The Railway Children. Murder on the Orient Express. Even Paddington Bear - there’s good reason that railway journeys have inspired generations of writers, and that an epic adventure by train makes it high onto many people’s bucket lists. We can think of no better way to travel long distances than in the comfort of a luxury railway carriage, looking out of the picture window as majestic scenery flies by.
There’s no doubt that the railway network is one of the most positive and most enduring legacies of the British Empire, and even beyond Britain’s imperial reach, Scottish engineers laid down thousands of miles of tracks through often inhospitable landscapes. Even today, train is often the best way to reach otherwise inaccessible locations, and the journey is part of the fun. Here are just a few of our favourite, breathtaking routes.
1 — Rovos Rail, South Africa
The Cape to Cairo line was never completed all the way, but you can get a taste of what it might have been like when you ride with Rovos Rail. Their two-night Cape Town to Pretoria route is a perennial favourite, and includes some wonderful stops along the way, including the Cape Winelands and the Kimberley Diamond Mine Museum. You can also opt to take one of Rovos’ luxury trains across the border to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or on an extraordinary 10-day expedition that takes in everything from South Africa’s premier golf courses to the world famous Kruger National Park.
2 — Belmond Hiram Bingham, Peru
Hiram Bingham III was the American explorer and academic who rediscovered the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu and made the location of this remarkable site public knowledge. He is the fitting namesake of the Belmond Hiram Bingham, the fabulous train which passes through astounding landscapes between Cusco to Machu Picchu. This railway journey is appropriately described as “A voyage the to heart of the Inca Empire”, and if you are planning to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site but don’t wish to hike the Inca Trail, there’s no better way to get there than this.
3 — Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru
The Belmond Hiram Bingham’s sister train is the Belmond Andean Explorer, which winds the inspiring route from Puno to Cusco. They rightly call it the Spirit of the Andes, and you won’t be able to pull your eyes away from the mountain views. The observation car has an open-air deck, which is fine place to while away the hours during the two day trip. This train is the first luxury sleeper train in South America, and the four different classes of cabins all have en suite bathrooms to maximise your convenience and comfort.
4 — Devil's Nose Train Ride, Ecuador
The devil created a challenge for engineers: a mountain with almost perpendicular walls. The masterful solution they developed was a zigzag railroad which climbs more than 500 m in a little under 12 km. The ride is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Start in the mountain town of Alausi, and crisscross Condor Mountain and its neighbouring peaks on your way to historic Quito.
5 — Maharaja's Express, India
The Maharajas' Express received The World’s Leading Luxury Train award for six consecutive years, and I’m sure you’ll agree that it truly is a train fit for a prince. In fact, it’s best described as a palace on wheels. For the ultimate in opulence, choose the Maharajas' Express Presidential Suite, with its living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. A personal valet is always on hand, and you’ll have a private, English speaking guide for all your off train excursions. You have a choice of inspiring routes, mostly through Rajasthan and India’s Golden Triangle; the Heritage of India itinerary provides the most in depth insight into India’s rich history and culture.
We adore the experience of travelling by train, and find it particularly relaxing. We often say that the journey is as important as the destination, but have to remind ourselves to allow plenty of time at either end of the trip to make the most of the country we are exploring. The train is a vehicle for even greater adventures.