Africa: Luxury Train Travel To Increase By 17% in 2022 As Longing For Old-World Splendour Returns

Luxury

Recent data by Luxury Gold, a tour company that specialises in exotic travels, says that luxury train travel will become a popular activity for discerning travellers this year, citing a 17% increase in demand for packages that incorporate five-star rail journeys.

According to iol.co.za, from the suave-suited gentlemen smoking cigars to crystal flutes overflowing with champagne, gourmet dinners served in dining cars and the plush en-suite cabins, Hollywood films like Wild Wild West (1999) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017) portray a very lavish idea of train travel.

It’s a depiction that gravely differs from the modern reality that people mainly rely on trains as a means to commute. And, when it comes to holidays and local travel, cars and planes are favoured for their availability and efficiency.

Ultimate Italy with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Majesty of the Rockies with Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf Service are two of its most-favoured rail itineraries for the next year, indicating that there is international demand.

Many people believe that luxury train travel emerged during the interwar years of the 20th century. The story of some of the most notable luxury trains begins decades before the conclusion of Victoria’s reign.

READ: Tourism: The most Luxurious Train in The world Rovos Rail arrives Tanzania from South Africa

In the 1860s, the concept of tourism was reserved for the ultra-wealthy who could afford to cross borders purely for pleasure. History.com paints a vivid picture of the railroads established in the first half of the 19th century, which were often filthy and uncomfortable, and rattled along disjointed routes that frequently came to a standstill at the continent’s numerous international borders.

It took the intrigue of a European businessman, Georges Nagelmackers, to marry the popularity of railways with the elegance of hotels. History Hit reported that Nagelmackers was a member of a renowned Belgian banking family with railroad holdings across Europe. He was sent to the US after the Civil War to assist his recovery from a failed romance with a cousin—and while on his long holiday, he fell in love.

Of course, his new sweetheart was not a person, but instead, the Pullman train cars that were invented by an American named George Pullman. Designed for long-distance travel, its passengers sat in comfort and were waited on hand and foot by staff. With a joint business venture not on the cards for Nagelmackers, he plotted to bring the concept back home with him – on an even grander scale.

By 1873, he had formed his own company, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. Sources reveal that he enlisted the help of a major ally, Belgium’s King Leopold II who was a well-known railroad aficionado with connections to some of Europe’s most powerful monarchs. Thus, Nagelmacker easily obtained approval to operate his trains freely over international lines.

The Golden Eagle Luxury Trains states on its website that the period “marked a significant step-change in Britain and how railway companies saw their customers, belatedly realising passenger expectations surrounding the quality of travel and services was clearly evolving. It was a decade of rapid and bewildering change as science and technology transformed the country”.

On October 4, 1883, the world’s most intriguing train, The Orient-Express, departed from Paris for Constantinople, carrying 40 passengers. The round trip lasted 13 days, redefining the concept of long-distance travel in one journey.

Today, its website boasts about its transformations as the train ventured from Paris to Peking, from Istanbul to Cairo, opening sumptuous palace hotels along the way, extending the experience of a train journey into a modern, luxurious travel experience.
Countries across the globe have followed suit, offering multi-country train excursions with vintage opulence, five-star accommodation and fine dining all rolled into one. From South Africa to Japan, these are some of the most luxurious train experiences in the world.

Rovos Rail, South Africa
Rovos Rail has built an international reputation for providing world-class travel experiences since its inception in 1989. Rovos Rail connects some of the continent’s best attractions with a selection of off-train excursions in a series of bespoke train holiday ranging from 48 hours to 15 days.

Rovos Rail pays homage back to a simpler, more elegant time, embodying the timeless grace and high romanticism of African exploration, with discreet and courteous service, superb cuisine, and a selection of South Africa’s finest wines.

The most lavish suite on the train is the Royals which each take up half a carriage with their own private lounge area and en-suite bathroom with Victorian bath, separate shower, toilet and basin. A four- to five-day trip from Pretoria to Victoria Falls ranges from R36 500 to R72 500.

The Presidential Train, Portugal
The Presidential Train, Portugal’s crown jewel, has hosted kings, presidents, heads of State, and popes for more than a century. It was built in 1890 and is composed of five luxury carriages: the Hall of the Head of State, the Hall of Ministers, the Comity and Security carriage, the Restaurant hall and the Journalists carriage.

The Presidential Train is a time capsule in which passengers travel through history, with a special aroma and purposeful music. As it travels from Porto to Quinta do Vesuvio, on the eastern shore of the Douro Valley, the Presidential Train brings together the world’s best chefs with the world’s freshest food. It all culminates in a wine-tasting with only the best there is to offer. The one-day journey costs R12 470.

Shongololo Express, South Africa
The Shongololo Express was launched in 1995 at Rovos Rail’s Pretoria station to provide a unique sightseeing experience for visitors to southern Africa. The four 12- to 15-day trips take passengers through South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

Guests have two options for cabins: the Emerald Cabin, which has a small lounge area and en-suite bathroom, or the Gold Cabin, which measures boast an en-suite bathroom (shower, basin and toilet) and double or tin beds.

Each train has its own bar, dining and accommodation carriages. As in any hotel,bedding and towels are provided and cabins are serviced daily. While there are many packages to choose from, including Victoria Falls and Walvis Bay adventures, rates range from about R116 000 to R127 000 pps for a trip lasting around 11 to 15 days.

The Ghan Train, Australia
The Ghan Train combines luxury design, spacious cabins, and world-class dining with more than 90 years of history. Travellers who experience The Ghan have the ability to build their own rich and fulfilling personal adventure through Australia’s outback and beyond.

Guests can sample regionally inspired cuisine such as crocodile or barramundi, as well as premium Australian wines and beers, as part of this all-inclusive package. With Off Train Experiences in Manguri (southbound) to gaze at the Outback stars, Marla (northbound) to witness an Outback sunrise, Alice Springs in the Red Centre, and Katherine for its spectacular ancient gorge system and Outback lifestyle, the journey showcases the diversity of this island continent.

Their Adelaide to Darwin package for three days and two nights is the most pricey, at R23 615 pp.

Cruise Train, Japan
The magnificent “Seven Stars in Kyushu” Cruise Train features an amazing blend of traditions – Japanese and Western, new and ancient – throughout the interior with the varied use of wood and fabrics.

Passengers can relax and enjoy live piano performances in the Lounge Car, which has a bar counter, sofas, and swivel chairs. The huge windows were built to be used as observatory windows to take in the splendour of passing scenery. In one compartment, there are two Deluxe Suites and in the others, there are three large Suites per car.

The price of the Seven Stars ranges from R42 300 to R54 000 per person for two days and one night, and R87 000 to R115 000 per person for four days and three nights.
This article first appeared in Saturday Insider, March 19, 2022

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