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05 May 2017

BY Abigail Healy

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Epicurean adventures: Top culinary rail journeys

If food and drink on a train conjures up images of packed lunches and tepid tea, think again. Abigail Healy rounds up rail journeys where culinary excellence is a holiday highlight

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From masterclasses with top chefs onboard the train to beer, wine and champagne-focused rail breaks, here are some suggestions for foodie clients:

 

Vineyard voyage

The vineyards of Bordeaux are likely to feature on many a foodie traveller’s bucket list and a weekend of wine quaffing is now closer than you might think. Thanks to new high-speed rail services TGV Armorique and TGV Oceane, collectively known as TGV Atlantique, passengers travelling to Bordeaux (and Brittany’s coastline) will reach their destination in a fraction of the current journey times this summer. Services start on July 2 with tickets on sale now. Brand new TGV trains, capable of reaching speeds of almost 200mph and with Wi-Fi throughout, will be introduced to operate on the high-speed lines.

Alison Wood, marketing manager at Voyages-sncf, says: “The varied landscapes of the west coast of France make it a popular holiday destination and these long-awaited reductions in journey times make the train the perfect way to travel this summer. With a new journey time of just over two hours between Paris and Bordeaux, wine lovers and culture seekers alike will be hard pushed to find a more attractive city for a short break.”

Book it: Prices start from £22.50pp one way between Paris and Bordeaux.

Culinary Canada

Rocky Mountaineer has combined one of its best-selling routes with new culinary experiences for 2018 to create the First Passage to the West Culinary Exploration package. Travelling between Vancouver, Kamloops, Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary, First Passage to the West is one of the most popular routes through the Canadian Rockies, famous for uniting Canada’s east and west.

Highlights of the culinary package include four foodie-focused adventures: a culinary tour of Vancouver – either on Granville Island or in Chinatown; a six-course wine-paired menu at The Post Hotel Dining Room; a six-course wine-paired chef’s tasting menu at Eden Restaurant in The Rimrock Hotel;

and a Calgary culinary tour.

Passengers will also enjoy three experience tours by coach: Icefields Parkway tour including the Ice Explorer, Yoho National Park tour, and a tour of Banff with gondola and panoramic helicopter.

Book it: The tour is available with Rocky Mountaineer’s Silverleaf service from £2,990pp and Goldleaf service from £3,796pp.

Rail journeys 2

Time for tea

Darjeeling is known as one of the best quality teas in the world and what better place to try it than in Darjeeling itself? G Adventures takes guests into the heart of India’s tea country, including a chance to ride the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on a vintage steam train also known as the “toy train”.

Lianna Kuchmak, product manager for Asia, G Adventures, says: “On our 13-day Northeast India and Darjeeling by Rail trip, travellers will visit the Tukvar Tea Estate, first planted by the British in 1952. This is the oldest tea estate and produces the world-famous Darjeeling tea, known as the champagne of tea. There’s also a cooking demonstration at a local, family-run restaurant.

“In India, tasting train station chai at every stop and ranking them is a good game to play on a long journey. The tea at stations is often the best, and strongest, in the country.”

Book it: The 13-day trip starts from £1,009pp not including flights.

Market marvels

Italy has endless appeal for culinary connoisseurs and Great Rail Journeys’ eight-day Gastronomic Piedmont is a great opportunity to entice them back once again. The tour showcases the gastronomy and scenery of Italy’s Piedmont region, including first-class rail travel, guided tours of Lyon and Saluzzo,

a market tour of Cuneo, two wine tastings, and a city tour of Turin.

Louise Heatley, head of product & contracting at Great Rail Journeys, says: “Piedmont is a renowned producer of Italian wines and is home to the village of Barolo, which produces one of the finest and most expensive wines on the planet. No trip to Piedmont would be complete without a stroll through one of the region’s food markets, of which the town of Cuneo has a fantastic example. A bustling hive of activity, this food market is a heady buzz of scents and smells, from butter-fried frogs’ legs and egg-rich ravioli to mature blue cheeses and soft-baked breads. A walk through the alleyways of this Italian town on market day is an experience any foodie will enjoy.”

Book it: The eight-day Gastronomic Piedmont tour starts from £1,535pp, departing September 1 and 15, 2017.

rail journeys 3

Wet their whistle

Steam nostalgia interspersed with visits to independent or craft brewers is the premise of Railtrail’s Steam, Ale & Rail Trail. Owner Dave Felstead and commercial manager Rob Carroll hit upon the idea of combining two of their favourite things – railway and brewing heritage while in the Trackside pub next to the East Lancashire Steam Railway.

The programme has now grown to include Scotland, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Belgium with the five-day Scottish Steam Rail & Ale Trail featuring a scenic rail journey through the Cairngorms, two independent breweries and a craft brewer. Alternatively, the Big Belgian Beer Weekend, departing from London St Pancras, includes the Brussels Beer Festival, four Belgian brewery visits and a steam train charter. Railtrail’s Carroll says: “The campaigns to save our heritage railways and our real ale heritage have so much in common. They were cast aside by the modern age but preserved by people with passion, and both continue to prosper. This programme is really catching the eye of our retail partners and we love working with agents.”

Book it: The Scottish Steam Rail & Ale Trail starts from £545pp and the Big Belgian Beer Weekend starts from £649pp.

Pop-up pairings

Belmond brings the trendy “pop-up” concept to the tracks with a series of events onboard Belmond British Pullman. This year the first event is the new ultimate gin experience with premium Tanqueray No. Ten on May 11. Guests will be whisked back to the glamour of the roaring twenties and served a menu of seven dishes that bring the botanicals of Tanqueray No. Ten to life. The experience will feature a sequence of cocktails paired with the courses, followed by a specialist masterclass. Other forthcoming events include hosted dinners with television personalities and Michelin-starred restaurateurs. The first is on July 22 with Tom Kerridge, followed by television presenter James Martin on November 17. Both will share specially curated menus and individual culinary talents with a multi-course menu and wine pairing.

Book it: Prices for the pop-up events start from £450pp.

Bubbly breaks

Reims, the unofficial capital of France’s Champagne region, is famous not only for its exclusive fizz but also as home to four Unesco World Heritage Sites, meaning visitors can get their fill of both culture and bubbly. Railbookers’ Ultimate City Break to Reims starts at London’s St Pancras station, boarding the Eurostar to Paris. A quick change in the City of Light will see clients speeding directly to Reims.

The four-day trip includes the Discover Mumm Experience – a tour of the Mumm Champagne house and the chance to explore the Moet et Chandon and Taittinger Champagne houses on a guided tour.

Book it: The four-day break starts from £289pp including three nights’ B&B accommodation.

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