Great railway journeys of the world
These days, we can step aboard an aeroplane in London and be in Australia in less than 24 hours. A short morning flight across the Channel will land us in Paris in time for breakfast. World travel has never been easier. However, to gain a true appreciation of a destination, a more leisurely approach is needed, where we enjoy the travelling as much as the arriving, and what could be better than watching fresh new landscapes unfolding before our eyes from the comfort of a well-upholstered railway carriage? The novelist E M Forster once described railway stations as ‘our gates to the glorious and the unknown’ and an air of romance and adventure still accompanies the great train journeys of the world. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion such as a wedding anniversary or a significant birthday, or just want to treat yourself to a truly unforgettable holiday experience, it’s the only way to travel. All aboard for a Titan railway holiday of a lifetime!
The Orient Express
If there’s one name that immediately conjures up images of the golden age of rail travel, it’s the Orient Express, that great trans-continental service which ran between Paris and Istanbul - a route made famous, of course, by Agatha Christie in her 1934 novel. Today you can sample a taste of the glamour and unabashed luxury of that bygone era aboard the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express, travelling between London’s Victoria station and Venice, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The carriages are sumptuously decorated in a style recalling the sleek and tasteful fashions of the 1930s, and service on board is, as you would expect, impeccable, while the excellent four-course dinner, served in the dining car, is an experience in itself. At the end of the line, Venice, with its abundance of sumptuous architecture, makes a more than fitting destination, while beyond, the treasure-filled cities of Tuscany invite exploration.
One of the world’s highest standard-gauge rail routes, reaching altitudes of over 4,300 metres, the award-winning Andean Explorer winds its way through the spectacular mountainous terrain of Peru from the city of Cuzco, once the capital of the mighty Inca Empire, to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America. Known as the ‘Archaeological Capital of the Americas,’ Cuzco is home to intriguing ruins of Incan temples and fortresses as well as a wealth of Spanish colonial architecture, while in the mountains to the north lies the fabled ‘lost city’ of Machu Picchu. The Andean Explorer’s train carriages and dining car are decorated in the style of the Pullman trains of the 1920s, offering a touch of period elegance and comfort, while for the very best views, take a seat in the observation car, whose large windows and glass-panelled roof make it the perfect spot to watch the dramatic Andean scenery rolling by. The journey takes around 10 hours from end to end, travelling through a variety of changing landscapes, through green fields, hills and gorges and into the agricultural heartland of the Urubamba Valley, known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. You’ll see the impressive remains of the Inca temple of Viracocha, pass through the high plateau region of the Altiplano and make an almost literally breathtaking stop at La Raya, the highest point of the trip.
Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa
They call it ‘the most luxurious train in the world,’ and stepping aboard Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, you are immediately transported to another era, a world of colonial elegance and charm, the atmosphere enhanced by the stylish Victorian furnishings. Travelling 3,700 miles through Africa from Cape Town on the Atlantic coast of South Africa, crossing through Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia to the Indian Ocean city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, this truly is the journey of a lifetime. Along the way you’ll visit Kimberley, famous for its diamond mines, seek out the ‘big fi ve’ on safari at the Madikwe, Selous and Masai Mara Game Reserves, spend the night near Victoria Falls and take a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. On board you can relax in air-conditioned comfort in the lounge and observation cars, sit down to a formal dinner in the dining car or simply watch the varied African landscapes from the window of your spacious suite. And for that extra special experience, try one of the Royal Suites, which take up half a carriage and come with bathtubs and private lounges.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015, and with numerous international awards to its name, the Rocky Mountaineer is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. It’s the perfect way to explore the magnificent scenery of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, as the train makes its way through the wild, unspoilt beauty of British Columbia between Calgary or Jasper, in neighbouring Alberta, and the vibrant Pacific coast city of Vancouver, passing majestic Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and running though glorious landscapes of dense forests and crystal-clear lakes. SilverLeaf passengers will enjoy superb views of the passing scenery from their seats, while those opting to upgrade to the GoldLeaf service will have access to the two-level, glass-domed coach, with gourmet meals served downstairs. For perfect sightseeing, the train only travels during the daytime, so you’ll be staying in hotels in overnight stops, which, depending on which route you take, will include destinations such as the delightful mountain resort of Whistler, a popular venue for skiing, hiking, mountain biking and golf, and home to several art galleries, and Kamloops, enjoying a picturesque location at the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers. At the end of the line is cosmopolitan Vancouver, surrounded by impressive mountains it delights visitors with its picturesque harbour front, historic architecture, and thriving cultural scene.
