The world's most luxurious train journeys

Asia's Tech News Daily

Sublime views and sumptuous service: after a journey like this, the 0810 to Paddington just won’t cut it – Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

The glamour of high-end train travel has never faded, with a constant queue of travellers eager to be transported back to the 1920s on board an Orient Express train. However, with the ever-increasing environmental concern surrounding flights and a pandemic-induced focus on slower travel, a new generation may be turned on to the joys of luxury rail journeys. From South Africa’s timeless Rovos Rail to Peru’s contemporary Andean Explorer, we run through the most opulent train journeys on offer around the world.

Rovos Rail, South Africa

South Africa’s Rovos Rail has set the standard for luxury train travel since 1989, with five-course formal dinners served in wood-panelled carriages furnished with vintage lamps and leather banquettes. The principal three-day route runs between Pretoria and Cape Town, but more recently added journeys include a 10-day safari in Nambia’s otherworldly desert landscape and an epic two-week trip through southern Africa, which includes Victoria Falls, several game reserves and finishes in Dar Es Salaam. The Royal suites, which take up half a carriage each, are among the most spacious train accommodation in the world – there's a Victorian roll-top bath in the en-suite.

Rovos Rail – DOOK

Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru

The first luxury sleeper train in Peru cuts across one of the highest rail routes on the planet and provides a spectacular setting from which to admire views of Cusco, Lake Titicaca and Arequipa. The train, launched in 2017, goes all out with two dining cars where passengers tuck into high-end takes on classic Peruvian food and can try their hand at making ceviche. Unlike most trains on this list, the Andean Explorer eschews a classic vintage style in favour of a more contemporary look – think cream-coloured walls and colour pops of woven Andean cushions. After a day spent exploring some of the country’s greatest hits, retreat to the spa car for a massage.

Belmond Andean Explorer

The Royal Express, Japan

Japan has no shortage of luxury train journeys, and among its finest is the Royal Express, which plies a route that stretches between Yokohama (about half an hour from central Tokyo) and Shimoda City at the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula. The 100-seater train does not have sleeping cars – on longer itineraries guests will stay in some of Japan's finest ryokans – which means there is more space to explore on-board. Finished in wood throughout, each carriage is uniquely styled and might feature stained-glass windows, a bar with grand piano or performance area for the musicians who will join certain trips.

The Royal Express

Kyushu Seven Stars, Japan

Another opulent option in Japan is Kyushu Seven Stars. The train travels through the country’s most southerly island, taking in volcanoes, beaches and cities including Oita, a spa resort known for its hot springs. On board are 12 en-suite rooms and two luxury suites, the finest of which features a rear window with an unbeatable view of the scenery rushing by. Cabins are decorated with aromatic hinoki cypress wood, bamboo blinds and Japanese paper screens. Dining is a highlight with lunches consisting of what might be the world’s most glamorous bento box – expect tiger prawns topped with caviar and local Wagyu beef.

Kyushu Seven Stars sushi chefs

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe

The Grande Dame of luxury train travel, few rail journeys can rival the prestige and extravagance associated with the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which meanders from London to classic European capitals. The train’s restored carriages date back to the 1920s and 1930s and are duly decorated in a sumptuous Art Deco style. Dining features the finest fresh European produce – think lobster from Brittany. Although the train is steeped in old world glamour, the product is constantly reinvented; new for 2021 are three grand suites. Dedicated to the cities that have inspired their design – Vienna, Budapest and Prague – the cabins sit in the train’s oldest carriage, which was built in 1926.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express cabin – MATTIA AQUILA

Rocky Mountaineer, Canada and US

Rocky Mountaineer train journeys can be linear or circular, with multi-day itineraries cutting through the spectacular Canadian Rockies or Whistler during the day and stopping at luxury hotels at night. The longest package is the 12-night Grand Rail Circle, looping back to Vancouver via Lake Louise and Quesnel. The train’s calling-card is its glass-domed carriages, which maximise the views of snow-capped mountains and redwood forests. After 30 years, the operator has expanded to the US. The Rockies to the Red Rocks route, which commenced this summer, is a two-day route between Denver, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, with an overnight stay in the mountain town of Glenwood Springs. Highlights include views of the rugged Byers Canyon and mighty Colorado River.

Rocky Mountaineer

Maharajas' Express, India

India is brilliantly seen by train: Unesco sites stand majestically on sandy terrains, ancient cities glow against pink sunsets, and lush forests hide many animal species. The Maharajas' Express provides plush surroundings that may not quite rival those Indian palaces – but is not far off. Indeed, the Presidential Suite has two bedrooms and a 24-hour personal valet service. There are a number of itineraries, including the seven-night Indian Panorama, which starts in Delhi and stops for a tiger-spotting game drive at Ranthambore National Park before heading up to Agra and the Taj Mahal and on to Varanasi for a boat trip on the Ganges.

Eastern and Oriental Express, Southeast Asia

Another fine offering from Belmond is its Southeast Asia train, which runs between Bangkok and Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Green and gold carriages conceal interiors inspired by Shanghai Express, the 1932 film starring Marlene Dietrich, and feature cherry wood panelling and soft Thai silks. The journey from Singapore kicks off in style, with guests met at the Raffles hotel and transferred to the train. For two nights, the train meanders through paddy fields and past temples, with stops at the famous River Kwai Bridge and the option of a cooking class in a rural village.

Eastern and Oriental

The Ghan, Australia

Travelling the 1,861-mile top-to-bottom journey between Darwin and Adelaide, the Ghan train service slices the ochre-hued centre of Australia, with stops en route at Alice Springs, where helicopter tours can be arranged, and the famous outback town of Katherine. The train's spacious cabins are finished in polished Tasmanian Myrtle, while meals feature produce that reflects the best of the regions the train travels through and are accompanied by local wines. A highlight of the three-day journey is when the train passes through a narrow gap in the MacDonnell Ranges, which only accommodates the railway, the Todd River and a two-lane road.

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