Tag Archives: Virtuoso Travel

IRT’s Eleanor Hardy Named Condé Nast Traveler ‘Top Travel Specialist’

24 Mar

DSC_0327 Bunky copy

US TRAVELSPECIALISTS 2020 SEAL TEMPLATE copy

The Society of International Railway Travelers® (IRT) is thrilled to announce that IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy has been named a 2020 World’s Top Travel Specialist by Condé Nast Traveler magazine (CNT).

“I am speechless,” Eleanor told me, uncharacteristically. “I don’t know what to say.”

OK, I’ll say it (even as I admit I am her husband):

Bunky_TransSib

Eleanor on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express for IRT’s 25th anniversary trip from Vladivostok to Moscow. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Eleanor has devoted her professional life to the welfare and happiness of her worldwide list of clients, many of whom call her a friend. This official and prestigious recognition is highly deserved.

Eleanor began her professional life as a newspaper reporter – the kind who won’t take “no” for an answer.

She began working for IRT as soon as Rachel, our second daughter and now IRT Vice President, Sales & Marketing, started second grade.

While I published our IRT magazine, Eleanor took charge of our new travel planning department.

IMG_3696_Bunky_GH Crew_IRTlogo

Eleanor with staff of first journey of the Belmond Grand Hibernian IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

She never looked back.

Within several years, we joined the Virtuoso luxury travel consortium, at Eleanor’s urging. This immediately gave IRT access to the world’s top travel partners.

Meanwhile, she logged millions of miles, on every continent except Antarctica, gaining a deep knowledge of the world’s top luxury trains.

Eleanor’s luxury train “information bank,” coupled with her naturally outgoing personality, are gold for IRT and our clients.

Want the lowdown on sleeping car berths on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Rovos Rail or the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express?

Need info on where to stay in Moscow, Madrid or Lima?

Want the best guide ever in Berlin, Vancouver or Vienna?

Eleanor’s your go-to travel guru.

Bunky_HB copy

Eleanor prepares to travel to Machu Picchu aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

But should people really be thinking about their future travel, given the current world health crisis?

“Ironically, there isn’t a better time,” Eleanor says.

What places do you want to visit?  Which of our World’s Top 25 Trains do you want to ride — or ride again? She says now is the time to be thinking about this for 2021 and 2022.

Bunky_HB1 copy

Pisco sour in hand, Eleanor toasts her trip to Peru’s Machu Picchu aboard the Belmond Andean Explorer. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“Now’s the time to keep dreaming — and to start making those plans,” Eleanor says. “Because I guarantee you, when this crisis ends — and it will — there will be a surge like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Get at the front of the line,” advises this Condé Nast Traveler 2020 Top Travel Specialist. “Let’s start planning now. We will be here when you are ready.”

ElegantBunk

IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy on the VSOE. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

For a complimentary, 15-minute appointment with Eleanor, call (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

Peru by Luxury Rail Tops Bucket Lists for 2020, 2021

9 Mar

Exterior_smallWhat’s so special about our private 11-day Luxury Rail Journey of Peru?

Reason #1: Belmond Andean Explorer

The train is gorgeous, the staff eager to please. And the off-train excursions – sunrise at Lake Titticaca, floating villages of Uros and Taquile, Sumbay Cave paintings – are other-worldly. Our 11-day Luxury Rail Journey of Peru includes a 3-day trip on the Belmond Andean Explorer from Cusco-Arequipa.

Other advice?

Treat yourself to a Junior Suite (only two per departure). They include a spacious double bed, private bathroom and shower, ample storage and large picture windows.

BAE_JuniorSuite

Junior Suite on Belmond Andean Explorer. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

Nurse an expertly-prepared pisco sour from its open-air platform as you travel through wild Andean landscapes and wind-swept altiplano.

Then end your day with an 80-minute Andean Ritual Massage in the very popular Spa Car. (ask us to book it for you in advance, as spa times sell out fast.)

