Before cramped airport scenes and middle seats, baggage fees and spats about overhead space, there was the Golden Age of Travel. It was a time when people boarded a train or ship, settled into a cabin and enjoyed the ride. Sure, trips took longer back then, but the journey was as much a part of the experience as the destination — and often, you could visit several spots along the way.
If you’ve cruised before, then you get the appeal of this style of travel. But the fun’s not limited to the water: With an overnight train trip, you can enjoy on-board service and experience all the places in between your destinations — from rural villages to natural wonders — as they appear past your windows. Many companies around the world have restored vintage sleeper cars to their former glory, or created new ones that evoke that era of comfort and elegance. Here are five train journeys, lasting from one night to over a week, that traverse some of the world’s most romantic destinations — and, for a little while, help transport you back in time, too. Bon Voyage!
The Route: Several through Europe, from London to Istanbul.
Length of Trip: One to ten nights.
The Destinations: Arguably no other name is as synonymous with the glamour of train travel as the Orient-Express, which ferried passengers from Paris to Istanbul from the 1880s through the early-2000s. From royalty and spies to Agatha Christie characters, they all traveled in one of the line’s plush, Art Deco-styled British Pullman cars, enjoying refined service and gourmet meals as they made their way to glittering European hubs. Though the original route no longer operates, the experience has been impeccably recreated on the privately operated Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which uses restored original carriages from the 1920s and ‘30s. The train operates from March to September, and routes change depending on the time of year. Choose from the best-selling Signature Journeys like Paris-Istanbul and Istanbul-Venice (each 5 nights) or the 10-night Paris-Istanbul-Venice. This year the train also heads further north to Scandinavia, offering one- or four-night trips between Venice, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Depending on the itinerary, you’ll enjoy free time to explore destinations on your own, or pre-arranged excursions, like private city tours in Budapest and visits to Peles Castle in Sinaia. Longer journeys mix nights aboard the train with hotel stays, and pre- or post-train extensions can be also be arranged.
All Aboard! “Opulence” is the keyword in the restored cabins, from the crisp Damask sheets adorning the beds and the plush robes and slippers offered at turndown to the oak panels that slide back to reveal sinks. In keeping with the train’s original layout, mosaic-tiled bathrooms are located at the ends of each car (not in cabins), and the Double Cabins only offer berth-style beds (no double beds), which get transformed into cushy banquette seating during the day. Posh design elements like Lalique glass and black lacquer paneling can be found in the three restaurant cars, which serve chef-prepared menus using ingredients picked-up along the routes. The Art Nouveau-style Bar Car offers handcrafted cocktails and live piano music (rates for the five-night Paris-Istanbul itinerary start at about $9,270 per person and include meals; belmond.com).
Photos courtesy of Belmond