TIMELESS RAIL TRAVEL
5 Captivating Train Journeys
Whoever you are and whatever your age, there is something magical about rail travel.
From a short trip to a trans-continental odyssey, a sedate rail journey allows us to take the time to enjoy the world as it gracefully passes by the window. We can enjoy picnics and refreshments, conversations with strangers and create a vacation of the voyage as much as the destination.
Arduous though it may be, and its tedious terminus far from desirable, even a morning commute to work can be made more enjoyable when traversing the tracks.
Rail travel harks back to a more elegant era, a time of lords and ladies, hat boxes and snuff boxes, cravats and a long0-forgotten Great Gatsby opulence in every detail.
From Alaska’s Danali Star to Europe’s Orient Express, our love affair with iconic rail travel remains strong, its elegances distinct, and its pure sense of escapism as profound as when Hercule Poirot declared “Some of us, in the words of the divine Greta Garbo, want to be alone”, before adeptly ousting his culprit.
Whether travelling in familiar territory or across distant lands, nothing compares to a journey by train. And oh, the places you’ll go.
From the pinnacle of the Andes to Australia’s Red Centre, let us take you on a voyage by train, on five of our favourite experiences in rail travel.
LA NARIZ DEL DIABLO
The unappealingly-titled Devil’s Nose rail route runs through the Ecuadorean Andes and has been, somewhat ominously, declared the most difficult railway ever built due to the deaths of some 2,000 workers during its construction in the early 1900s.
La Nariz del Diablo is just one small section – seven miles (12km) – of the 275-mile (440km) journey between Quito and Guayaquil, but it is this short, steep section that is an exception of rail travel. Descending over 1,600 feet (500m) over its length, the Devil’s Nose uses switchbacks to traverse the decline, running forward into a station, then reversing along the next section before repeating the process and zigzagging its way onwards once more.
If you have reason to travel between Quito and Guayaquil, taking the time to journey by train will reveal the spectacular scenery of a country that is often overlooked. Towering volcanic mountains, deep gorges, cloud forests and cascading rivers will pass by the windows of your impeccably-restored rail carriage and, though tumbling into disrepair only 30 years ago, the track has also been renovated, providing smooth, safe travel for its entire length, especially where you will want it the most – on the spectacular Devil’s Nose.
THE FINEST IN RAIL TRAVEL
Heralded as the most luxurious train in the world, South Africa’s Rovos Rail is certainly one of our favourites. The exquisite train carriages are like rolling time capsules, exquisitely rebuilt without compromise from gilt furnishings to antique timber panelling. The Rovos Rail company covers several journeys, giving you a choice of luxury rail travel experiences, but one absolute regardless of route is the unwavering attention to luxury and detail.
Suites include air conditioning, ensuite bathrooms , room service, even a bath and your own personal butler, and have been creatively renovated to combine the classic stylings of their former glory with every contemporary convenience seamlessly integrated.
A lounge car, observation deck and dining car provide sumptuous public areas and offer a greater sense of space and freedom. There is even a bar and a small gift shop on board, so you will never feel restricted to your cabin during your voyage. Four-course dinners are prepared by world-class chefs, with a full complement of premium beverages and French Champagne. Rovos truly leaves nothing to be desired.
While time aboard the most luxurious train in the world is truly a joy in and of itself, the journey is, of course, why rail travel exists. Ranging from 48 hours to 15 days, the numerous routes weave from the Southern Cape across South Africa, reaching up into Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania, and tracing the western coast into Namibia’s Walvis Bay and Etosha National Park.
When we close our eyes, dream of iconic, early 20th century rail travel, infuse it with the decadence of 1920s aristocracy and lay it all upon a spectacular backdrop of breathtaking scenery, it is Rovos Rail that our imagination paints.
THE INCAN DREAM
When the Inca were active at Machu Picchu, it would take them up to ten days to gather crops and supplies and walk to the mountaintop citadel. Today, it takes ten hours… return, and that’s including four hours spent sightseeing and exploring the ancient ruins.
The Machu Picchu Train is a popular option for those not wishing to exert themselves on the winding walk up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Departing from Cusco, you will be collected from your hotel and taken to the station to board the train, which wends its way up into the Andes, before another transfer takes you by bus from the topmost station to the ruins. The convenience of the transport is vastly overshadowed by the journey itself, and watching the Andes slip past your window is reason enough to climb aboard.