Running at speeds of up to 320km per hour, Japan’s high-speed trains - more popularly known as ‘bullet trains,’ link most of the country’s main cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and are renowned for their sleek and dramatic profile, high levels of comfort and their punctuality; departures are usually timed to the second, and in the rare instance of a train being more than one minute late, it is announced as delayed. Despite the very high speeds reached, travelling on the Shinkansen is surprisingly smooth, and is the perfect way to see the country, especially if time is limited, and the extensive network means that you can easily get around Japan’s major sights. Even the railway stations are something of an attraction in Japan; the futuristic, 15-storey Kyoto Station is one of the largest buildings in the country, housing, among other things, a shopping mall, cinema and hotel. Meanwhile the city, with its historic temples and shrines, exquisite gardens and geisha traditions, is the very essence of ‘old Japan.’
Glacier Express and Bernina Express
One of Europe’s most spectacular landscapes, the Swiss Alps have attracted generations of travellers drawn by the fresh mountain air and majestic snow-covered peaks, and crossing the Alps by rail is a truly thrilling experience. Step aboard the Bernina Express for the journey south to Tirano, in Italy, travelling across the engineering marvel of the Brusio circular viaduct, passing over 196 bridges and through 55 tunnels and climbing the 2,253m-high Bernina Pass before entering the picturesque Valtellina Valley in Italy. And you won’t miss a thing in your comfortable carriage with its panoramic windows, offering wonderful views of the Bernina massif, the Morteratsch Glacier and the Alpine lakes of Lej Nair and Lago Bianco. The Glacier Express crosses 291 bridges as it wends its way on the 7-hour journey between the resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt. This is not a high-speed train; in fact, it has the reputation of being the ‘slowest express train in the world’, but you won’t want to rush through such beautiful scenery as you travel from the depths of the Rhine Gorge to the 2,033m-high Oberalp Pass.
The Trans-Siberian Railway
Spanning eight time zones and taking seven days to complete its 9,258km-long journey between Moscow and the city of Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast, the Trans-Siberian is the ultimate railway adventure, traversing a remote and starkly beautiful land that was once fi rmly closed to outsiders. With services departing from Moscow every other day, it is the longest rail journey in the world, and includes branch lines extending into Mongolia, China and North Korea; most Western travellers choose one of the two twice-weekly routes between Beijing and Moscow, officially known as the Trans-Manchurian and the Trans-Mongolian. While it’s not a luxury train, cabins are perfectly comfortable and the top cabin categories feature en-suite facilities. Whichever route you take, you will be entranced by the wild and varied scenery, the seemingly endless steppes, birch forests, grasslands, lakes and mountains, stopping at intriguing, historic cities where foreigners are still a rare sight. The most popular line will take you from the Chinese capital through the remote, landlocked nation of Mongolia. Irkutsk, whose elegant 19th-century mansions, theatres, galleries and wide streets earned it the nickname ‘Paris of Siberia,’ is one of the highlights. In the city of Omsk, you will see the magnificent golden-domed Cathedral of the Assumption, carefully rebuilt a decade ago after the original was demolished by the communist authorities in the 1930s, while in Yekaterinburg, a visit to the Church on the Blood - erected on the site where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 - offers a fascinating insight into Russia’s turbulent history. Explore Kazan, the former Tatar capital on the banks of the Volga, and finally the Russian capital Moscow, where the Kremlin, Red Square and the incomparable St Basil’s Cathedral are just a few of the sights awaiting discovery.
What's your dream rail journey? Let us know on our Facebook page.
Nicola considers herself very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a number of places around the world and these experiences usually involve searching for as many kinds of wildlife as possible. Recent highlights include penguins in Antarctica, bears and whales in Canada and Alaska and sea otters in California - but there are always more animals to search for.
Nicola | About the author
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