Speed is a constant in our day-to-day modern lives, which makes taking a vacation on a train so appealing: it’s a throwback to a time when the journey was as exciting as the destination.
Written by Pasquale Casullo
Combining first-class service, stunning interiors, beautiful vistas, and one-of-a-kind experiences, these top-notch train rides have all the trappings of an era where luxury was at its most opulent, with a modern twist.
Departing every Thursday morning throughout the year, the Andean Explorer is South America's first luxury sleeper train — in every respect: each cabin comes with a non-folding, proper double-size bed.
Ensuring guests have a good sleep and never miss any vistas in darkness, the train stops motion each night. Travelling from Cusco (the ancient capital of the Inca empire) to Arequipa, it is a slow, serene three-day, two-night journey through twists and turns at high altitudes.
Off-board, explore with your fellow sixty-eight passengers to Raqch'i (an archaeological site), Colca Canyon (the second-largest gorge in the world), and Lake Titicaca (for quayside drinks, music, and flavour.)
Back on the train, enjoy seasonal, local food (such as alpaca tortellini) made by celebrated chef Diego Munuz, surrounded by lampshades the colour of andean lupins, hand-woven textiles in Inca patterns, and polished filigree-lined walls, all while chugging past snow-capped mountains and wooly wildlife.
Other than Agatha Christie's Detective Poirot - and, well, a murder mystery story – the modern-day Orient Express is missing nothing from its snazzy heyday.
Summoning the bygone era of steam-powered locomotives, the romance of travelling by train, everything from the original 1920s and 1930s design was gracefully restored: Lalique glass carvings, glossy wood panelling, marquetry engravings, rich velvet curtains, silver-service dining, as well as finely-attired passengers.
Of course, keeping with the spirit of the occasion, you may never be overdressed: do bring tuxedos, patent leather pumps, gowns, gloves, and even a top hat if particularly daring. After enjoying some bubbly in the Champagne bar, and perhaps a dinner of Brittany lobsters, retreat to the zebra stripe-upholstered observation car while clattering through years past.
Continuing Japan's eminence in rail technology, the Shiki Shama is a champagne-and-gold coloured luxury knockout.
It puts pleasure over pace, travelling round-trip from, and to, Tokyo at one-third the speed of the fastest bullet train, which means more time rolling in this high-demand, airy, sexy hotel on wheels, filled with warm cedar panelling, fireplaces, curvy floor-to-ceiling observation car windows, a cuisine concept by Michelin-starred chef Katshiro Nakamura, twenty-four-hour butler service, and even an occasional piano recital.
And yes, there are some stops, if you can disembark: sightseeing, hot springs, wineries.
Of the seventeen suites for thirty-four passengers, the grandest are in Car 7, featuring a split-level "maisonette" room and a spacious full bath complete with a deep, square, traditional Hinoki cypress tub. Now, remember, this is a train.
Oh, Canada, our home and massive land. The Canadian line allows for an intimate, sweeping view of our sprawling country that no other method of transportation can provide. Travelling from Toronto to Vancouver (or vise-versa), this four-day, three-night voyage passes a whopping 4,466-kilometres of placid prairie fields, rugged lake country, picture-perfect towns, as well as the awe-inspiring snowy peaks of the Rockies.
There are no lengthy stops along the way; this trip is all about the journey. A prestige package offers a cabin for two, featuring dedicated concierge, a la carte dining options, and activities such as wine tastings, and interactive discussions on local history, geography and culture - in between all that observing and relaxing while click-clacking across this vast terrain.
Offering insight into Australia's less-populated, less-travelled fiery middle, the Ghan is a 2,979-kilometre deep dive in-between the land down under.
Pulled by two flame-red locomotives, from Darwin to Adelaide, the thirty-six carriages provide everything necessary for an engaging four-day, three-night journey: nine restaurants (salt-water barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet are some specialties), a smart bar, and platinum-level cabins with double-size beds and window views out of both sides of the train.
Originally called the "Afghan Express," named for the camelers who blazed a trail through the green plains and red soil from north to south, outings off-board include an outback experience in Katherine, a full day exploring Alice Springs, throwing spears using a woomera and painting in indigenous Nitmiluk, and an optional scenic day-tour flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuna. There is no greater way to comprehend the other part of Australia.
Linking Pretoria and Cape Town, the well-loved electric-blue Blue Train leaves riders wishing the ever-popular, 27-hour trip was longer. Referred to as "the window to the soul of South Africa," it traverses 1,600-kilometres, from around magnificent mountain ranges, through arid desert landscapes, and over untamed Savannah grasslands teeming with flowers and wildlife.
Passengers can take in the sights while basking in "forced relaxation," and puffing on provided Montecristo cigars while being tended to by the white-gloved butler service. There is but one stop: a tiny town called Matjiesfontein, in which a rollicking ten-minute tour is given by a man called "Show Time Johnny," who is thrilled to share the town's history, as well as serenade visitors.
And back on the train, to top everything off, a formal, four-course meal of venison lamb cutlets, prosciutto-wrapped monkfish, or whatever your heart desires is eaten, before drifting away to sleep and awakening near your destination.