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On track: The world’s most beautiful train journeys

This year, a raft of spoiling new adventures by rail will arrive. From those which journey across Africa to the much-anticipated return of the iconic Eastern & Oriental, A Belmond Train, South-East Asia in Singapore, and go-slow jaunts through Italy, where design-led cabins and fine dining are as much of a draw as the destinations they pull through, here are five of the best.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

A Belmond Train, Europe

The route: Paris to Portofino

Launching: June 2024

The inside track:  With its navy and gold carriages, elegantly uniformed staff known for their impeccable service, Art Deco interiors and Agatha Christie literary pedigree, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, is the stuff of legend. Come June, this railway grande dame will – for the first time – lend golden-era glamor to a Paris to Portofino journey.

Meandering its way through Dijon, Lyon and Avignon, guests can expect cuisine by famed chef Jean Imbert of Michelin-starred Jean Imbert au Plaza Athénée and boogying opportunities in the Bar Car courtesy of swing band The Uppertones.

After a comfortable night’s slumber (six new, top-level Grand Suites take design inspiration from European cities; think Byzantine-inspired golden velvet cushions in the Istanbul Grand Suite, Art Deco marquetry in the Paris Grand Suite), the train will swoosh along the dashing coastline of the Mediterranean Riviera moving past Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo and Italy’s Ventimiglia, Savona and Genoa.

At the final stop in Santa Margherita Ligure, a two-night stay at Splendido, A Belmond Hotel, Portofino – including a five-course tasting menu by Chef Imbert – a former 16th-century Benedictine monastery in the Ligurian hills, follows.

Orient Express

La Dolce Vita, Italy

The route: Various, northern and southern Italy

Launching: Late 2024

The inside track: While many details remain under wraps, this completely new 11-car luxury train – dreamed up by Arsenale SpA and Orient Express (part of Accor Group, entirely separate to Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train) with design by Dimorestudio – will bring serious swagger to northern and southern Italy, with six new itineraries traversing some 16,000 kilometers taking in the region’s most gorgeous spots.

Journeys are one or two nights long and include a Rome to Montalcino round-trip designed with oenophiles in mind that shines a light on some of Tuscany’s best vineyards. Another, from Palermo, will pair seaside panoramas with the treasures of Messina and Maratea en route to the Eternal City.

Onboard, decor and atmosphere take inspiration from La Dolce Vita, celebrating the craft and creativity of the artistically rich period in 1960–70s Italy. Expect start-to-finish flair from plush cabin suites in orange, terracotta and purple hues, with smoked mirror walls and their own living areas, and Italian fare – crafted using fine local ingredients and top-notch wines, served fine-dining style.

The Vietage

Anantara, Vietnam

The route: Nha Trang to Quy Nhon (both ways)

Launching: May 2024

The inside track: Oscillating between craggy coastlines with gilt-colored beaches and rip-roaring mountain scenery, this five-hour journey from Nha Trang to Quy Nhon (or vice versa) is beautiful. Now, this route in south-central Vietnam can be enjoyed in luxury with The Vietage, a custom-designed 12-seater carriage dreamed up by Anantara Hotels. Designed to offer stylish passage for guests traveling between Anantara Hoi An and Anantara Quy Nhon Villas, it’s bookable by all.

Heading north from Nha Trang, the route hugs the coast, passing Nha Phu Bay and Van Phong Bay, looping inland where paddy-field panoramas await near Binh Dinh province. The reservations-only carriage is decorated in earthy tones, with wood and marble details lending a polished elegance. For privacy, pairs of seats are separated by rattan partitions, while a semi-circular bar topped with ink black inox marble is the ideal spot for convivial chats and ‘All Aboard’ cucumber-rosemary gin cocktails.

En route, an afternoon tea featuring poached Bai Dai lobster and Da Lat caviar, finger sandwiches and Banh Mi, followed by passionfruit eclairs, is served. Spa therapists are on hand to deliver neck massages and to proffer ginger, pineapple, cinnamon, Vietnamese basil and mint infusions.

Eastern & Oriental Express

A Belmond Train, South-East Asia

The route: Singapore to Malaysia to Singapore

Launching: Feb 2024

The inside track: Another newcomer from slow-travel maestros Belmond is the Eastern & Oriental, whose distinctive racing green locomotive will return to the rails in South-East Asia after a four-year hiatus. Taking a fresh route departing from Singapore, then rolling through Malaysia and back, there are two brand new, three-night trips.

‘Wild Malaysia’ (March through November) will travel the eastern side of the Malay peninsula, along the Jungle Railway towards the remote train station of Merapoh, affording off-train exploration of 130-million-year-old rainforest Taman Negara National Park, and – the following day – street art hub Penang.

‘The Essence of Malaysia’ (November through February) heads through Kuala Lumpur, Penang and includes a private off-train cruise to Langkawi for snorkeling in the Pulau Payar Marine Park. Eastern & Oriental’s 15 restyled carriages will feature ornate marquetry, cherry wood paneling, Malay batik and oriental silk details.

As for other highlights? Onboard dining masterminded by acclaimed chef André Chiang of two-Michelin-starred RAW in Taipei, the famed open-air observation car for breathtaking forest views and the beds to book, swish new presidential cabins.

The Southern Cross

Rovos Rail, Africa

The route: South Africa to Eswatini to Mozambique to Zimbabwe

Launching: January 2025

The inside track: Upping the ante in Africa, having purchased the out-of-service Shongololo Express train many years ago, luxe rail experts Rovos Rail, founded by Rohan Vos, have entirely transformed the historic vehicle, taking it from a casual three-star affair into a five-star vision with bold green and cream livery, and zhuzhed up interiors. Now taking pride of place in Rovos’ six-strong fleet, interiors, including wood-paneled sleeper coaches have been painstakingly restored by artisan experts, and suppers are dress-to-impress events.

The new-look train will run across two new African routes, including The Southern Cross, an 11-night, 2,500-kilometer extravaganza from Pretoria to Victoria Falls and back. Crossing the Drakensberg Mountains and its rugged peaks before heading along the scenic Panorama Route, where wooden walkways and suspension bridges meander through the indigenous forest in Graskop, into Mozambique, through mountainous Eswatini and on to Hwange and Victoria Falls.

Offboard excursions range from a thrilling full day’s safari in Kruger National Park in search of the Big Five and a private cruise to marvel at sunset along the mighty Zambezi River.

This story was first published by Quintessentially and is republished with kind permission. For more information, please go to Quintessentially.com or email corporatemembership@quintessentially.com
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