If time is the ultimate resource, slow travel, naturally, becomes the zenith of luxury. After all, nothing says indulgence like taking one’s time and making the journey as much a part of the trip as the destination. Classic railway travel, in all its storied splendour (some might even say excess) is the perfect expression of said luxury.
At the forefront of the century-old grandeur of luxury train travel lies Belmond, the travel company (founded in 1976 and now owned by luxury house LVMH) behind some of the most legendary track journeys today. Now, they’ve teamed up with American filmmaker Wes Anderson – whose love for trains, travel and opulence shine throughout his filmography, particularly in 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – to reimagine a carriage through his eyes aboard the celebrated British Pullman.
The train car in question is the Cygnus (named after the Greed God of balance), which was first put to work 70 years ago as a first class parlour car for another luxe train, the Golden Arrow. The Texan-born filmmaker takes the art-deco influenced carriage and makes it his own with an art nouveau aesthetic, whimsical colour palette and symmetrical lines.
“I love trains! I have often had the chance to invent train compartments and carriages in my movies — so I was immediately pleased to say ‘yes’ to this real-life opportunity,” said Anderson in a press statement. “[Belmond] are keeping something special alive; igniting this endangered species of travel into a new golden era.”
Designer touches include swans and intricate waves within the handcrafted marquetry as a nod to Cygnus as well as a silver leaf embedded in the carriage ceiling and even swan-shaped Champagne coolers. The British Pullman train is used for day trips around the United Kingdom, and two levels of Cygnus carriage journeys are now available: Pullman Dining by Wes Anderson for open seating in the Cygnus or a private Pullman coupe by Wes Anderson for four. Expect all the touches you’d expect from a luxury train experience: white-glove service, contemporary British fare and an excellent view of the countryside.
Coupe guests, however, enjoy priority boarding at London Victoria, free-flowing Champagne throughout the journey and extra courses on special crockery (picked out by Anderson himself). They also receive a guided tour of the train and a gift box of Champagne glasses to go. Alternatively, you could also book the entire carriage for 26 (safe distancing measures are a little different in sunny ol’ England).
An excellent opportunity to consider, seeing as how the United Kingdom’s on the list of countries that Singapore has now launched vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) with. Here’s a few other luxe train experiences (some VTL-friendly) to add to your bucket list.
Another iconic entrant by Belmond is the famed Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – yes, that Orient Express of Agatha Christie murder-mystery novel fame. Expect carriages decked out in classic art deco liveries as you pass through the European countryside – stops include London, Paris, Venice, Vienna and Budapest – in all its splendour, along with grub sourced from along the route. Lobsters from Brittany, anyone?
Dubbed as ‘the world’s greatest train ride’ by some, it’s certainly one of the longest: you’ll be traversing some 11,000 km of track and eight time zones from Moscow to Vladivostok (or vice versa) though some of the most remote – and beautiful – parts of the world, including a climb through the Ural mountains and alongside the shores of Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. Naturally, creature comforts abound, with all the state-of-the-art amenities and old-world luxury you’d expect from a grandiose traipse through the Russian landscape by Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.
For a change of scenery (and a venture into the relative unknown), opt for Rovos Rail. Their journeys through South Africa range from short three-day itineraries to full-blown, 15-day voyages, passing by an ever-changing menagerie of cities, deserts and savannahs. Trains never go faster than 60kmh, slowing down to as little as 20 kmh on tricker sections of track, leaving one with plenty of time to enjoy the palatial experience – or stick one’s goggled head out of the window to catch a glimpse of South Africa’s Big Five. Like others on the list, you can expect a full suite of luxe facilities aboard Rovos Rail’s refurbished Pullman trains – just another throwback to the game drives and safaris of old.