Reason #2: Belmond Hiram Bingham

Step back in time and board the 1920s-style Pullman carriages of this delightful day train to legendary Machu Picchu, the Incan “lost city in the clouds.”

DSC_0745

IRT co-owners Owen & Eleanor Hardy enjoy the open-air platform on Belmond Hiram Bingham.

The 3-hour trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes includes a sumptuous brunch, live Andean music, and breathtaking sights of the Urubamba River and Andes – best seen from the open-air observation car.

Bonus: our Luxury Rail Journey of Peru includes two journeys on the Belmond Hiram Bingham. Enjoy a daylight brunch one way and a multi-course dinner by starlight the other.

Reason #3: Food Scene

Peru has its finger on the pulse of the foodie movement – and nowhere is this more apparent than on Belmond’s two luxury trains.

Star chef Diego Muñoz heads up the operation at Belmond Andean Explorer, planning menus based around regional seasonality and availability.

DSC_0617

Chefs are trained at Belmond Hotel Monasterio. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

In addition to delicious meals on the trains, our itinerary also includes meals at some of the country’s most beloved institutions: Restaurant Tragaluz in Lima; El Huerto in Urubamba; Limo Restaurant in Cusco, to name a few.

Reason #4: 5-Star Lodging

Our itinerary includes some of South America’s most exclusive addresses: Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley; Belmond Hotel Monasterio in Cusco; and Belmond Miraflores Park in Lima.

One night is also included at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge—right outside Machu Picchu. (IRT Tip: request TWO nights at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge for an even more relaxed experience at the famous Incan citadel.)

Bonus: receive complimentary massages at all Belmond properties when you book with IRT.

riosagrado_peru

Belmond Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley.

Reason #5: Peruvian people

Peruvians are some of the most welcoming and fun we’ve met anywhere. From private guides and hotel and train staff, to regular people on the street, they’re sincerely happy you’re in their country.

Reason #6: Easy flights, No Jet Lag

Nonstop Miami-Lima flights clock in at just under 6 hours, so travel from North America to Peru lasts just a day.

And no extra time is needed to shake off jet lag. (Peru is equivalent to Eastern Time half the year and Central Time the other half.)

********

For more information, or to book your own luxury rail journey of Peru, call The Society of International Railway Travelers at (800) 478-4881; (1-502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada); or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Click here for more details on our 11-day private luxury rail journey of Peru journey.

Top Five Reasons to Choose GoldLeaf Service on Rocky Mountaineer, Prestige Class on the Canadian

2 Mar
Rocky Mountaineer_River with train

Rocky Mountaineer. IRT Photo by Nora B. Elzy.

Considering Canada this year?

Go for the gold. Or, rather, the GoldLeaf.

Once you’ve experienced the Rocky Mountaineer’s double-decked GoldLeaf Dome service — as I did — you won’t settle for anything less.

Rocky Mountaineer_GoldLeaf Attendant 1

Youthful, energetic, and dedicated to their passengers: Rocky Mountaineer hosts serve drinks and snacks as they provide expert info about the passing scene. IRT Photo by Nora Elzy

Here are IRT’s top five reasons to book GoldLeaf on Rocky Mountaineer:

  1. The curved panoramic windows allow for 180-degree viewing and are unbeatable for spotting wildlife like bears & eagles.
  2. The lower-level dining area is like a swanky restaurant on wheels, with food to match. All meals and drinks on the train are included — and the chef bends over backwards to accommodate dietary preferences.
  3. The seats are utterly relaxing. I wish I could have brought mine home! They boast several seat-back positions and heating functions. You can even rotate your seat 180 degrees to make a miniature seating area for four.
  4. The wind-in-the-face, outdoor viewing platform at the end of the train is perfect for drinking in the fresh Canadian air — and maybe even spotting a moose.
  5. The friendly & energetic attendants, who point out landmarks along the way, offer snacks and beverages and are always on the lookout for wildlife. (Staff-to-guest ratio is higher than in the single-level cars.)
Rocky Mountaineer_GoldLeaf observation deck

Rocky Mountaineer Gold Class includes wind-in-the-face viewing from an open-air platform. IRT photo by Nora Elzy

(And for those extra-discerning travelers, kick your Rocky Mountaineer adventure up another notch and book our exclusive Ultra-Luxe Canadian Rockies Adventure, with all-private touring, transfers, & upgraded hotels.)