While anyone can take the train, and indeed, many people do, only a select few take full advantage of this spectacular opportunity. You can extend your trip to take in more of the mountainscape and countryside of Peru, book the premium service, complete with luxurious lounge and open observation balcony, or even charter a private carriage for yourself and your guests, complete with its own bar, gourmet menu and balcony.
Regardless of how you travel, the High Andes are stunning, rugged vistas swathed in clouds, rivers tracing canyons carved over millennia and the vibrant colours of the verdant mountains and Andean people. To witness this in quiet repose through the panoramic windows of your luxury coach as the soft, meditative clatter of rail travel transports you into a different world is simply second to none.
OUTBACK RAIL TRAVEL
Australia is big… really big. At its heart, the expansive Red Centre, mile upon endless mile of red-sand desert, fascinating rock formations, untouched gorges and waterways and unparalleled beauty.
The problem is getting there.
To drive requires a sturdy vehicle, extensive supplies and abundant tenacity. You can fly to the heart, but to do so is to bypass so much of the Australian Outback’s splendour and majesty. The Ghan is the perfect answer.
Bisecting the island nation from north to south, the Ghan is internationally recognised as the southern hemisphere’s answer to the Orient Express. Spanning four days and three nights, the diesel-driven engine hauls its luxurious coaches from Darwin in the North to Adelaide on the southern coast every week between April and October. The expanse of an Australian desert sunset is awe-inspiring, the landscapes radiating the multicoloured hues of the sky above and 365 degrees of horizon presenting absolute wonder in every turn. However, it isn’t only the spectacularly setting sun that warrants a journey on the Ghan. Its sumptuous interior and impeccable service transport you in style as you dine on gourmet cuisine and enjoy the serenity of the desert from your elegant private cabin.
Off-train experiences include Alice Springs and the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, and the cave town of Coober Pedy, famed for its incredible opals and underground homes, bars and shops that allow residents to escape the intense heat of the summer months. The natural splendour of Nitmiluk Gorge remains unseen to almost all but the passengers of the Ghan, and this natural wonder of significant indigenous spiritual importance offers another opportunity to alight, stretch limbs and take in sights so few are afforded.
80 percent of Australians, and Australian places of interest, lie on the country’s fringes, but a magical, if hostile, world exists within the interior. It is only with an intense thirst for adventure or the impeccable luxury of the Ghan that one is provided the opportunity to explore this untouched landscape.
THE RAIL TRAVEL BLUES
Sri Lanka, as with many countries, is best known in the realms of tourism for a scattered selection of iconic locations, despite the expansiveness and diversity of the nation.
For almost 150 years, the British Empire imposed its rule and its influence upon the former Ceylon. Though much of this ‘arrangement’ may have been oppressive and far from beneficial, the rail network implemented by the British was one lasting asset that has aided the country for the many years since.
Though some of the railways of Sri Lanka have fallen into disrepair, the track from Kandy to Ella remains, Used as a commuting method for residents and a striking photo opportunity for visitors, the distinctive Blue Train of Sri Lanka is now known by millions around the world, if only due to Instagram influencers hanging from its open doors.
Winding through the hillsides at the island’s centre, the train itself doesn’t boast the luxury of our four other rail travel choices, but what it lacks in opulence it more than compensates for in what lies outside the window. Taking seven hours across just 85 miles (140km), the journey by rail takes twice as long as by taxi, but it affords you a wonderful perspective of the country.
Tea plantations, small villages, mountains adorned with fluffy white clouds and bridges spanning immense canyons are just some of the sights to be seen on this journey of renown, but the perspective you gain isn’t just of the land.
As a functioning commuter service, the Blue Train also allows you to experience the unfettered life of this wonderful country. Talk with locals, sample the flavoursome regional food and let go your inhibitions to enjoy life, unedited.
In this simplicity and realness lies much of the charm of the Blue Train, a reflection of rail travel as it has been for well over a century: functional, sedate, social, and wonderfully relaxing.
Embracing rail travel is to remove the pressing hands of time. Unhurried, unworried, you can watch the world gently pass by, free to wander the carriages, meet new people, gain unique insight into local life and culture and be privy to places only the few might see; destinations unachievable in any way but for two glistening threads tapering endlessly towards the horizon.
Rail travel can be your entire adventure or can be incorporated into a more extensive itinerary. Discuss the possibility of a train journey with your Travel Designer.