Tag Archives: luxury rail journey

Deccan Odyssey’s New Itineraries Break the Mold, Showcase India’s Rich Diversity

14 Sep

 

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The Deccan Odyssey luxury train.

India —  the world’s largest democracy, the most linguistically diverse country in the world, and home to wildly varying terrain, from the Thar Desert in the west to the Ganges Plain in the north, from the Himalayas to the shores of the Arabian Sea– is anything but a monolith.

How, then, could any traveler visit once and see the entire subcontinent?

The Deccan Odyssey luxury train has the perfect answer, in the form of four new journeys for those second- or third-time visitors to India looking to move beyond the traditional ‘highlights reel’.

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Presidential Suite on the Deccan Odyssey. Each Suite has a large double bed, dedicated sitting area, and two private bathrooms.

Something all four trips have in common: the stunning Deccan Odyssey itself. All cabins are fully ensuite with private bathroom and shower (ask for a Presidential Suite if you want extra-palatial surroundings). The train also features two dining cars that serve both Indian and Continental options at every meal, a lounge, a spa car with steam bath, exercise facilities, and a massage room.

We asked our friends at Cox & Kings — sole operators of the Deccan Odyssey — to share a few highlights with us from each of the new itineraries:

Hidden Treasures of Gujarat: Visit Gir National Forest — the only place in the world where you can spot Asiatic lions in the wild. Explore the otherworldly landscape of the Little Rann of Kutch — the largest saline desert in the world. Visit Palitana, the most sacred pilgrimage site of the Jain religion, where spectacular clusters of temples are exquisitely carved in marble. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Little Rann of Kutch.

Maharashtra Splendor: Tour Fountainhas in Panjim, capital city of Goa, with its winding alleyways and bright red and blue tile-roofed houses. Ride on the Konkan railway route, bound by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Sahyadri Hills to the east. Wonder at the majesty of both Ajanta and Ellora Caves (both UNESCO Heritage sites). Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Ajanta Caves.

Jewels of the Deccan: Tour Bijapur, historic capital of the Sultans of Deccan, and visit Ibrahim Rouza — the supposed inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  Wander through the weaving village of Guledgud, renowned for producing stunning fabrics by hand loom. Visit Aihole — the cradle of Indian architecture — where more than 70 unique rock-cut temples were constructed by the Chalukyan kings. Explore the bustling bazaars in the old city area of Charminar in Hyderabad. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Ibrahim Rouza

Maharashtra Wild Trail: Take a thrilling sunrise game drive in Tadoba Tiger Reserve, where it is not uncommon to see both tigers and wild dogs. Leopards, sloth bears, gaur (Indian bison), and rusty spotted cat can also be seen here. Enjoy another full day of game drives in Pench National Park, a biodiverse forest home to Malabar pied hornbills, Indian pittas, ospreys, grey-headed fishing eagles, and the green pigeon — the State Bird of Maharashtra. Visit the holy city of Nashik, now India’s premier wine-producing locale, and enjoy a lunch and tasting at a vineyard. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Tadoba Tiger Reserve.

And if you’ve never been to India before and want a more traditional first-time itinerary, we’ve got options. The Indian Sojourn — an 8-day itinerary from Mumbai to Delhi that visits many of India’s most iconic landmarks — is a great place to begin exploring. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

 

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Mumbai’s Gateway of India.

 

Ready to begin planning your next trip to India?

Call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us.

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 travel in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada — and she is about to embark on her second trip to India. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S. African Splendor: Our Luxe Ride with Rovos Rail, Part II

25 Apr
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Rachel Hardy, the author, with Alpheus, a member of Rovos Rail’s impeccable wait staff. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

If you haven’t yet read the first installment of this story, we suggest you go back and read it here first. Or, read on for day two of our journey on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa!

It’s day two of our Pretoria-Cape Town adventure aboard Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa.

And what can I say but “Yum!”

We start with a leisurely breakfast in the dining car. Guests can order a freshly prepared omelet, sausage, bacon, mushrooms or roasted tomatoes. Fruit, cereal, yogurt, homemade breads, coffee and tea are also on offer.

