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Railway
Railway Travel
05.12.11

There’s an allure and nostalgia to rail travel that makes it one of our favorite ways to see the world. Step on the platform, board your train and relax as you watch scenery, people and culture go by en route to major destinations like Paris and Vienna or quiet, out-of-the-way stops in the hinterlands of Spain or Russia. From romantic old-world rail tours and remote mountain cogways to scheduled public commuters and high-speed bullet trains, there’s a route to suit your whim. We’ve chosen a dozen great rail journeys from all corners of the globe so you can get onboard with this most appealing way to travel.

Switzerland – One in a Million

Switzerland

When it comes to fantastic rail travel, Switzerland is the undisputed champion of the world. Featuring snow-capped peaks, immaculately manicured alpine fields and shiny red trains that run on impeccable Swiss timing, the country feels like a wintry version of Disneyland. Start your journey at the foot of the majestic Matterhorn in Zermatt, near the Italian-Swiss border, on the Glacier Express. The leisurely seven-hour journey will take you past picture-perfect mountain scenery, quaint villages, stunning green vistas and glamorous health resorts like St. Moritz, long frequented by European jetsetters. The 291 bridges and 91 tunnels along the way showcase the engineering mastery of the Swiss. When the onboard lights are dimmed at dusk, you you can admire the many romantic valley hamlets. If you want to visit one of them, you can always retrace your tracks on a regional train.

Norway – Scandinavian Scenery & Sirens

Deep-green hills, glacier-fed fjords, crystal-clean surroundings and rail lines that travel quietly in scenic splendor make Norway endlessly appealing. Board a train in Oslo and make tracks for Bergen, the vibrant, southwestern port town snuggled between mountains on the Norwegian Sea. Take a detour at Myrdal to the world-famous Flam Railway, which climbs 2,838 feet in 12 miles through twisting tunnels, past sheer ravines, clinging mountain farms, rushing rivers and plunging waterfalls. The world’s steepest unassisted railway also harbors a summer secret: Look closely in the mists of the thundering Kjosfossen Waterfall and you may catch a glimpse of a huldra, the legendary forest creature who is said to lure men to their doom with her striking beauty and enchanting ballads.

London to Italy – The Gold Standard

London to Italy

No rail enthusiast would miss an opportunity to travel along the rails of history’s most celebrated train. Serving as the stage of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the grand dame of rail travel is steeped in history, mystery and romance—and sets the bar for legendary, luxurious journeys. Carrying aristocrats, celebrities and politicians long before the 1934 fictional murder occurred, the Orient Express filled the first niche in luxurious, cross-country travel when it made its maiden journey from Paris to Constantinople in 1883. Following its decline after World War II, the Orient Express was restored to the tune of $16 million and returned to its former glory. Moving between London and Venice, this splendid train offers a taste of the golden era of rail travel.

Europe & Asia – High-Speed Thrills

In 1964, the world’s first high-speed train service hurtled from Tokyo to Osaka at approx. 130 mph. Perhaps still the most widely recognized name in the world of rapid rail, Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train is still in operation—it just travels a bit faster now (approx. 186 mph). No longer the only bullet in town, it faces stiff competition from various countries that employ the latest in advanced rail technology. China’s Maglev train—the world’s first magnetic levitation line—reaches staggering speeds of up to 268 mph. No matter the train or country, a ride on one of these sleek, modern marvels provides a first-class experience in 21st-century travel.

Country Train Destinations
Britain-France Eurostar London-Paris
China CRH Major destinations
  Maglev* Shanghai Pudong Airport – Shanghai
France TGV 200 destinations
Germany ICE Major destinations
Italy Frecciarossa Turin-Milan-Bologna-Rome-Naples-Salerno
Japan Shinkansen/Bullet Major destinations
South Korea KTX Seoul – Busan / Seoul – Gwanju & Mokpo
Spain AVE Major destinations
Taiwan HSR Taipei – Kaohsiung
*Currently the world’s fastest commercial train

 

Russia – The Great Odyssey

In the past, only the most courageous travelers would dare embark on the rugged rail adventure across Russia’s vast tundra known as the Trans-Siberian Express. In 2007, however, the accommodations on the world’s longest railway became more travel-friendly. Hard benches transformed into luxurious cabins with DVD players and floor heating. The Golden Eagle train transports passengers on a 14-day odyssey from Moscow to Vladisvostock, Russia’s far-eastern port frontier. Travel 6,600 miles across eight time zones to take in such marvels as the Kremlin Fortress in Kazan; the interior “Soviet” city of Novosibirsk; a private concert in the remote Siberian outpost of Irkutsk where aristocrats were exiled; and the Russian pearl of Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. Guided off-rail excursions, onboard lectures and Russian language lessons are coupled with dining and bar cars that serve up Russia’s culinary delights. Have a taste of borscht—Russia’s famous beet soup—with a sip of vodka and be swept away into the magic of Russia.

