by: José Berrocoso
There´s no better way to travel than a train holiday; soaking up ever-changing landscapes as they roll past your window, sharing time with the local people, waking up each day with a new place to explore.
A rail holiday often has a romantic appeal, but in many countries it´s also surprisingly comfortable, efficient and affordable. Best of all it gives you the chance to meet and mingle with your fellow passengers, immersing yourself in local life.
From the heart of Australia to Machu Picchu or Cape Town; stepping onto platform 9¾ to catch the train that took Harry Potter to Hogwarts; or live the Maharajas experience in a palace on wheels. These 5 adventures are the most amazing journeys you can take on rails this year.
A LUXURY PALACE ON WHEELS: THE MAHARAJAS EXPRESS
Route: 5 different itineraries across India
Suffused with nostalgia and drenched in luxury, Maharajas Express rail tours transport you back into an era of elegant travelling reminiscent of the romance of Indian Maharajas. Almost half-a-mile long it’s not just a train, it´s a luxury palace on wheels that has truly redefined the luxury and confort over rail. It recreates the lifestyle of a princely era.
Flagged off in 2010 as a recreation of the exquisite carriages used to transport the ruling maharajas of a bygone era, the train offers 7 pan-Indian itineraries crisscrossing across some of the most fascinating terrains and covering some of the most prominent tourist destinations across India.
With the itineraries consisting of a tasteful blend of heritage, culture and exclusive insider experiences, a journey on board is one of the most fulfilling rail journeys in the world.
From the desert Kingdom of Rajashtan to the Western Ghats in Maharashtra and from the holy Ghats of Varanasi to the Classical Khajuraho temples, each of the signature journeys is a treat to undertake.
Maharajas Express carries a total of 84 passengers in elegantly appointed cabins which include a lavish presidential suite spanning over an entire carriage. There are two restaurants, a lounge bar equipped with library and a souvenir shop to indulge the guests during their journey. Each salon is named after a legendary jewel of a Maharaja, from heera (diamond) to panna (emerald).
THE GHAN: AUSTRALIA´S GREATEST RAIL JOURNEY
Route: from Adelaide to Darwin
In the boundless island continent of Australia, too often visitors and citizens fly right over the top and out of the country rather than seeing what’s in the middle. Because of the vast distances of unpopulated areas, Australians mainly travel the country by aeroplane. But there’s something to be said for seeing the in-between. That´s what makes the Ghan expedition so special.
Spanning 2,979 km, the journey takes 48 hours to complete and is a legendary rail service that has been operating since 1878. Originally known as the Afghan Express, The Ghan takes its name from the 19th century Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia and helped to explore the country’s remote interior.
Boarding The Ghan in Adelaide for Alice Springs and Darwin, the Ghan experience ia three-night, four-day journey. You´ll experience one of the most fascinating great train journeys of the world. You´ll marvel at the spectacular colours of the outback, the spinifex plains and slat pans of the vast interior and the rugged MacDonnell Ranges before travelling on to the tropical splendour of Darwin and the Top End. At every stop, a number of off-board excursions are offered to passengers. Most are included in the cost of the ticket, while some are optional extras.
IN THE COMFORT OF SOUTH AMERICA´S FIRST LUXURY SLEEPER TRAIN
Route: Cusco – Lake Titicaca – Arequipa City
Belmond Andean Explorer is South America´s first luxury train that combines genuine daytime getaways with sleeping accomodations at night, all while traversing the Peruvian Andes. The train travels along one of the highest train routes in the world, crossing through breathtaking cities on its way from Cusco, the ancient city of the Icncas, to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, the ‘White city’, and exploring natural wonders and ancient kingdoms on one and two-night trips.
The train, which can carry up to 48 passengers, has been built for entertaining, with a lounge car complete with grand piano and live music in the evenings. There’s also a small library with volumes on Peruvian cities to visit, a gift shop and a spa. The caboose, an open-air observation car, is where you can appreciate breathtaking, 230-degree views of the varied Andean terrain, which encompasses volcanoes, grassland, desert, lakes and forest.
Interior designs by Inge Moore of The Gallery HBA, are inspired by the texture of Peru’s hand-woven fabrics and the soft tones of the Alpaca wool blended with Andean slate greys, creating a sense of calm thus enabling guests to unwind, relax and enjoy the journey.
SOUTH AFRICA´S ‘BLUE JEWEL’
Route: Cape Town to Pretoria
Southern Africa has always attracted adventurous and romantic souls. But it was not until 1923, when the first deluxe train was introduced between Cape Town and Pretoria, that truly luxurious train travel became a reality. The train with its distinctive sapphire-blue carriages was known as the ‘Union Limited’. However, people soon began referring to them as ‘those Blue Trains’ and so… a legend was born! Its name was changed officially to ‘The Blue Train’ in 1946.
The route is a 30-hour journey of 1,600 km through some of South Africa’s most diverse and spectacular scenery. During the journey, the train makes two stops, one at the diamond town of Kimberley for a guided tour at the largest man-made hole in the world, and the other for a guided tour of the quaint hamlet of Matjiesfontein, who’s roots are still firmly set in the historic Victorian era.
The Blue Trains is an all-inclusive experience offering a combination of unsurpassed luxury travel, five star-accommodation, fine cuisine, personalised butler service and routes that offer breath-taking views of the South African countryside from the comfort of your private suite or from any of the train’s exquisite lounges.
ALL THE WAY TO HOGWARTS!
Route: Fort William to Mallaig
Some say that the West Highland Line is the greatest rail journey in the United Kingdom. In the summer, the Jacobite steam train travels along the route in addition to the regular trains. The steam train had a starring role as the Hogwarts Express taking Harry Potter from Platform 9 ¾ all the way to Howgarts.
This 135 km round trip boards in Fort William, near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. Once you are on board the Jacbote, you´ll cross the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct, whilst enjoying views of Lochshiel from your window, another key location in the films. The train then goes to Mallaig, a fishing port with plenty of restaurant and shops to explore.
Fans of the books and films dress up in their best Harry Potter costumes, so expect to see plenty of witches, wizards and Dementors wandering around!