*******

I began my Canadian rail adventure with a totally different, yet no less luxurious, train: VIA Rail’s retro-styled, silver overnight classic, the Canadian.

Again, your most important decision will be to select great accommodations. In this case, that means booking VIA’s Prestige Class.

The list of Prestige Class perks is almost as long as the Canadian itself. Here are my top five:

  1. The large double bed and en-suite bathroom with shower;
  2. Unlimited free drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic);
  3. Reserved seating in the Park Car during peak viewing hours;
  4. 24-hour butler service;
  5. First choice for meal sittings.

For a full list of Prestige Class perks, click here.

RS398_VIA_Travellers_Long_Haul_Canadian_71_sRGB

The Canadian’s classic diner sports such touches as charming Canadian birds etched in glass. Photo provided by VIA Rail Canada

The most important Prestige Class amenity for me was the exclusive access I had to the Park Car at the end of the train.

The lower rear half of the car boasts a well-appointed lounge with plenty of windows. The lower front half includes the Prestige bar with dedicated Prestige-only staff and ever-present snacks and beverages.

The upper level is almost entirely glass with — most important of all during high season — reserved seating for Prestige passengers. Watch the stars with an after-dinner drink and revel in the relaxation.

Sunrise on the Canadian - 1/11/11

VIA Rail Canada’s Prestige Class includes reserved seats in the Canadian’s classic dome cars. IRT Photo by Bruce Anderson

Finally, I can’t talk about the Canadian without praising the staff. Many are “lifers,” having worked for VIA for years. From their quirky Canadian humor to their quick assistance, I wanted for nothing during my journey.

My last suggestion might be most important: these trains book up fast, especially in peak months. So don’t delay.

For more info, click here for our journeys on Rocky Mountaineer; click here for our expertly-designed Trans-Canada Adventure that pairs the Canadian with the Rocky Mountaineer.

Email us, or call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if you’re outside of the US/Canada).

Nora Elzy is a Luxury Travel Associate with The Society of International Railway Travelers. She joined our team in December, 2016. She is a graduate of Centre College. Nora most recently traveled with IRT to Italy and the UK for a memorable trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Among her other notable international travels was her study abroad in Japan.

Eastern & Oriental Express Still Southeast Asia’s Brightest Luxury Rail Star

25 Nov
EO-EXT-VIEW-12 smaller size.jpg

The Eastern & Oriental Express.

IRT’s Angela Walker travels to Thailand next week to inspect the Eastern & Oriental Express, one of our World’s Top 25 Trains®, and sister train to Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

What should Angela expect from her 4-day Bangkok to Singapore adventure?

DSC_0386 panupong closeup.jpg

Gracious, friendly steward on the E&O. IRT Photo by E. Hardy

Just take it from IRT guest J. Samuelson, who traveled on the October 2019 departure of Fables of the Peninsula:

“That Eastern & Oriental is something else. It’s a wonderful train. The most impressive part of the whole thing is the staff. They [the train staff] were perfect. They were attentive. Your wine glass was never empty. The food is exceptional…. The presentation is just as good as you’d find in any fine restaurant.”

And, the E&O has undergone several IRT-approved enhancements to its services that make it more all-inclusive, more personalized, and — we think — even more thrilling than before.

The four most exciting new enhancements, in our opinion?