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Tables set for breakfast in the dining car. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

After our meal, we make a beeline for the observation car.

Joe, the train manager, had advised us the evening before that we might see flamingos shortly before arriving in Kimberley this morning.

And indeed, we’re lucky. There they are — in the thousands — feeding in a shallow lake right next to the tracks. An excited crush of guests fills the observation car to witness the spectacle.

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Angela Walker and other Rovos guests keep their eyes peeled for flamingos. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

Soon afterwards, we arrive in Kimberley, the birthplace of South African diamond mining, where we disembark for a short tour.

The mine is a yawning crater lake. Appropriately named the “Big Hole,” it’s the largest man-made excavation site in the world. It’s bizarrely beautiful, despite being a place of enormous human suffering. After a quick to visit the Diamond Mine Museum, we rejoin the train.

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Rachel at the “Big Hole” in Kimberley. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Back on board, we make for the dining car — and lunch. Outside our window, the scenery is changing. We’re entering the Karoo, a semi-desert region defined by vast, open plains.

Impala, wildebeest, and springbok flash by. Miles ahead, a thunderstorm threatens, creating a shallow rainbow that seems to arc right alongside the train.

After another wonderful meal, we drift back to our cabins for a nap. Others head to one of the public cars to read or simply gaze at the African scenery flashing past.

Having enjoyed our luscious lunch, I’m not particularly hungry for what comes next—afternoon tea — even if it is served at 4:30 p.m. But how often do I have afternoon tea?

Served in both lounge cars, it includes fresh fruit, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and decadent pastries. I especially eye the scones.

Given the train’s all-inclusive nature, I consider a before-dinner drink as well.

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Rachel and Angela dressed for dinner. IRT Photo.

Dinner is yet another lavish affair. If anything, it’s even jollier, now that guests have gotten to know one another. Alpheus, our server and unofficial staff “hype man,” alerts us to a cocktail hour after dinner in the rear bar car.

Sure enough, the observation car is full and lively. The bartender offers an array of drinks: in addition to his fully-stocked bar, choices include mojitos, tequila sunrises, margaritas and the local “Springbokkie” (Amarula and crème de menthe), our favorite here in South Africa.

The party’s in full swing as we depart for our cabins around 11, exhausted but happy.

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Pride of Africa outside Matjiesfontein. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

The next morning, I’m one of the early risers who choose to disembark for a three-mile walk into Matjiesfontein, a quaint Victorian village where the train stops for several hours. I’m struck by the town’s stark beauty. Its dramatic desert hills are dotted with brush. I spot occasional animals in the distance.

I also note the town’s historic hotel, shops, cafes, and a small transportation museum boasting vintage autos and rail cars.

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Pride of Africa on the Matjiesfontein platform. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

After we re-board the train and sit down for lunch, our train descends the face of an escarpment, and the scenery abruptly changes.

The Pride of Africa chugs through a series of four tunnels (the longest is over eight miles), then pops out into a totally different world of large mountain ranges and lush vineyards. We’re approaching beautiful Cape Town.

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Rachel & Angela on the open-air observation car with Cape Town’s Table Mountain coming into view behind. IRT Photo.

We enjoy the observation car one last time, as the city’s iconic Table Mountain looms sharply into focus.

Too soon, we pull into the station. There to welcome us is Mr. Rovos Rail himself: Rohan Vos, owner and mastermind of Rovos Rail.

We pose for a quick photo with Mr. Vos and his staff — and then it’s back to reality.

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Rovos Rail owner Rohan Vos, far left, poses with his staff and IRT’s Angela Walker & Rachel Hardy outside the Cape Town train station. IRT Photo.

If you are ready to book your own Rovos Rail adventure, or if you have questions, please call us at (800) 478-4881 — (502) 897-1725 if you’re outside the U.S. or Canada. Or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Click here to a link to more info about the train, with all itineraries listed. We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

Rachel M. Hardy is a luxury travel advisor and VP, Sales & Marketing, for the Society of IRT. Angela Walker is a 20-year veteran of The Society of International Railway Travelers, and has been on many of our World’s Top 25® Trains. She is a luxury travel advisor and VP, Operations. Both are based in our Louisville, KY headquarters. They have just returned from a month-long study tour examining trains, hotels and experiences in Europe and South Africa.

