offers many champagne varieties, sold either by the glass or the bottle, with champagne cocktails, some bespoke.

Hungarian military band greets guests during annual, over-the-top VSOE Paris-Istanbul sojourn. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Hungarian military band greets guests during annual, over-the-top VSOE Paris-Istanbul sojourn. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“The brand-new bar will add to the sense of occasion and give guests more of an excuse to celebrate aboard the world’s most famous train,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

Speaking of the 2016 Berlin itinerary, Ms. Ottofaro said: “Timings are subject to railway confirmation. Arrival in Berlin will be be approximately 6:30 p.m. Berlin departure is estimated to be 11 a.m.

“Our tour manager, Simon Wallace, is currently working on inclusive package experiences in support of this new destination,” Ms. Ottofaro added.

VSOE Tops in Classy Travel For Those Who Like to Play the Part

13 Mar
Eleanor Hardy on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Eleanor Hardy on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

If you ride just one luxury train, make it the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. But not if you hate dressing up.

So says Eleanor Flagler Hardy, president of The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

“What’s wrong with dressing up once in a while?,” she says. “My husband always says, ‘It’s like being in a play. You have to do your part.’”

Mrs. Hardy’s been booking guests on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) for 25 years. She’s also been a frequent guest and is acquainted with several of the staff. So she knows her stuff.

Track 25 caught up with her recently for a quick “Orient-Express FAQ” session.

Track 25: When’s the best time to travel on the VSOE?

Eleanor Flagler Hardy (EFH): Whenever you can go.

My favorite time is spring, because I love gardens. I recently received for my birthday 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die. Many are in locations served by the VSOE.

Track 25: Which itinerary do you and your guests like the most?

Local women in downtown Istanbul. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Local women in downtown Istanbul. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

EFH: One of the most popular trips on any of our World’s Top 25 Trains® is the Paris-Istanbul VSOE.

Track 25: Tell me something people may not know about the VSOE.

EFH: For one thing, it only travels March-November.

Plus, the Paris-Istanbul journey only goes once a year, in late August-early September.

And because of Paris-Istanbul’s popularity, we keep a wait list. Eight friends signed up two years ago to be on the 2016 “first notice” list. They’ll get called first (when the booking window opens).

Track 25: What about showers, etc.?

The VSOA ready for boarding in Venice. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

VSOE ready for boarding in Venice. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

EFH: There are no showers. And the toilets are down the hall.

But look, this is an antique train. The cars date from the 1920s and 1930s. This was luxury travel back then; it was the way Agatha Christie traveled.

And the cars are gorgeous. The polished brass, the Lalique crystal, the intricate wood inlay, the attention to detail. You’re literally traveling in another world.

Décor from the VSOE dining car L'Oriental. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Décor from the VSOE dining car L’Oriental. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy. IRT Poster by S. Sebree.

Track 25: The VSOE has three dining cars. Which is your favorite?

EFH: That’s like asking which of our two daughters I love more. I like the Lalique diner for dinner; L’Oriental for lunch.

Breakfast you have in your cabin, which I love. I love sipping my coffee or tea, having my breakfast in my room as the world rolls by.

Track 25: Is the VSOE for everyone? Won’t I feel like I’m in a geriatric ward?

EFH: No! There are people of all ages celebrating on the VSOE. If you’ve got something to celebrate, this train is for you. But if you absolutely hate wearing a tie, don’t go.

Track 25: What if I’ve never been on an overnight train before. Is this a good one to start with?

EFH: Since the VSOE has plenty of one-night experiences, I’d say yes.

Track 25: Which itinerary do you recommend for a first trip, and why?

EFH: I’d recommend Venice-Paris-London, or vice versa. Both are just one night, and there are plenty of dates. And in both directions, the departure and arrival times are very convenient.

I recommend starting or ending in London without question.

BritPullLady

Aboard the British Pullman. IRT Photo by O. Hardy

If you get off in Paris, you miss the trip to or from London on the British Pullman, a delightful day train whose food, service and décor rival those of the VSOE.

Also, if you get on in Paris going south, you’ll dine at 9:30 or 10 at night.