1. All well drinks and house wines are now included (premium drinks are additional). Cheers to that!

2. The train has slashed its maximum capacity dramatically, from 132 to just 82 guests — and typically runs with around 65. The result is an exclusive, clubby feel.

EO-EXT-VIEW-02[1].jpg

The open-air observation platform on the train is an IRT traveler favorite.

3. The train now offers guests choice in off-train touring, with an eye towards accommodating those wishing to be more physically active.

For instance, on the classic Bangkok-Singapore and Singapore-Bangkok journeys, guests can choose between a classic cruise along the Khwae Yai River and a visit to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre; a cycle tour through farms and fields to a village; or a culinary tour to a vibrant market and an ancient noodle house.

DSC_0051 Obs Car Attendants 2.jpg

Lounge car attendants. IRT Photo by E. Hardy.

On the once-a-year Fables of the Peninsula journey, guests can choose between a tour of the Sungai Palas Tea Garden, where they will experience the tea-making process “from bush to cup,” or a hike with a naturalist on the Jim Thompson trail in the Titiwangsa mountain range.

4. Guests in Presidential Suites now enjoy an even longer list of amenities, including private limousine transfers to and from train stations in Bangkok & Singapore; a bottle of champagne and fruit basket on arrival; complimentary mini bar, stocked with a selection of spirits, local beer, soft drinks and chocolate; complimentary on board pressing service; more.

Two parting IRT tips?

1. Extend your Southeast Asian journey at one of our five-star partner hotels.

Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor is a sparkling gem near Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s fabled temple complex; Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is a tropical oasis in the Laotian mountains. Both are just a short flight from Bangkok.

2. If you want to travel in 2020, don’t delay. Space is already at a premium, especially on the once-a-year 6-day Fables of the Peninsula journey in October.

**************

The Eastern and Oriental Express runs from September through April. All cabins are en-suite. A few Pullman cabins for sole use are available on each departure without a single supplement. Inquire for availability.

For more information, or to book, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or email 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.

Royal Canadian Pacific, N. America’s Only Luxury Sleeper Train, Returning!

10 Oct
Nate and dome car mountains_edited

Enjoying the view from the Royal Canadian Pacific’s new dome car. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The Royal Canadian Pacific is back — complete with a brand-new full dome car!

After a five-year hiatus, the luxury sleeper train plans to offer two departures to the public in June and July next year. A third exclusive IRT departure in September 2020 is also under consideration.

Waiter with hot choco.JPEG

Service with a smile on the RCP. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

I traveled to Calgary two weeks ago to inspect the train and learn more about its plans for the future.

My takeaway?

IRT travelers will delight in the RCP’s opulent 1920s-era carriages, with all en-suite cabins, comfortable reading nooks, and outdoor platforms sprinkled generously throughout.

Its professional, full-time staff and its five-star cuisine also will not disappoint.

And they’ll appreciate its historical bonafides (Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, and JFK & Jackie were all passengers).

Of course, the dramatic Canadian Rockies scenery is as lovely as ever—especially when viewed from the comfort of the brand-new glass dome observation car.

Dessert with maple leaf.JPEG

Meringue with homemade Scottish shortbread and lavender honey — crowned with a Maple leaf. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The novelty of a luxury sleeper train returning to North America will excite rail enthusiasts everywhere. We here at IRT predict high interest from travelers—especially confirmed luxury rail enthusiasts.

Ever since the RCP stopped offering public departures five years ago, the continent has been devoid of anything similar.

Itineraries are still being confirmed but will likely include a 5-day circle tour beginning and ending in Calgary. A 4-day Calgary-Vancouver tour also is being considered.

Both tours are expected to offer off-train activities in Golden, Banff, and Lake Louise. Pricing is also still under consideration.

Interested in joining an RCP 2020 luxury tour next year? Let us know now, and we’ll put you on our “First Notice” list.

Click here to register your interest, and we’ll contact you as soon as we have details.

Click here to read more about the Royal Canadian Pacific itself.

