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The train trip

that will change your life

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SPW Contributors

Sanlam Private Wealth

Put it down to the hypnotic sway of the carriages, the clickety-clack over the tracks, and the particular thrill of a black tie and crystal dinner as you rocket through the inky night … Luxury train travel is all about absorbing the rich culture and cinematic landscape of a country in ultimate style. All aboard for the ride of your life.

From the rhythmic hum of metal wheels on welded rails, to the ever-changing panorama beyond the window, few modes of travel evoke the glamour and elegance of a bygone era as deftly as a train journey.

Happily, luxury train travel has seen something of a revival over the past decade or two, with five-star trains rattling along tracks from the Pacific Northwest to Uttar Pradesh. Here are five to add to your adventure holiday to-do list.



What began in 1989 as a passion project – and a quirky way to take the family on holiday – has grown into one of the most celebrated luxury trains on the planet.

Rovos Rail prides itself on transporting guests back in time as well as to their destination, with lovingly restored wood-panelled carriages dating back to the mid-1900s. There’s no Wi-Fi or television on board, and that’s precisely how guests prefer it.

Not that you’ll miss out on any creature comforts, mind you. Air-conditioning, fine linens, butler service and gourmet dining are all part of the all-inclusive package. There’s a stellar wine list of iconic South African estates available, while the barmen in the rear observation carriage are dab hands at pouring a G&T on the move.

There are three styles of compartment on offer, but best to opt for one of the spacious Royal Suites. They take up half a carriage, and include a separate sitting area plus a freestanding bath in the en suite.

Rovos Rail runs a selection of routes across southern Africa. The classic journey from Pretoria to Cape Town is the most popular, and a worthy icon of the service, but also look out for more adventurous journeys as far afield as Victoria Falls and Dar es Salaam.

July 2019 sees Rovos Rail break new ground for luxury train travel in Africa, with the inaugural ‘Trail of Two Oceans’ journey linking Dar es Salaam and Lobito, Angola. The 15-day expedition traverses Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola, and marks the first time a passenger train will rattle along the famous copper trail across Africa.



Widely hailed as one of the world’s great railway journeys, The Ghan traverses the length of Australia on a three-night, four-day odyssey connecting the southern city of Adelaide with the Northern Territory capital of Darwin, 2 979km away.

Off-train excursions are offered at numerous stops en route, whether it’s an Outback experience in Katherine, walking visits of Alice Springs, or a scenic flight over the venerated monoliths of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. There are also underground tours in isolated Coober Pedy, the opal-mining capital of the world, and wine-tasting extensions to the acclaimed Barossa Valley beyond Adelaide.

Both Gold- and Platinum-fare compartments are en suite, but the extra spend for a Platinum fare is well worth it. These compartments offer nearly double the space, complimentary room service, additional luggage allowance and private dining in the exclusive Platinum Club on board.

Wondering how the service got its name? It’s a tribute to the hardy cameleers who pioneered camels and commerce into Australia’s Red Centre in the 1800s. However, while the locals at the time dubbed them Afghans, most were actually from an area in modern-day Pakistan.



Belmond may be most famous for luxury lodgings – including Cape Town’s iconic Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel – but it turns out they know how to take that sophistication onto the rails too.

With stately emerald carriages built of cherry wood and teak, adorned with Thai silks and Malaysian embroidery, there’s a sense of the exotic from the moment you step aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express. Throw in ever-changing scenery of steamy rainforests, ancient temples and pulsating cities, and it’s not hard to see why this has become the most sought-after luxury train in Asia.

Air-conditioned compartments are available in Pullman, State and Presidential, but you’ll spend much of your day in the observation car at the rear of the train. Meals are enjoyed in the opulent dining cars, but not before one of the signature E&OE cocktails in the bar car. Who’s for a creamy Coconut Plantation?

The classic Eastern & Oriental Express journey is the three-night run between Bangkok and Singapore, although shorter journeys terminating at Kuala Lumpur are available. En route you’ll stop at Kanchanaburi, for a tour of the iconic bridge on the River Kwai, as well as explore the remote villages, rice paddies and hill walks of the Malaysian countryside.



Travelling by train in India is typically hot, cramped and uncomfortable. But not aboard the Palace on Wheels.

While India’s rail network stretches to nearly 100 000km, the Palace on Wheels trundles luxuriantly across just one corner of India: the famed Golden Triangle. Along the way it takes in some of the region’s most popular sights – the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, the desert oasis of Jaisalmer, the lakeside palaces of Udaipur and, of course, the forts and famous mausoleums of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.

Luxurious en-suite compartments and genteel service come standard, with opulent decor befitting the grandly titled train.

If you’ve already ticked Rajasthan off your list, there are a number of other luxury train services on offer: the Golden Chariot runs from Bangalore to Mysore and Goa; the Deccan Odyssey departs Mumbai to cover the highlights of Maharashtra state; and the Maharaja Express fills in the gaps with itineraries to Varanasi, Khajuraho and Ranthambore National Park. All in five-star style, of course.



North America lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to luxury train services, but The Canadian is a rare and welcome exception. Linking Toronto and Vancouver, this classic transcontinental route covers more than 4 400km over four days. Along the way you’ll soak up some of Canada’s most glorious scenery, from golden prairies to the dramatic peaks of the Rockies.

With three nights on board, Prestige Class is your best bet. Akin to a business-class suite, a window-facing couch by day converts to a comfortable double bed by night. Bathrooms are en suite, a concierge is on hand, and a complimentary bar service is included in the fare. Oh Canada!

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