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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ Grand Suites Surpass All Expectations, says IRT Travel Advisor

5 Apr

London, England – The three brand-new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express — named ‘Paris,’ ‘Venice,’ & ‘Istanbul’ — have just made their inaugural journey on the train, and I was lucky enough to be invited for the first grand unveiling.

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The Suites surpassed my expectations in every way. All of the furnishings and finishings have been specially created, and no expense has been spared.

They are as functional as they are beautiful, with cleverly-hidden storage areas, heated bathroom floors and walls, full-length mirror and hairdryers — the first on the train. The beds even lift up to reveal large storage areas underneath.

‘Venice’ is luminous in rich blues and creams, with delicately antiqued mirrors and floral motifs.

‘Istanbul’ features ornate wood carvings, leather trim, and rich oranges and yellows in the upholstery and bathroom tile work.

And ‘Paris’ pays homage to the art deco movement with bold geometric lines and exotic tapestry work in greens and browns.

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Grand Suite ‘Venice.’ IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Bathroom in Grand Suite ‘Venice.’ Hand-blown glass sink, marquetry washstand and beautifully tiled floor. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Grand Suite ‘Istanbul.’   IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Lead Steward Francesco prepares Grand Suite ‘Istanbul’ for its very first guests. Only the most senior staff will be attending guests in Grand Suites. IRT Photo by Rachel M, Hardy

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Each Suite has a marble three-shelf bar. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Silk velvet pillow on the large couch in Grand Suite ‘Istanbul.’ Each Suite has a couch that can convert to a bed for a child. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Light fixture and marquetry in Grand Suite Istanbul. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Each Suite has a full-length mirror, two full-length wardrobes for hanging clothes (one is pictured on left), and multiple storage cubbies (bottom left). IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

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

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Hand-blown glass sink in Grand Suite Istanbul. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

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Grand Suites have full-sized copper rain showers with marble walls and tiled floor. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

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Each Suite has a Dyson hairdryer — a first on the train! IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

 

 

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Grand Suite ‘Paris.’ IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

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Bathroom in Grand Suite ‘Paris.’ IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

History buffs will be glad to know that the Suites maintain the 1920s feel of the train (while successfully ‘dialing up’ the level of opulence by a factor of 10). Rather than a piece apart, they are a natural addition to the existing Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Everything was custom-made for the suites — from the amazing tiles in the bathrooms to the marquetry and wood carvings and the gorgeous fabrics and finishings.  Our CEO asked: “What will our clients say when they get on board their Grand Suite?”

My answer is easy:  I think they’re going to love them. One is just as beautiful as the next. My favorite one was whichever one I was in at the moment.

I’ll follow up with a more thorough accounting of the Grand Suites and my experience on the train in several weeks. But if you are interested in booking a Grand Suite, please don’t wait. Demand has far outpaced projections, and the Suites are 75% sold out for the 2018 season.

If you are ready to book, 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 advising travel dates with availability and pricing—and all the many additional amenities afforded our Grand Suite guests.

Click here to a link to more info about the train, with all itineraries listed. 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.

Seven Stars Success Prompts Special Fall Japan Tour

16 Feb
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Japan’s Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu has set the world luxury train bar even higher, with such amenities as its “Deluxe Suite A”pictured here. JR Kyushu

 

Almost 15 months ago today, I left home for Fukuoka, Japan to ride the world’s latest – and some would say most exclusive – luxury train.

Since its introduction in October, 2013, the 28-passenger Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu has been wildly popular.

How popular?

Kyushu Railways regularly holds lotteries to see who gets to ride the Seven Stars at a price of up to $2,000 a day.

 

Now I know why. I, too, was blown away.

So much so that we named the Seven Stars the latest of our “World’s Top 25 Trains®.”

