04.26.12

Napa Valley Wine Train, Hiram Bingham, More Incredible Train Journeys

A Champagne dinner aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train, fascinating history on the Venice Simplon Orient-Express—channel the golden age of travel aboard these amazing trains and more. Leigh Crandall offers a tour.

There is something timelessly glamorous about traveling by train. In a world where getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible is the goal, luxury rail travel has maintained the elegant features—porter service, bar cars, formal dining, extraordinary scenery, the opportunity for conversation with the other passengers (and occasional characters) aboard—that made getting there half the fun. From a few hours spent rolling through the vineyards of California wine country to a weeklong journey through Thailand, revisit the golden age of travel on seven trains worth hopping aboard.

Napa Valley Wine Train

This train takes guests through the heart of California wine country, following tracks originally laid in the 1860s from the town of Napa north to the quaint village of St. Helena. Choose from three-hour lunch or dinner rides, each featuring multicourse meals of sustainable, seasonal fare and, of course, wine. We’d spring for the Champagne dinner in the Vista Dome, a restored 1952 Pullman rail car with oversize windows for optimal views of the rolling, vine-covered hills ($139 per person). Passengers can also opt to include visits to wineries in their itinerary, with private group tours and tastings at vineyards including Domaine Chandon, Grgich Hills Estate, and Raymond Vineyards.

Royal Scotsman

Take in vistas of sweeping glens, mirror-calm lochs, and rolling hills aboard this luxury train, which brings passengers through the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Trips range from two to seven nights—we like the four-day “Classic Journey” (from $7,370 per person), which includes visits to Ballindalloch and Glamis Castles, whiskey tasting at Glen Ord Distillery, and optional activities like golf, fishing, and clay pigeon shooting. And for guests who want to take a piece of the Highlands home, the train also offers a bespoke service via Kinloch Anderson, who can create kilts, jackets, and other Highland dress staples in the Royal Scotsman’s tartan.

Hiram Bingham

Named for the explorer who discovered the lost city of the Incas, this train operated by PeruRail makes day trips between Cusco and Machu Picchu in style. Passengers dine on brunch fare and take in the incredible views from the comfort of the train’s plush carriages and open-air observation car as they travel 3 1/2 hours through the Andes. A guided tour of the ruins is followed by teatime in the beautiful gardens at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Back aboard the train, guests can discuss the day over Pisco Sours and a four-course dinner on the return leg to Cusco (from $319 one-way, $599 roundtrip).

The Ghan

Traverse the Australian continent on a three-day journey aboard this train, named after the Afghan cameleers who once traveled its route between Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin. Guests on this trip will see get incredible views of the Outback and, when they’re not aboard, can opt for tours including helicopter rides and treks on camelback.

Venice Simplon Orient-Express

It doesn’t get much more glamorous than a trip through Europe aboard the Venice Simplon—the train that inspired Agatha Christie’s famous novel has carried kings, presidents, and other boldface names across Europe in its restored vintage carriages. Each car possesses a fascinating history and original design story, like the René Prou-designed Floral Art Déco sleeping car 3309, which was once part of a service stuck in a snowdrift outside Istanbul for 10 days in 1929. Guests on board can expect multicourse meals prepared by French chefs and topnotch service from the train’s stewards. Journeys range in length and price, from a day trip from London to Paris ($1,020) to a seven-night excursion including Venice, Krakow, Dresden, and Paris ($7,950). This year also features a collaboration with The National Gallery in London on art-focused excursions like the five-day “Impressionist Paris,” with experts accompanying guests on special visits to the Museé de l’Orangeries des Tuileries, Museé Marmottan-Monet, and Monet’s garden at Giverny.

Rocky Mountaineer

Take in the gorgeous mountain views of the Canadian Rockies aboard with Rocky Mountaineer, offering 45 train vacation options ranging from two to 25 days across four rail routes. The popular “First Passage to the West” route from Vancouver to Calgary retraces the steps of 19th-century explorers, traversing the Continental Divide. Packages include off-train excursions like helicopter tours, visits to Lake Louise, a walk across the tree tops over the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, and overnights in towns including Kamloops and Banff. Tours are offered in three service levels, including a brand new Silver-Leaf service with seating in the train’s glass-domed coach.

Eastern & Oriental Express

The sister train to Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, excursions aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express take passengers through Asia, with destinations including Singapore, Thailand, and Laos. Trips range from three days to a week, such as the “Epic Thailand” journey with visits to remote settlements on the Isan plains, tours of 12th century Khmer temples, and a hike around Khao Yai National Park, home to wild elephants, gibbons, and exotic birds (from $9,200). While onboard the train, guests can expect upscale amenities like multicourse dinners and 24-hour steward service. Note to travelers looking for a truly memorable start to 2013: investigate the train’s four-night “Singapore to Bangkok New Year’s Eve.”