IMG_0666.JPEG

The author outside the RCP’s new full-length dome car. IRT Photo by Nate Kremer

For more information, or to book any other of our journeys on the World’s Top 25 Trains, call us at (800) 478-4881, or +1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada. You can also e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Tracks and mountains.JPEG

View from the rear platform of the Royal Canadian Pacific. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

 

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.

Belmond Grand Hibernian Transports Guests Through Ireland, Land of Legends

13 Sep
HorseCart_DSC_0131.jpg

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.

Server with champagne_outside_train.jpg

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).

Chocktaw_Memorial.jpg

“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:

shutterstock_1203990454.jpg

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.

shutterstock_780282646.jpg

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.

shutterstock_97021640.jpg

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.

fullsizeoutput_bb6

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.

Grand Alpine Express: Stunning Vistas, Staggering Heights, Poignant Memories

19 Jul
GEDE exterior _goldeneaglepic_small

The Golden Eagle Danube Express.

The 11-day Grand Alpine Express on the Golden Eagle Danube Express is a blast from my past.

Let me explain: does anyone else harbor fond memories of being a young person abroad for the first time, hopping around on a Eurorail pass with 10 francs in your pocket? I know I do.

As a college student some 50 years ago, I made my first European train journeys to many of the places highlighted on the Grand Alpine Express itinerary.

Grand Alpine Route map_without_text

Route map of the Grand Alpine Express itinerary.

Budapest. Vienna. Zürich. The Semmering Pass. The tiny Achensee railway, the Tyrollean Alps. They were exciting, friendly and utterly beautiful.

(And make no mistake: the Golden Eagle Danube Express is no first-class commuter train. It’s held a spot on our World’s Top 25 Trains® list since its inception in 2015. In the past few years, it’s gotten even more luxurious with the addition of 12 ultra-spacious Superior Deluxe cabins, which IRT travelers especially love. Click here for more information about the Golden Eagle Danube Express itself.)

swiss photo from golden eagle

The Swiss and Austrian Alps figure prominently on the Grand Alpine Express tour.

Over the course of my career, I’ve traveled by luxury train through Mexico, Africa, Russia, India, South America, China, Southeast Asia, the ‘Stans…and on and on.

All of these trips were over the top, exotic and unforgettable.

2017-02-15-13-08-33-lake-bled

Lake Bled in Slovenia, one of the stops on the Grand Alpine Express itinerary.

But recently, I’m craving a trip down memory lane — albeit in the comfort of a Superior Deluxe cabin — courtesy of the Grand Alpine Express!

Even if you don’t share my nostalgia, there are plenty of other reasons to go. Just take it from IRT traveler Mrs. J. Schiermeyer, who just returned from the May 2019 Grand Alpine Express journey in a Superior Deluxe cabin:

“There’s only one problem with this train,” Mrs. Schiermeyer said.

“Eventually, they make you get off. And I don’t want to get off!”

Deluxe_Superior_Cabin_(7)[1]

Superior Deluxe cabin on the Golden Eagle Danube Express.

The Grand Alpine Express tour runs just once a year.

Tour dates are May 8-18, 2020.

For more information, and to book, please call (800) 478-4881 in the U.S. and Canada, +1 502-897-1725 elsewhere, or e-mail tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Space (especially in the coveted Superior Deluxe cabins) is limited.


Owen C. Hardy is the CEO, founder, and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

 

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Adds 3 New Grand Suites for 2020

28 Jun
Grand Suite Vienna_2020

New Vienna Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Three new Grand Suites will join the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for the 2020 season, Belmond, the train operator, has just announced. This brings the total number of Grand Suites up to six.

The new Grand Suites — named Vienna, Prague, & Budapest, after three iconic European capitals to which the VSOE travels every year — will reflect each city’s unique history and architectural style, while embracing the train’s Old World charm and meticulous attention to detail. They join the three existing Grand Suites, named Venice, Paris, & Istanbul.

