Ah, the romance of train travel … even commuters feel it. There’s something oh so Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie and Harry Potter about chugging down a track on the way to some wonderful — perhaps even mysterious — destination, your bag neatly tucked above you, a book in your lap, your journey ahead. The scenery outside passes by like a film in fast motion. The seats (comfortable on most global trains, even in second class) feel like super-plush movie theater lounge chairs. Each train car, like a narrow living room, boasts its own mood depending on fellow travelers and the ministrations of attentive staff.
On overnight locomotive trips, you have your own compartment: cozy, tidy and posh. You take your meals in the dining car — rather decent, even exquisite, food, perhaps — while sipping luscious libations. Sometimes the staff even wear tails. Time seems both to stand still sublimely and pass surreally fast, as it might at a party you truly enjoy.
On a lavish train leading to iconic destinations, the primary purpose is sightseeing (and pampering) rather than simply traveling from one place to another. These jaunts also immerse travelers in a dimension of fantasy, the sensation of taking flight (or, rather, to the rails) in a moving luxury hotel. Whether the mahogany-clad Belmond Royal Scotsman which rolls through the Scottish Highlands, Switzerland’s storied Glacier Express service with its possibility of fondue, or India’s regal Maharajas’ Express, these trains offer reverie, pampering, unparalleled service and a total break from routine and real life. Here are a few we love.
THE GLACIER EXPRESS
Nearly a century old, the world’s “Slowest Fast Train” rolls from Switzerland’s swanky St. Moritz to legendary Zermatt, home to the Matterhorn. The historic, bright-red steam train traverses a mountainous path across Switzerland on a 7.5- hour trek, passing through 91 tunnels and crossing 291 eye-popping bridges along the way. Board it, as I have, with children, bags packed for skiing and palates ready for hot chocolate.
Highlight: The panoramic windows in the train cars provide 180-degree views.
ORIENT EXPRESS LA DOLCE VITA TRAINS
New in 2023, the storied Orient Express — the renowned and more-than-a-century- old, divinely glamorous train service — launches six new locomotive itineraries, each inspired by Italy’s elegantly hedonistic 1960s era dubbed La Dolce Vita. A tribute to that good life, the new trains, elegantly designed by Dimorestudio, will feature 11 cars each, providing space for 63 passengers within 18 suites and 12 top-notch cabins. Choose from 15 itineraries across Italy and beyond, including stops in Paris, İstanbul and Split, most lasting one to three days.
Highlight: Focusing on Italy, the reimagined Orient Express experience will showcase 14 Italian regions, many of them lesser-known.
BELMOND ROYAL SCOTSMAN
Castles, gardens, whisky distilleries, golfing on Scottish links courses and clay pigeon shooting constitute only a parcel of the diversions you’ll experience from the dignified, Edwardian-intoned Belmond Royal Scotsman. Like a classic Scottish country house, the baronial-style décor cossets sumptuously: wood- paneled rooms, green tufted leather, tartan blankets and such. Formal dinners require tuxedos … or kilts for those who dare. Meals are multicourse gourmet affairs. Choose from two- to four-day itineraries running April through October.
Highlight: The onboard Whisky Advisor
The most princely way to be whisked through India’s Golden Triangle — Delhi, Agra, Jaipur — and to safari with tigers at Ranthambore, this much-awarded train reflects the opulence of bygone times. Incorporate it with a boat trip on Uniworld’s Cruise & Rail: The Sacred Ganges & the Maharajas’ Express, a bountiful 16-day excursion blending seven nights cruising in comfort on the Ganges with a luxury train journey to see Rajasthan’s most fabled sights, including the Taj Mahal.
Highlight: The amazing Indian food and the festive welcomes with rose petals, dancing and music galore
Ascend to the great abandoned city of Machu Picchu by train, passing by quinoa and potato fields, terraced mountain farmland and valleys hewed by a rushing river. Inca Rail, a first-class railway option in Peru, offers train trips to the great UNESCO-listed site from Cusco or Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley. Summoning halcyon days with shades of the Jazz Age, Inca Rail’s service includes a scope of travel levels, including the over-the- top, grandly splendid Private Car, taking first class to a whole new standard. Available for one-party bookings, the exclusive car, with its leather stools, local textiles, polished wood, bar and kitchen, serves arrival Champagne; Pisco sours; and a delectable, locally inspired, three-course meal as you ride the rails. Please note: Travelers are currently advised to check government warnings before planning travel to Peru.
Highlight: Peruvian entertainment sets a mood.
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