While there are myriad ways to experience Europe’s heritage-filled cities, spectacular landscapes and world-class gastronomy, we think it’s all perhaps best showcased with a luxury rail journey. Expect centuries-old tradition and five-star service framed by iconic views that range from the rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands to the coastal charm of Spain’s north. See below for our pick of Europe’s very best luxury rail journeys.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: London to Venice
The original route on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express remains an icon to this day. Amid 1920s-restored carriages and discrete white-gloved service, it all starts with brunch and Bellinis to a backdrop of the rolling Kent countryside, before guests are invited to dress to the nines for multi-course gourmet dining alongside some of the world’s finest wines and vintage champagne. After a convivial night in the bar car accompanied by the sound of the baby grand, guests settle in to wood-panelled cabins that are expertly transformed into sleeping berths by their personal butlers. It all culminates at the train’s eponym where, via private water taxi, guests are whisked away to one of the city’s best hotels. It makes for a fitting finish to a truly iconic journey.
Belmond Royal Scotsman
From the people who brought us the Orient Express comes the Belmond Royal Scotsman, a luxury offering that traverses through the very heart of the Scottish Highlands. It all feels rather movie-set-esque as you trace ancient viaducts and river-side trails, fuelling up on Michelin-standard dining and open-bar drinks – including 30 whiskies – before finishing the evening with traditional Scottish entertainment. Alongside taking in the vistas there’s plenty of opportunities to engage in traditional excursions, like stately home tours, hikes among waterfalls and afternoon tea in historic castles.
Portugal’s Presidential was lovingly restored in 2010 and is the most luxurious way to discover the very best of the Douro Valley – with gourmet food and wine to match. It all starts among Porto’s colourful crumbles before traversing past emblematic terraces and centuries-old vineyards as lunch is served. The multi-course menu – prepared by a Michelin chef, no less, is served among luxury interiors alongside sommelier-paired wines and, naturally, a selection of vintage ports. Guests even enjoy exclusive access to a grand winery for wine tasting and wine-making through traditional foot treading. This is all about seasonal gastronomy, so departures only embark in spring (April-May) and harvest (September-October), making it all the more exclusive.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, Spain
This magnificent eight-day journey is a truly unparalleled way to experience Spain’s lesser-visited north coast and UNESCO-listed charms. Restored to its luxury best, expect stained-glass windows and gleaming wood-clad carriages that are reminiscent of their 1920s heritage alongside included, multi-course dining paired with complimentary fine wines from the region, all while sleeping in what are some of the world’s largest train suites. And, you’ll experience a whole host of Spanish delights, from San Sebastian’s colourful coast to medieval fishing villages as well as Bilbao and Santiago’s national parks. Each day culminates with tea-room fineries as well as drinks among the lavish furnishings of the bar car, with included tours throughout that range from spa visits to traditional Spanish performances.
Belmond Grand Hibernian
Ireland’s rolling hills and sweeping vistas are simply made to be viewed from a train – and this is undoubtedly the finest way to see it all. It’s all taken in from en-suite cabins and opulent lounges before live music-accompanied drinks in the convivial bar car prelude gourmet, all-inclusive menus. Alongside visits to Cork and Galway, two of Ireland’s most charming cities, guests enjoy included excursions that showcase the best of the region, from lough boat rides and rare whiskey tastings to horse and carriage rides.
Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Russia
As the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express rolls out of Moscow, there’s a palpable feeling of anticipation in the air that only comes with being on such a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Traversing all the way to Vladivostok with a wonderful 12 nights on board, Russia’s vast landscapes are rarely visited in such depth and as you skirt the Ural Mountains, speed past iconic Lake Baikal and even call in to Mongolia, you’ll join as many included excursions as you wish, from visiting Mongolian villages to walks around Lake Baikal. Then, taken in the red-and-gold furnishings of the dining carriage, the likes of caviar and local specialties are a perfect prelude to pianist-accompanied nightcaps in the bar car – charmingly open until the very last guest leaves. Travel in March to enjoy the magic of winter that comes in the form of snow-dusted cities, ice fishing on frozen Lake Baikal and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Dave Warne is Product Director at The Luxury Holiday Company. The Luxury Holiday Company offers completely bespoke holidays designed to deliver unrivalled luxury, arranged by specialists who have more than 200 years of collective travel experience.