Courtesy of The Royal Scotsman
The whistle blows, the doors click closed, the train lurches forward. You settle in beneath the glass-domed observation car, butterflies aflutter with the promise of adventure. A server comes by with Champagne. Today’s class of luxury train delivers a much-needed antidote to the compact, clinical cruelty of commercial flight.
Yet, the best luxury train journeys don’t simply ensconce passengers in imported finery; they also build bridges between travelers and destinations through locally sourced wine, spirits and food. Crossing the Karoo in South Africa, for instance, you sip Chenin. In Paris, split a bottle of bubbles with new friends in the onboard Champagne bar. Chugging up the Douro Valley, savor Port while watching the train tracks unspool into the starry night. In the spirit of T.S. Eliot, “the journey not the arrival matters.”
Here are seven wine-soaked luxury train vacations across far-flung tracks.
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express, Europe
Authors Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming immortalized this storied train in their works of fiction. Fortunately, the real-life experience approximates the elegance on their pages.
Servicing the fashionable corridor between London and Istanbul, with stops including Paris and Verona, the Venice Simplon-Orient Express itself is the reason for riding. White-gloved hands receive your bags as you board, and, on the train, decor harkens back to the stylized geometry of the Art Deco era come to life anew in sumptuous fabrics and wallpapers.
This journey also offers one of the best wine selections on Europe’s rails, with a cellar rich with French and Italian labels. The executive chef, Jean Imbert, sources dinner along the trip. Think salt marsh lamb from Mont Saint-Michel or lobsters from Brittany. Along the route, guests converge at dusk in the Champagne bar as preliminary to an evening of destination-worthy eating and drinking.
The Royal Scotsman, Scotland
The Royal Scotsman pulls passengers across Scotland’s rugged countryside at a sleepy pace. Settle in with a Scotch to watch the lochs and castles float past your sleeper car window. Stylish cabins lined with marquetry feature plush beds topped in Scottish wools and tartans—textiles fit for an estate house.
Train programs run between April and July with varied itineraries. A Scotch malt whisky tour brings guests to Tomatin, Glenlivet and Tullibardine distilleries. The Western Scenic Wonder trip focuses on landscapes.
Naturally, the Royal Scotsman’s whisky selection bests the competition with over 50 selections divided by regional style. Creative cocktails shine, as do Scottish gin and beer selections. Laurent-Perrier is the “house” Champagne pour, with still wines sourced from Europe and South America. Meals speak to the local bounty: Scottish oak smoked salmon and Rannoch Moor venison make frequent appearances.
The Haybarn Spa car offers facials or massages with scenic views.
The Andean Explorer, Peru
On a journey from Cusco to Arequipa, travelers aboard the Andean Explorer can glide through 25,000 miles of mountainous terrain, Pisco Sour in hand, over the course of two days. Crossing the glorious Andean Plains, you’ll break at Lake Titicaca, a vast pool of blue kissing the sky at 12,500 feet above sea level. Back on board, snag the open-air balcony perch atop the observation car.
Two dining cars seat guests on supple leather chairs for a feast of lively Peruvian flavors and local wines and spirits. The chefs source local quinoa, broad bean, corn and squash along the route, while, the national drink, Pisco, features heavily in cocktails. Most wines come from South America’s Chile and Argentina.
After a night of celebration, book the Andean Ritual, a cleansing wrap of flowers and coca in the Picaflor Spa car.
The Presidential Train, Douro Valley, Portugal
Portugal’s picturesque Douro Valley is tailor-made for wine-soaked train travel. Through a picture window, watch undulating ribbons of vineyards unfurl above the mighty Douro River.
On The Presidential Train, chefs turn out multicourse repasts of local flavors and Douro wines. A partnership with Niepoort informs much of the wine list. On lovely Vista Alegre China, guests in the smartly designed cars can tuck into tender cod drizzled in Portuguese olive oil, and sip floral Touriga Nacional from Riedel crystal.
Go for the daylong Presidential Experience, which departs Porto and concludes with a private tasting at renowned Quinta do Vesuvio.