If you’re getting off in Paris traveling northbound, you have to get up early in the morning, have your breakfast and be off the train by about 8.

Track 25: I’ve already been on the VSOE. Is it worth going again?

EFH: Of course. There lots of great itineraries.

One is Venice-Prague-Paris or London. It has 2 nights on the train and 2 nights in Prague. We can book your four- or five-star hotels in Prague, Venice, Paris or London. In fact, we can custom-design your whole trip, with transfers, hotels, opera tickets, you name it.

Track 25: My wife and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary in May. Would the VSOE be good for that?

Toddy time on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Toddy time on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

EFH: Of course. The VSOE staff is excellent, and they know just how to make you feel special. And IRT will throw in something extra too.

Track 25: What kind of accommodations would you suggest for that, and why?

EFH: If your budget allows, the cabin suite gives you twice the space (of a regular double compartment) with two lower berths, two vanities, two windows. But it’s more expensive.

Track 25: What itinerary would you suggest for our anniversary?

Owen Hardy at the Cipriani, Venice, prior to boarding the VSOE

Owen Hardy at the Cipriani, Venice, prior to boarding the VSOE. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

EFH: Romantic Italian Holiday, an itinerary my husband and I created for our 30th wedding anniversary. Two nights in Florence, two nights in Venice, a night on the VSOE, and, as an option, two nights in London. It was fabulous.

Or you can get creative. I have a couple attracted to the Romantic Italian Holiday package, but they decided to substitute the Lake Como region for Florence. Our Virtuoso partner hotels there are fabulous, too.

Track 25: Thanks, Mrs. Hardy. Any parting words for our readers?

EFH: Back to the dress code. I don’t mean to sound stuffy, but you have to understand that many people on the VSOE are celebrating a major life event. They don’t want it spoiled.

IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Aboard the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

And the VSOE keeps up its standards. If you don’t dress appropriately, they’ll be happy to serve you your elegant dinner in your room.

Which would be sad, because you’d be missing out on one of the most delightful dining experiences in Europe.

Want more Luxury Trains 101? Write or call: tourdesk@irtsociety.com or 800-478-4881 (US and Canada) or 502-897-1725. Or see our web site: http://www.irtsociety.com.

Royal Scotsman Scores with ‘Limited Edition’ Confections

7 Mar
IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman.

IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman. Photo courtesy of the Montgomerys

One of the world’s most intimate luxury trains — the Royal Scotsman — threw open its doors this week for 2016 bookings, even as space this year is dwindling on many departures.

During the last several years, the train has inaugurated several “limited edition” tours, which have proven to be very successful, said Valerie J. Ottofaro.

Ms. Ottofaro is Director of Sales, Belmond Trains & River Cruises. (The train’s official name is Belmond Royal Scotsman, honoring the company’s new brand.)

“The Grand Tour of Great Britain will continue to run as an exclusive tour in 2016,” she said. The dates are July 8-15, 2016.

The popular, 7-night annual tour is for true devotees of history, food & spirits, culture, and life in England, Scotland and Wales.

The varied, exclusive activities include a castle tour with its owners, a ride on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway and dinner at a country estate.

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“IRT guests who have done this trip have raved about it,” said Eleanor Flagler Hardy, President of The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

Other special trips are for devotees of whisky, golf and Scottish country life.

The “Classic Whisky Tours” — in partnership with the Scottish Malt Whisky Society — “have proved very successful over the past two years,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The five-day whisky tour includes visits and tastings at a number of distilleries as well as on-board tastings in the train’s lounge car. For 2016, one trip is planned: April 25–29.

Belmond plans one Classic Golf Tour for June 13-17, 2016.

“This is a four-night journey through the heart of the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Ottofaro said, “offering three rounds of golf at some of the country’s finest and most northerly of the UK’s championship golf courses.” One of the courses will be Gleneagles.

“The Heritage Homes and Gardens tour,” meanwhile, “has been received very well over the past two years,” she said. Next year the trip runs June 6-10.

“This is an exploration of Scotland’s most fascinating and scenic country homes and gardens,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

“It’s a special four-night tour hosted by an experienced gardener, a professional photographer and a freelance garden writer who provide guests with gardening tips and fascinating history along the way.”