I was the only advisor from the Western Hemisphere to inspect the first three Suites on their inaugural journey in April, 2018. Read my glowing reporting here and here — and see my video above for the grand reveal of Istanbul Grand Suite!

After seeing the Suites in person, I had a serious hunch that our travelers would love the opulent design and the amenities, and I was absolutely right.

venice with bed, couch, wall goood

Venice Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

IRT travelers love the dedicated 24-hour cabin steward, the caviar and free-flowing champagne, the included private transfers to and from the train, and the option to dine privately in their cabin whenever they wish. And the private bathroom with underfloor heating, rain shower, sink, & toilet answered the prayers of those who didn’t want to travel on the VSOE previously because of the lack of en-suite facilities.

fullsizeoutput_5225

Lead Steward Francesco in Istanbul Grand Suite. Only the most senior staff attend guests in Grand Suites. IRT Photo by Rachel M, Hardy

The suites also include a large double bed that can convert into twin beds, and a separate living area with couch, table, & chair.

With only a few on each departure, the Grand Suites sell out in the blink of an eye.

sink and tile istanbul

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

The first set of Grand Suites won several design awards, including the AHEAD World’s Best Suite, Gold Key Awards – Best Specialist Design and the Historic Renovation category in the Contract Interior Awards. The suites were also nominated for the Inside Awards, Civic Culture & Transport and the Blueprint Awards.

We at IRT also won our very own Grand Suite distinction, as the #1 global seller of the suites in 2018 (click here to read about it). When you book your suite with IRT, you book with the world’s most experienced Grand Suite luxury rail specialists.

IMG_0193

Belmond staff present IRT with our very special award — a vintage VSOE sign with plaque in recognition of our Grand Suite sales.

Like their existing Grand Suite sisters, the new suites will  “evoke the individual city experience, whether it is walking along the Charles Bridge in Prague, or exploring the contrasting Gothic and Ottoman architecture of Budapest. They will pay tribute to the romance and glamour of Europe, and the golden era of rail travel,” says Gary Franklin, VP, Trains & Cruises, Belmond.

Grand Suite Prague_2020.jpg

Prague Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Baroque and Gothic architecture, along with theatrical flourishes in rich golds and maroons, will be represented in the Prague Grand Suite. The balance of ancient and modern will be captured through layers of hand-embroidered cushions and Cubist-inspired mosaics. Hints of red garnet will appear in the marquetry.

The Grand Palaces and imperial nature of the Austrian capital will be reflected with an ornate and classical design in the Vienna Grand Suite. Rich hues of gold and emerald green will reflect the romance of the city. An ornate curved headboard with feminine silk fabric panels will contrast with touches of dark wood.

Grand Suite Budapest_2020.jpg

Budapest Grand Suite.

The Budapest Grand Suite will capture the essence of both sides of the Danube river, taking equal inspiration from Gothic and Ottoman architecture. The suite will be adorned with intricate marquetry and sumptuous silk embroidery.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express travels throughout Europe from March to November and travels to Istanbul from Paris, and back again, once annually in late August.

 

Steward outside train

Paolo, one of the tireless stewards on the VSOE, welcomes guests aboard at Venice Santa Lucia Station. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

A one-night journey in a Grand Suite from Venice to London or vice versa starts at £6,200 per person.

To book your Grand Suite, 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.

Toasting a Classic: IRT Advisor Revisits the Belmond Royal Scotsman

21 Jun

 

RS Bagpiper - Cropped Copy.jpg

Making a grand entrance at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

 

Déjà vu washes over me as I walk into Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, where I am immediately greeted by a kilted, bewhiskered bagpiper straight out of central casting.

He leads me and other passengers to a red carpet running beside the gleaming carriages of the Belmond Royal Scotsman, where train manager Fred Laseen welcomes each of us aboard.

Dining staff pour forth to welcome us — more déjà vu. I sip a glass of sparkling wine as we pull away from the station.

