© Richard James Taylor

Luxury on rails

While the landscape of the Andes, southern Africa or eastern Europe slowly passes by outside, the final arrival, the actual destination, becomes a secondary matter - because on board the world's most exclusive trains, you experience what it means when the journey is the destination.

17 June 2022

It is an exciting moment when the conductor's shrill whistle sounds and the train slowly starts moving. As you make yourself comfortable, the scenery outside the windows changes from the busy platform to the foothills of the city before varied landscapes take over the panorama.

Successor to the Orient Express: The flair of bygone days lives on in the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which was launched in 1982. ©Belmond



In recent years, the focus has mostly been on getting from A to B as quickly as possible, but rail travel is now booming again. In the spirit of slow travel, for more mindfulness and sustainability, more and more people are opting for a trip by train. American industrialist George M. Pullman made sure that people didn't have to do without luxury as early as 1867. Just a few decades after the invention of the railroad, he sent the first sleeping and dining cars on their way to ensure that the higher social classes could travel as comfortably as possible - after all, people were travelling incredible distances by train back then.

Grand hotels on wheels: The Pride of Africa (left), which has been running between Tanzania and South Africa since 1990, is considered the most luxurious train in the world. The Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (right) uses some of the original carriages from the 1920s. It currently travels frequently on one-day trips between cities such as London, Paris and Venice. ©DOOKPHOTO, Helen Cathcart

At the same time, Pullman started a race for ever more beautiful, luxurious and modern furnishings, which continues to this day. The Orient Express, the train that carried wealthy passengers from 1883, from Paris to Constantinople (today Istanbul) and which Agatha Christie memorialized with her mystery novel "Murder on the Orient Express" always lead the way.


The Orient Express was the first train in Europe to earn the title of "luxury" even by today's standards. The "king of trains and train of kings" passed through cities such as Strasbourg, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia. On board were indeed not infrequently crowned heads, such as King Leopold II of Belgium and King Edward VIII. Today the "brand" Orient-Express belongs to the renowned Belmond Ltd. group.

The original wagons, which have now been restored, travel under the name Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) once a year on the historic route from Paris to Istanbul and several times a week on different routes through Europe - and also a bit through time, because the sets and the atmosphere bring the Golden Twenties back to life. But that also means there are no showers on board, but at least there is hot and cold running water - and a pianist who provides background music on the piano in the bar waggon.

Rolling Grand Hotels: At the Belmond British Pullman, passengers take a traditional high tea as the train trundles through the English countryside. ©Belmond

While guests of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express appreciate the nostalgia, others attach importance to more modern equipment. The Pride of Africa combines the best of both worlds. Although the train also travels around in the look of the 1920s, its carriages were not built until the 1990s. Even the smallest suites, measuring around seven square meters, have a shower, while the larger ones also have a Victorian bathtub.

This is also necessary, because unlike the VSOE, whose longest journey currently takes around six days, the Pride of Africa can take up to 20 days, for example on the roughly 6,000-kilometer route from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Cape Town in South Africa. On this route, the safari is literally on track. Passengers can get to know the African continent and its unique wildlife up close. In favour of the beautiful nature, the Pride of Africa travels particularly slowly and sometimes even forgoes night travel.

Legend on rails: In 1883, the Orient Express (today: Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) made its maiden voyage from Paris to Constantinople, today's Istanbul. The train, which author Agatha Christie memorialized with "Murder on the Orient Express," still shines today with elegant furnishings, exquisite food and the best service. Once a year, the luxury train travels the historic route, and several times a week it tours Europe on different routes. ©Belmond

The counterpart to all the images that come to mind when one thinks of a train in India bears the name Maharajas' Express. The luxury train travels in northwest and central India; in service since 2010 score points for their special spaciousness. Five de-luxe carriages, six junior suites, a presidential suite and several bar and dining carriages are available for around 88 guests. Unlike the nostalgia trains, there is internet and television here.

The Maharajas' Express has won the World Travel Award as "World's Leading Luxury Train" seven times in a row. Travel on the Belmond Andean Explorer is just as memorable. It offers guests a modern ambience inspired by Peruvian culture, gourmet cuisine and even a spa car. While you lie down on alpaca wool, close your eyes and let yourself be pampered with a massage, you're still on the road, but at the same time, you've somehow arrived.

©Belmond, Martin Scott Powell


The trains of the future will not be even more luxurious, but all the faster, at least in Asia. Japan is currently working on models that will reach an average cruising speed of more than 360 kilometers per hour. In France, designer Thierry Gaugain presented his vision of a luxury train last year: A "palace on rails," the G-Train is to consist of 14 carriages, be 400 meters long and offer space for 18 guests; cinema, fold-out terraces, suites and social rooms included. The cost is expected to exceed 350 million dollars - luxury on rails.

Time travel: A trip on a luxury train is an exceedingly stylish affair - and you should dress accordingly. © Belmond

This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Spring 2022.

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