For lovers of train journeys, there are myriad options besides the tried-and-tested favourites. Peter Ellegard rounds up 10 lesser-known rail trips to suggest to clients
Clients can take an iconic Rovos Rail journey from Cape Town to Victoria Falls to experience the self-proclaimed “most luxurious train in the world”.
African Pride director David Holland says: “Rovos Rail has become synonymous with luxury and quality. Its emphasis is on service, doing all it can to make each guest enjoy each journey to the full, and it is always looking to grow and innovate, which provides us with new product and itineraries to offer our clients.”
Book it: African Pride offers a 12-night Rovos Rail tour from £10,982 for two departing in January and February 2019, including a five-night stay in Cape Town, seven days onboard Rovos Rail from Cape Town to Pretoria and from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, plus three nights at Victoria Falls, with flights and transfers.
Launched in August 2016, the Belmond Grand Hibernian is the first overnight luxury train in Ireland and is featured by Ffestiniog Travel on two tours – the five-day Legends & Loughs itinerary and the seven-day Grand Tour of Ireland. The latter includes private tours of Blarney Castle and Gardens and Cork’s Jameson Experience.
Ffestiniog general manager Maria Cook says: “Clients with a passion for railways will appreciate travelling on Ireland’s broad-gauge tracks, which are otherwise only found in Australia, while anyone who enjoys luxury will appreciate the comfort and high level of service offered throughout.”
Book it: Ffestiniog’s Grand Tour of Ireland starts from £7,175pp including six nights’ accommodation on a round trip from Dublin onboard the Grand Hibernian, plus meals and all excursions.
New for Inntravel, the Slow Trains Through Asturias tour lets clients explore the northern coast of Spain by hopping on and off the FEVE. The slow narrow-gauge railway winds along the dramatic coastline and rural hinterland of Asturias province against a backdrop of the Picos de Europa mountains, with the opportunity to stop off at fishing villages and the city of Oviedo.
“This new addition to our series of Journeys in Slow Motion continues a trend among our customers in not only exploring new areas by train but also in travelling to all corners of Europe by rail,” says Inntravel’s Spain and Portugal expert, James Keane.
Book it: Inntravel’s Slow Trains Through Asturias costs from £595pp and is available from May 1-July 23 and from September 1-October 31, 2018, including seven nights’ B&B accommodation and train travel.
South America’s first luxury train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, was launched last May, and Cox & Kings offers both escorted and private tours including train travel and a visit to the Unesco World Heritage Site.
Latin America product manager Vessela Baleva says: “The Belmond Andean Explorer is one of the world’s highest rail journeys and is, quite literally, breathtaking. Travelling across the highest Andean plains, guests can see Inca sites and Lake Titicaca, watching the mountains pass by from the comfort of the train with a pisco sour in hand.”
Book it: Cox & Kings’ 16-day escorted Train to Machu Picchu tour costs from £2,995pp, including flights, transfers, B&B accommodation, some meals, travel to Machu Picchu on the Vistadome train and a journey on the Belmond Andean Explorer.
The Gotthard Panorama Express, introduced in 2017, is a panoramic journey through Switzerland’s Gotthard Pass that also includes travel through the Gotthard Tunnel. Railbookers’ Lucerne, Lugano and the Gotthard Express tour combines the rail journey with a paddle-steamer cruise across Lake Lucerne. Railbookers’ Sarah Kaye Turner says: “The combination of the paddle-steamer trip and the train ride appeals to clients looking to do something different and travel at a relaxed pace.”
Book it: Railbookers’ five-day Lucerne, Lugano and the Gotthard Express tour costs from £989pp including flights to Zurich, or via Milan by train with an overnight stay, a cruise, train travel and accommodation.
Clients can explore Mid Wales on a five-day Great Rail Journeys tour travelling on its heritage railways. The Valleys & Railways of Mid Wales itinerary includes Rheilffordd Talyllyn Railway, Vale of Rheidol Railway and Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, as well as a visit to Powis Castle & Garden. Great Rail Journeys commercial director Julian Appleyard says: “Wales has plenty of scenic railways to offer – they may only be short trips but this makes them perfect for someone who is new to rail journeys. The Rheilffordd Talyllyn Railway is my personal favourite, and is the world’s first ever preserved heritage railway.”
Book it: Great Rail Journeys offers a Valleys & Railways of Mid Wales tour from £475pp, including rail travel and accommodation.
Kuoni is the first UK tour operator to offer Kenya’s Madaraka Express train, which travels along the new Mombasa-Nairobi railway line.
Paul Ingram, Kuoni’s product and category manager for escorted touring, describes the new Kenya Beach & Safari tour as “giving a real throwback to the Out of Africa era”. “Travelling by train provides a quick way to move between the national parks,” he adds.
Book it: Kuoni’s seven-night Kenya Beach & Safari tour starts from £2,344pp travelling in June 2019, including flights, transfers, first-class train travel, accommodation, park fees, 4x4 safaris and some meals.
Rail buffs can cross the Arctic Circle, chase the Northern Lights and enjoy the rugged beauty of Scandinavia in first-class comfort on a three-week rail adventure departing from London.
Planet Rail’s Grand Arctic Circle and Scandinavia Overland Adventure includes Northern Europe’s only boat train to Denmark, stays in Copenhagen and Stockholm before heading into the Arctic Circle, then travelling down Norway’s coastline with a fjord cruise.
Guy Saunders, Planet Rail’s managing director, says: “This holiday enables rail enthusiasts to travel to the Arctic Circle and back overland, with no airports in sight. It also incorporates some iconic journeys, including one on the Flam Railway.”
Book it: Planet Rail’s Grand Arctic Circle and Scandinavia Overland Adventure costs from £3,495pp, including 20 nights’ B&B hotel accommodation, Inter-Rail pass for 15 days, all rail journeys in first class, and transfers via bus and ferry.
Rail Discoveries’ Catalonia & Little Trains tour is an exploration of the Pyrenees in France and Spain and the coast of Spain’s Catalonia region. It includes the Pyrenees’ Yellow Train and Red Train as well as the Nuria Valley Rack Railway. Accommodation is in Roses, Catalonia, and includes visits to artist Salvador Dali’s hometown of Figueres and the Dali Foundation.
Commercial director Julian Appleyard says: “For a quirky rail journey, the trains of the Pyrenees certainly fit the bill. The Yellow Train makes its journey across suspension bridges, burrowing under hills and tunnels. Some carriages are open air, making it an excellent way to enjoy the scenery of the Pyrenees.”
Book it: Rail Discoveries’ eight-day Catalonia & Little Trains tour starts from £910pp including B&B accommodation, evening meals with wine, and train travel.
This year has seen the introduction of the BAM Explorer by Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, going to little-visited parts of Siberia along a track north of the Trans-Siberian railway onboard its train, the Golden Eagle.
The Baikal-Amur Magistral (BAM) railway took 60 years to complete across inhospitable terrain, visiting Russian frontier areas and isolated communities rarely experienced by foreign travellers. It then joins the main Trans-Siberian line to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, arriving for the Naadam Festival in Mongolian capital Ulaan Baatar.
Book it: The BAM Explorer trip starts from £12,895pp based on a June 29, 2018 departure, including four nights’ hotel accommodation and 10 nights on the Golden Eagle, including all drinks with meals, guided off-train excursions, porterage and transfers.