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

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

Meanwhile, officials said space was almost gone for several 2015 specialty tours, including the annual Grand Tour.

Just one double and one single cabin remain for the 8-day Grand Tour of England, Scotland and Wales, a Belmond reservations specialist told IRT yesterday. This year’s dates are July 10-17.

This year’s April 27-May 1 “Classic Whisky Tour” has one twin and two single cabins left.

A second 2015 “Classic Whisky” departure, July 5-9, has just one twin cabin remaining.

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

More space is available for this year’s annual Heritage and Garden Tour, the spokesperson said: five twins and two singles. The dates are June 5-9.

Call (800) 478-4881 or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com, if you’d like to grab a spot. IRT will accept bookings on a first-come, first-served basis. A 15% deposit is required to secure your booking. If the trip is within 60 days of travel, full payment will be required.

(Book by March 31 for value-added special offers for certain departures. Restrictions apply.)

“Booking soon gives you a better chance of getting just what you want,” IRT’s Mrs. Hardy said.

RedLady

Lively conversation in the Royal Scotsman lounge. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

“Also, in general, the earlier you book, the closer you’ll be to the lounge and dining car. And that’s especially true for singles, since there are only four single cabins on each departure — with no single supplement.”

Another success story is the 2014 addition of the 3-night Edinburgh-London tour, Majestic England. An add-on return trip, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is an overnight London-Edinburgh journey whose emphasis is on-board food, spirits and ambience.

“We have seen encouraging sales for both journeys,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The 3-night Edinburgh-London trip includes Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family; York, site of the National Railway Museum; Sandringham, the Norfolk retreat of the Royal Family; and Cambridge.

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Thus, a traveler could combine this 3-night Edinburgh-London trip to the one-night London-Edinburgh return journey.

“And twice each season — in August and September — the London itinerary has been scheduled so it can be added to a 5-day Classic journey through the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Hardy said.

For questions or to book, call (800) 478-4881 (U.S. and Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (elsewhere). Or email us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Announces 2014 Istanbul Sales

21 Jun

Hungarian military band greets Paris-Istanbul Orient-Express in Budapest. IRT Photos by O. Hardy

Continue reading

Thailand’s “Death Railway”: Adventures on the Eastern & Oriental Express, Part II

25 Jun

Third Class local passenger train at Nam Tok station. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Editor’s note: To read Part I of Mr. Anderson’s adventures, please click here.

After deciding to book the Epic Thailand trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express (persuaded by Eleanor Hardy’s Track 25 blog), I opted to add the short Singapore-Bangkok route to the beginning of my adventure so that I could experience and see even more of this fascinating South Asian region. But unexpected hiccups while en-route to Bangkok left me wondering whether I’d make my primary Epic Thailand departure…

Eastern & Oriental Express at sunset. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Our Singapore-Bangkok itinerary was thrown off course first by a stalled local train in Malaysia and then by an engine failure just across the Thai border (the E&O is contracted by law to use only Malaysian and Thai Railway locomotives), putting us significantly behind schedule, so much so that the side trip to the Kwai River Bridge was abandoned so that we could make a more timely arrival into Bangkok. So although I’d be able to join the IRT group departing on the Epic Thailand tour the next morning (Phew!), I was disappointed that I’d missed seeing the famous Kwai River Bridge.

E & O observation car with bartenders Sopa & Andrek. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

My disappointment, however, was short-lived. The Eastern & Oriental Express staff arranged a complementary private car and guide to drive me out to Nam Tok upon my return to Bangkok, following my week-long Epic Thailand adventure. This was just one more shining example of the E&O’s outstanding commitment to customer service and satisfaction.

Despite Bangkok’s horrendous traffic, the trip to the Kwai Bridge was worth every exertion. Once across the bridge, I saw the two plinthed steam locomotives on site and had time for a brief visit to the cemetery before our return trip to the capital.

For more information and for reservations on the Eastern & Oriental Express, visit the Society of International Railway Traveler’s website or call us at (800) 478-4881.

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