ALL ABOARD FOUR OF THE WORLD’S MOST SPECTACULAR RAIL JOURNEYS, TAKING TRAVELERS ON ENCHANTING CARPET RIDES THROUGH SOARING MOUNTAIN PEAKS, BREATHTAKING CRATER LAKES, WILD AFRICAN BUSH, AND MORE
BY AMANDA MCCOY
Comprised of only seven cars, this intimate sleeper train invites visitors on a romantic tour of the Japanese island of Kyushu, a geographically stunning and culturally rich cauldron of dramatic mountains, bubbling onsen springs, ancient cedar forests, relaxed hospitality, and locally famous ramen. While the Japanese might have pioneered the lightning-quick bullet train, this two or four-day excursion celebrates the journey over the destination, moving at a leisurely pace so passengers can drink in views of the striking landscape, from soft rolling hills to the sparkling sea.
The journey begins at the buzzing Hakata Station, where a glistening, merlot-colored caravan with crisp brass lettering appears to whisk a small handful of passengers away on a pilgrimage back through time. There are only 14 total suites including two decadent deluxe cabins on board, each outfitted with a sitting area and private bathroom. The vision of award-winning Japanese designer Eiji Mitooka, the interiors are a master class in fine details, a tapestry of classic Eastern elegance with thoughtfully placed Western influences. Handmade porcelain sinks, delicate paper shoji window screens, and star motifs carved into table lamps are all examples of the painstaking attention to detail.
For pre or post-dinner drinks, enter the Blue Moon lounge car, a classic saloon with a bar counter, sofas, and swivel chairs where guests can sip on a sake cocktail and enjoy live piano performances. Here, one of Mitooka’s focal points exists in a panel of kumiko, traditional Japanese woodwork that’s softly backlit to illuminate a sea of complex lattice patterns. Meals are served in the Jupiter dining car, where master chefs prepare Michelin caliber dishes with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients from the plains, mountains, and sea, showcasing the region’s deep gastronomic traditions.
Tickets are awarded via a lottery system during two open application periods per year. Excursions start at $5,500 per person for the four-day trek. cruisetrain-sevenstars.jp/english/
Peruvian hotspots like the historical hub of Cusco (the birthplace of the Incan empire), the Andean freshwater Lake Titicaca, and the colonial city of Arequipa have long attracted visitors, but each of the 400-plus miles of mountainous countryside that connects them is a spellbinding destination on its own. In 2017, South America’s first true luxury sleeper train launched to celebrate the journey between these heritage sites, slicing through the spine of the Andes Mountains on one or two-night excursions that unlock once-hidden vistas of the Peruvian countryside. With an elevation of more than 12,000 feet above sea level, this is the highest rail route on the globe.
The 16-car voyager is enveloped in rich midnight blue and ivory and features oversized windows along with an al fresco observation deck so passengers can take in gulps of the fresh Andes air. The interiors are a contemporary love letter to classic Peruvian design; timber finishes and linen-covered walls are kissed with colorful hand woven accents with subtle pops of red, blue, and yellow. Local stone is used in the bathrooms and Alpaca blankets cover the beds. Thoughtful extras like in-room floral bouquets and champagne complete the experience, and there are also oxygen masks and tanks on board to ease any altitude sickness.
The two dining carriages evoke the classic elegance of feasting on long-haul European luxury trains, where white linen-covered tables are decorated with the flavors of authentic Peruvian cuisine so diners can “taste the landscape,” per lead chef Diego Muñoz. There’s also a separate lounge car for regaling long into the night, featuring gray tweed couches, violet lighting, and a grand piano for post-dinner sing-a-longs. But perhaps what makes this train particularly unique is the spa car, offering an array of face and body treatments as the mountains roll past in the background.
Prices begin at $795 per person for a one-night journey. belmond.com
While navigating Edinburgh’s bustling Waverly Station, simply follow the melodies of live bagpipes to find your way to the burgundy coachman that will take you deep into the Scottish Highlands, where medieval ruins, mirror-calm lakes, soaring mountain peaks, and undulating coastline all take shape outside your window. The Royal Scotsman is essentially a five-star country house hotel on wheels: welcome glasses of bubbly (presented by servers in traditional Scottish garb), spacious suites, and the U.K.’s first train spa. With a maximum capacity of 36 passengers and a staff-to-guest ratio of 3:1, passengers and their drink preferences are remembered by name. And in true Scottish fashion, adult beverages are taken seriously the observation car alone holds 30 varieties of scotch.
Enter your private suite to find authentic furnishings like marquetry-rich walls and soft Scottish wools and tartans covering the beds. The rooms are smaller than other luxury trains, but perhaps that’s by design, as live musicians often keep passengers from their slumber late into the night. When it is time to retire, the train docks to ensure each guest receives a peaceful night’s sleep.
Dining is a most elegant affair, with a black tie dress code of gowns, tuxedos, and yes, even kilts. Meals are served in mahogany-decorated carriages, where multiple courses designed by Michel in starred head chef Mark Tamburrini are served with pairings of vintage labels. Nearly every ingredient is locally culled and hyper fresh, from steamed Scottish mussels and wild salmon to delicate pigeon salad or spice roasted halibut. Wine, whiskey, digestifs, and live music are served post-meal in the observation car. Prices start at $5,500 per passenger. belmond.com
ROVOS RAIL South Africa
In 1985, successful businessman Rohan Vos procured several vintage coaches via live auction, including a 1938 locomotive from a nearby scrap yard, and through extensive renovations he reimagined each of them as a luxury liner, replete with rich wood paneling, massive private suites, and butler service, unlike anything else at the time in South Africa. Today Rovos Rail remains one of the most decadent railways in the world, offering journeys that last between 48 hours to 15 days, crisscrossing the country and connecting vibrant cities, wild game reserves, desert scenes, historic sites, and more on a Wagyu beef and champagne filled adventure far into the African wonderland.
Rovos’ signature trek is a three-day jaunt through the Karoo from Pretoria in the north down to the tip of Cape Town. The journey begins at Capital Park in Pretoria, a nearly 100-acre Edwardian-style private station and lounge that rolls out a genuine red carpet for passengers as porters trade luggage for glasses of champagne. There are three different suite types on the train, including four sprawling Royal Suites with private lounge areas and full en-suite bathrooms with a shower and freestanding Victorian tub. Soak with a glass of vintage Syrah as you watch lions wrestle outside your window.
Afternoon tea is served daily in the lounge and observation car, the latter outfitted with large cozy sofas, a bar, and an open-air balcony to savor the scenery. There are no radios or TVs anywhere on board, only the shifting terrain through oversized carriage windows. In the dining car, gourmet four-course meals of ostrich filet, grilled Cape rock lobster, and garlic prawn skewers are served in fine china and crystal glassware, accompanied by a robust selection of South African wines.
The 1,000-mile journey takes three days and chisels through grasslands, mountain ranges, vineyards, and the haunting barrenness of South Africa’s Great Karoo. The train makes stops in the idyllic village of Matjiesfontein, a preserved Victorian refreshment stop founded in the late 19th century, and Kimberly to glimpse the world’s largest man-made excavation, the Big Hole. Rates begin around $3,000 per person for the Royal Suite on the Pretoria-Cape Town itinerary. rovos.com