South Africa Via the Blue Train

South Africa

Skimming gracefully through a rich tapestry of landscape, the Blue Train of South Africa is an unforgettable way to experience the magic of this country. Sip tea in the elegant lounge car as you gaze through large, panoramic windows at vast plateaus and rugged hills. Share an aperitif with fellow guests in the club car. Move on to the dining car for a unique meal of local Karoo lamb or ostrich filet on starched white linens set with silver and crystal. Enjoy coffee, cognac or a Cuban cigar, then retire to your suite with a butler on call to attend to your every need. This 27-hour fantasy covers nearly 1,000 miles between Pretoria and Cape Town.

Southeast Asia – Colonial Luxury

Southeast Asia

If you yearn to experience grand, old-world travel in the tropics, book a trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express —the sister train of the legendary Orient Express. Carriages outfitted in rich colonial splendor conjure images of a genteel world. View vivid rainforests, lush green hills and tea plantations from the teak-paneled observation car, or relax in the Bar Car with a tropical drink. The air-conditioned rail cars keep the humid air at bay as you wine and dine your way through Southeast Asia’s stunning scenery. Take a weeklong journey from Singapore through Kuala Lumpur all the way to northern Thailand, or opt for a shorter journey between Singapore and Bangkok.

Australia – A Down-Under Delight

Australia

Traveling to the Land Down Under can be a long journey—but a trip aboard the Sunlander along Australia’s stunning Great Barrier Reef is over much too quickly. Traversing the 31-hour route between Brisbane and Cairns in Australia’s northeast corner, you’ll be whisked past clear-blue waters, verdant hills and sunny skies. Treat yourself to Queenslander Class for a premium experience that includes entry to an exclusive restaurant and lounge car, as well as local commentary from the maître d’. Relish in attentive service delivered with that famous Australian friendliness and enjoy the sumptuous seafood platter served between Townsville and Cairns.

Peru – Journey to the Lost City of the Incas

Peru

One of the seven wonders of the New World, Machu Picchu attracts travelers from far and wide with its spectacular location and mystical allure. If you visit, take the four-hour mountain railway that travels a narrow, winding track through dense, green Peruvian landscape and the lush Sacred Valley. The Hiram Bingham Express, named for the man who introduced the Incan citadel to the world, ranks as top of the line. Departing from either Cusco or the ancient town of Ollantaytambo, trips on these 1920-style rail cars include a meal, local beer and wine, onboard musical entertainment, tea at the fantastic Sanctuary Lodge and entrance to Machu Picchu with an accompanying guide. For a more affordable option, take the Vistadome train, which travels the same route.

North America – Rocky Mountain Splendor

Beijing & Shanghai - Urban Planning Exhibitions

Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) transcontinental rail line was historic in joining east and west, and eliciting the grandeur and romance of travel. In a nod to those elegant bygone days, CPR restored a number of its vintage 1920s rail cars. The Royal Canadian Pacific is now North America’s most exclusive luxury train, outfitted with period furniture, silver dining settings and walnut paneling. While onboard, guests can savor the gourmet cuisine, fine wines and consummate hospitality. The rugged Rocky Mountains and wide-open prairies provide travelers with views of some of the most magnificent terrain in the world. In July 2011, old-world rail enthusiasts have a golden opportunity to participate in a very special experience when the CPR celebrates the 125th anniversary of its first transcontinental train to arrive at the Pacific Ocean in 1886. Featuring an onboard historian, heritage menus and special celebrations, the five-day journey dubbed the “Royal Canadian Express” retraces the most scenic part of CPR’s original rail route between Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia, passing through such marvels as Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Roger’s Pass, Fraser Canyon and the famous Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park.

China-Tibet – Railway to Heaven

The highest railway in the world traverses the tracks at 16,640 ft. (5,072 m) above sea level—so high that extra oxygen is provided to those in need, and a Health Registration Card is required for each passenger. The China-Tibet Train covers a 1,215-mile stretch of rail that offers remarkable views of snow-covered peaks and landscapes; pastures dotted with sheep and yaks; and rivers, lakes and expanses of barren land that extend as far as the eye can see. It also features 675 bridges and the world’s highest rail tunnel and station. Whether you call it the Lhasa, the Tibet Train, the Qinghai-Xizang railway or the Qinghai-Tibet railway, it’s one of China’s greatest feats of modern engineering and a literally breathtaking passage.

India – Opulent Extravagance

If travel to India seems a bit intimidating, consider the Royal Rajasthan. You might just be convinced to book a trip—immediately. Providing a journey fit for a maharajah, this train features 13 carriages with sumptuous suites decorated in ornate designs. Hues of pearl, ruby and sapphire augment textiles of silk and velvet to re-create imperial living at its most opulent. Wireless Internet, satellite TV, two restaurant lounges and a wellness spa come along for the ride. The seven-day rail extravaganza makes a loop through the stunning northwest state of Rajasthan, with a few extras. Stop en route to view forts and palaces, vivid culture and vibrant colors in such jewels as Jodhpur, Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra. In September 2011, the 3,000-year-old destination of Varanasi—the world’s holiest site for Hindus—will be added to the route.

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