What makes the Seven Stars so special? Simply put, the train’s design rivals anything riding the rails today. (See video below.)

“OMG! I have never been on such a gorgeous train!” one of our guests wrote soon after she boarded last fall.

That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that the Seven Stars will again be a star element of our November, 2017 Japan tour. (Click here for full itinerary.)

The itinerary luxuriously showcases the charms of Kyushu, renowned for its hot springs, impressive cuisine, and natural beauty.

Sweet Train Image copy (1)More good news: we’ll again offer, as an extension, the two-hour ride between Sasebo and Nagasaki on JR Kyushu’s aptly named Sweet Train.

Working with our Virtuoso specialists, Windows to Japan, we’ve crafted a magnificent itinerary.

Our Nov. 3 – 18, 2017 tour carefully combines bullet trains, scenic trains, cultural experiences, overnights at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), visits to gardens and shrines, and stunning natural beauty.

It occurs at a time when the fall leaves should be spectacular and the weather perfect.

And, new this year, we’re adding a ride on JR Kyushu’s SL Hitoyoshi steam train along the scenic Kuma River. Also new this year is a visit to the Kyoto Railway Museum.

The icing on the cake? The four-day Seven Stars luxury rail tour grand finale. (Did I mention we’re the first U.S. company to charter the Seven Stars?)

It’s first-come, first-served.  So join us!

For the latest on our “Deluxe Rail Journey of Japanfeaturing the Seven Stars of Kyushu this November, please click here.

Questions: please call 800-478-4881 or 502-897-1725. Or email: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Owen C. Hardy is founder and CEO of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

In Search of the Seven Stars, Society of IRT Travels to Japan

13 Nov
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The Seven Stars in Kyushu luxury train will be a major feature of IRT’s 2016 Japan tour. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

I leave today for Fukuoka, Japan to ride the world’s latest – and some would say most exclusive – luxury train.

Since its introduction in October, 2013, the 28-passenger Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu has been wildly popular.

How popular?

Kyushu Railways regularly holds lotteries to see who gets to ride the Seven Stars, spending up to $1,700 a day.

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The Seven Stars Deluxe Suite A. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

I’ve tried my luck with the lottery, to no avail. That’s why I’m joining a group of European journalists next week for a special ride.

The Society of International Railway Travelers insists on personally experiencing trains before they are listed on our World’s Top 25 Trains list. And the Seven Stars will be a major element of our November, 2016 Japan tour. (Click here to get on the first notification list.)

What makes the Seven Stars so special? To judge from the photos and videos I’ve seen, the train’s design rivals anything riding the rails today. (See video below.)

Plus the itinerary luxuriously showcases the charms of Kyushu, renowned for its hot springs, impressive cuisine and natural beauty.

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Artwork courtesy of JR Kyushu

I’ll also be testing JR Kyushu’s wonderfully named Sweet Train on a two-hour ride between Sasebo and Nagasaki. Designed by the same person as the Seven Stars, Mr. Eiji Mitooka, the Sweet Train features “French-inspired confections that are served during the journey,” according to the Japan Times.

I can’t wait!

Finally, I’ll be flying Japan Air Lines’ Business Class Chicago-Tokyo-Fukuoka round trip. If it’s anything like my last JAL flight, my experience of Japan will begin the moment I enter the cabin.

I’ll be back in this space three weeks from today with my report. In the meantime, please click here to be updated on our 2016 “Japan and the Seven Stars” tour.

Working with our Virtuoso specialists, Windows to Japan, we’re crafting what we think is a magnificent itinerary.

It carefully combines trains, cultural experiences, overnights at ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), visits to gardens and shrines and stunning natural beauty. It takes place at a time when the fall leaves should be spectacular.

And the icing on the cake? Our Nov. 14-18, 2016 Seven Stars in Kyushu luxury rail tour. (Did I mention we’re the first U.S. company to charter the Seven Stars?)

First-come, first-served!  I hope you’ll join us.

Questions: please call 800-478-4881 or 502-897-1725. Or email: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Owen C. Hardy is founder and CEO of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

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