I think back to the last time I was aboard this train…

*

It’s been 15 years since my 2004 journey on the Belmond Royal Scotsman — long before ‘Belmond’ was added to the name, actually.

And I am thrilled to report that the grand dame of the Scottish rails is more wonderful than ever.

What differences there are – the Bamford Haybarn Spa Car, added in 2017, reinvigorated interiors and textiles throughout – underscore the train’s commitment to evolving alongside the wants of its guests. Other elements – food quality and service –  have stayed exactly the same, much to my delight.

*

A staff member shows me to my cabin.

It’s a cozy affair, with twin beds configured in an “L” shape. It also sports a dressing table and stool with one locking drawer, full-length wardrobe, ceiling fan, and full bathroom with toilet, sink, shower, and towel warmer.

IMG_9748.JPEG

Twin cabin on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Other amenities include robes, slippers, and Bamford toiletries. The arched ceilings, marquetry, and paintings of kilted soldiers of yore add subtle touches of old-school luxury.

I could nap in my comfortable quarters all day, but the party’s already started in the public cars.

*

I order a Lagavulin 16. It’s an extra-peaty single-malt Scotch whisky, which I enjoy in the brisk Scottish air from the open platform on the back of the observation car. (All drinks are included, so I recommend you try a range of the more unusual whiskys and cocktails.)

IMG_1007.JPEG

Enjoying the fresh air from the observation platform. IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Some time later, we are called to dinner. The dining car’s tables gleam with stark white linen and fine china and crystal, all embellished with the stately Great Scottish & Western Railway Company logo.

DSC_0221.JPG

Fine china, crystal, and and fresh flowers set the table on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Two of the four dinners on my journey are formal. Men are asked to wear dark suits at a minimum, although some opt for tuxedos or kilts, which can be rented locally in Edinburgh.  The splashes of tartan add greatly to the festive atmosphere. Women are asked to don cocktail attire.

RS_Dinner.jpeg

Formal dinner on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo courtesy of  Angela Walker.

The meals are exceptional. Carefully crafted by Glasgow native Mark Tamburrini, the train’s head chef since 2010, they feature local Scottish ingredients.

Two of my favorites: Scottish salmon with dill, cucumber and cauliflower, with a perfect horseradish sauce; and roasted scallops with chorizo and sweetcorn croquettes in a corn purée.

IMG_9731_cropped

One of the talented kitchen staff stops to admire her creation. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Wines are carefully paired with each course. And even for those non-wine lovers, the enthusiastic descriptions provided by staff member Matej are impossible to resist.

IMG_0048

Canapés served in the lounge car before dinner. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

For that matter, all of the 12 staff are exceedingly helpful and professional. Max, the head waiter, dutifully goes over the day’s menu with each passenger to ensure there are no dietary issues.

(Those with dietary issues are painstakingly accommodated. The vegetarians, gluten-free, and dairy-free eaters among us are delivered a modified version of each dish).

Want to discover your favorite Scotch whisky and learn more about the country’s local specialty? The indefatigable Jarryd will recommend one of the countless options on board.

Kilts_crop

Guests dressed in traditional kilts before dinner on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

He and Matej tend the bar until the last passenger retires (which is sometimes not until the wee hours of the morning). Then — somehow—they’re up the next morning with coffee and tea to greet the earliest risers.

Last but not least is the Bamford Haybarn Spa Car, which I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. It made its debut two years ago.*

Stepping into the treatment room, I breathe in the lavender scent, and am transported into a cocoon of tranquility. Danielle, the on-board spa therapist, impressively manages the movement of the train while executing massages, facials, manicures and pedicures.  The gentle rocking further enhances the relaxing treatment.

Angela_Whisky_crop

Enjoying the local specialty, whisky, before dinner. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

The after-dinner entertainment in the observation car is another highlight. Colin and Iain, two cheeky chaps playing guitar and fiddle, encourage singalongs on our first night.

