Train travel hearkens back to a romantic bygone era. While there are certainly faster ways to get from one place to another, riding the rails really delivers on showcasing the natural beauty of a destination. In lieu of flying from major city to major city, trains can show travelers how urban and rural areas fit together to form a country. Part of your perfect vacation could be devoting some time to just staring out the window and daydreaming. Here are few of our favorite trains and itineraries for it.
Running through British Columbia and Alberta, Rocky Mountaineer takes passengers on a journey through Western Canada. The cities of Vancouver and Calgary mingle with gorgeous mountain scenery, including national parks such as Jasper and Lake Louise. The view from the Virtuoso-preferred Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is iconic. If you want to do some exploring on your own, Rocky Mountaineer has the option of combining rail and car rental. The season runs from mid-April to mid-October. Pro tip: The last month features fall foliage at the lower elevations and snow higher up.
The Blue Train
The 994 miles through South Africa between Cape Town and Pretoria cover some beautiful territory. The Blue Train crosses it in style, with private suites for the overnight journey. The dining is fine, the lounges are elegant, the sights of mountains are vineyards rolling by are spectacular. Going southbound, you’ll stop in the mining town of Kimberly. Northbound travelers see the Victorian buildings of Matjiesfontein. With the departure times of 8:30 a.m. and arrivals at 3 p.m. the next day, The Blue Train is a great addition to safaris.
Belmond has seven trains crisscrossing Europe, Peru, and Southeast Asia. They pull into stations at such diverse outposts as London, Machu Picchu, Kuala Lumpur and the Scottish Highlands. (Not all on the same ride, of course.) Some journeys feature comfortable overnight quarters, while others are tailored to allow overnight stays at some of Belmond’s 35 worldwide hotels. The Royal Scotsman and Andean Explorer even have spas onboard to help you unwind even more.
The Swiss Alps
The roof of Europe has awe-inspiring views, and a train window is a terrific vantage point. The Gornergrat train whisks passengers from Zermatt to 10,000 feet of elevation in just over half an hour, opening up a dramatic view of the Matterhorn. The cogwheel train has been running since 1898 and operates every day of the year. Climbing through orchards and vineyards on its way up to mountain passes, the Bernina Express makes its way across more than 50 bridges and through almost 200 tunnels. No wonder parts of the route have UNESCO World Heritage status. Featuring the St. Moritz, Zermatt, the Rhine Gorge and the Oberalp Pass, a ride on the Glacier Express is a full day of feasting for the eyes and palate, with meals prepared fresh onboard.
The Ghan and Indian Pacific
The Ghan runs north-south nearly 2,000 up Australia’s spine, while the Indian Pacific traverses 2,700 miles between Sydney and Perth on the east-west axis through the southern part of the continent. Each journey is a three-night affair, with off-train excursions included in packages. Get to know the Outback on the Ghan train, and consider upgrading to a fixed-wing flight over Uluru/Ayers Rock. From Adelaide on the southern end, you can easily reach the Barossa Valley wine region or the unique wildlife of Kangaroo Island. The Indian Pacific offers Barossa Valley and the Blue Mountains excursions. Gourmet meals and premium wines await in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant car.
Perhaps you’re traveling for business and trying to squeeze in a pleasure trip. Maybe you won’t be back to that part of the world in a while. Possibly you can only get away for a few days. Or you just want a few more days to relax before you head back to work. Whatever the reason, you can explore these destinations in less than a week, either on their own or as part of a longer trip.
Channel Islands, California
Off the coast from Los Angeles, this archipelago is home to a national park and the resort island of Santa Catalina. More than a million visitors arrive on Catalina annually, doing boat tours, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving and enjoying the beach or a nice wine mixer. Five of the chain’s eight islands form Channel Islands National Park. Lindblad Expeditions offers five-day/four-night itineraries out of L.A. on its Base Camp Channel Islands program, which combines wildness and wellness. Mornings begin with yoga or another exercise, and afternoons feature hiking or biking with sightings of rare flora and fauna all along the way.
Fogo Island, Canada
In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, northeast of New England, Fogo Island makes for a short getaway from the East Coast. Virtuoso-preferred Fogo Island Inn has summer promotions to help you take advantage of the longer, warmer days. For minimum stays of only three nights, the inn is offering workshops with multidisciplinary artist Bruce Pashak with its An Artful Summer or excursions with a naturalist guide in its Flora & Fauna Encounters package. Either shows you the wilds of “an island, off an island, at one of the four corners of the Earth” without spending all your vacation days.
About 1,000 miles west of Lisbon in the middle of the Atlantic, these islands weren’t known to the Portuguese until the 14th century. Mark Twain detailed his 19th-century visit in The Innocents Abroad. Now, they’re a place to stop over for a few days on either end of a trip to Europe, or a long weekend from the East Coast. Each of the nine main islands has a different claim to fame, but there’s an abundant supply of activities out of doors and on the water. Ponta Delgada is the capital, largest municipality and home of the main commercial airport for the Azores. It’s also home to a lively culinary scene.
It’s a long way to New Zealand and Australia. Maybe those are on your bucket list and you’re not going to make it back to that area of the world again. Or maybe you’ve sat through that interminable flight over the Pacific one too many times and need to break up the travel. Either way, these islands in the South Pacific make for romantic stopovers to help you relax before an action-packed itinerary Down Under. On the way home, a couple of days on the beach or lagoon can help you ease into getting over that jet lag or stave off the return to real life. In a pinch, Hawaii isn’t bad, either
Fly Emirates for your safari, and you can plan a stopover in the ultra-posh, oil-rich city. Where else can you go to the Louvre and the beach and ski indoors? Emirates provides a meet & greet service, a welcome pack, hotel accommodations and airport transfers. Check out a polo match, a great Friday brunch or hit the waterpark at Atlantis The Palm. Spend a day or two, then head out to one of 150 destinations from there.