On our second night, Highlander Ray Owens brings to life the history of Scotland with his impressive storytelling.

RS at Strathcarron

The Belmond Royal Scotsman at Strathcarron. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

And on the final evening, Brian and Allison play the keyboard and violin before inviting guests onto the platform, where they teach us reels and jigs. It is a fitting, fun, and joyous end to our journey.

A few things have changed in the 15 years since my first trip – new faces, a spa car, updated finishings – but the high standards of food, service and comfort are the same.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be so lucky as to revisit the Belmond Royal Scotsman again in 2034.

*The Belmond Royal Scotsman’s spa car makes it one of only three luxury trains in the world to boast similar spa cars. The other two are the Deccan Odyssey in India and the Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru.

Stay tuned for my next blog about off-train activities on the Belmond Royal Scotsman. Click here to subscribe to our blog.

Ready to book your own adventure on the Belmond Royal Scotsman?

Click here to complete our online booking form, or call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 501-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada). Or e-mail us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

***************************************

 

Angela Walker is a 20-year veteran of The Society of International Railway Travelers. She is VP, Operations, for IRT, and a luxury travel advisor. She has been on most of our World’s Top 25® Trains, some — like Belmond Royal Scotsman — more than once.

 

 

 

All Tracks Lead to Istanbul on These World’s Top 25 Trains®

24 May
Hagia_ge_2

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Two highly-coveted rail tours run from Western Europe to Istanbul.  Which to choose?

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) is world-famous, with its historic collection of restored 1920s and 1930s era cars. Its high prices are worth every penny, given the train’s history, stellar service, cuisine, off-train tours and all-round attention to detail.

Paolo and friend outside train in Innsbruck

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Innsbruck, Austria. IRT Photo by R. Hardy

Plus, it oozes romance and glamour.

But the cost for a twin cabin on its most iconic departure, the once-a-year Paris-Istanbul journey, is about £15,500 per person in 2020. You don’t even want to know what that is in US dollars!

EF_DETrainWithTrees

Golden Eagle Danube Express. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

Enter Golden Eagle Danube Express, based in Budapest. It’s a very different train — and also on our World’s Top 25 Trains® list. Its style is more laid-back and comfortable. No tuxes required.

balkan odyssey2 749_edited

Lounge car in the Golden Eagle Danube Express. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

It offers a generous drinks allowance, including wine with lunch and dinner. It also features intimate, behind-the-scenes sightseeing off the train. What’s more, most cabins on the GEDE feature private bathroom and shower (something that all but 3 of the priciest suites on the VSOE are lacking).

DE-Superior_APP7187phnet

Superior Deluxe Cabin on the Golden Eagle Danube Express.

And, on its Balkan Explorer itinerary (running June 23-July 3, 2020) the Golden Eagle Danube Express covers nine countries in 11 days as it meanders from Venice to Istanbul. (The countries are Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Boznia & Herzegovena, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.)

Pricing for the 2020 Balkan Explorer journey starts at $9,395 per person — $17,995 per person for the largest and most luxurious accommodation, the Superior Deluxe cabin, pictured above.

balkan odyssey2 953.JPG

Stari Most, or Mostar Bridge, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, a highlight on the Balkan Explorer itinerary. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Nothing breathes “romance” like the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

But if you prefer to kick back and relax in between high-octane “off-shore” touring — go for the Golden Eagle Danube Express.

Whichever tour you choose, know that the best spots go up to a year in advance, or more.

The Balkan Explorer journey runs June 23-July 3, 2020. Click here for full itinerary, details and pricing. Click here for details of the Golden Eagle Danube Express train.

The Paris-Istanbul journey runs August 28-September 2, 2020. Click here for full itinerary details and pricing. Click here for details of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train.

To book: call us at (800) 478-4881, +1 (502) 897-1725 outside of USA / Canada. Or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Owen C. Hardy is CEO, founder, and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: