Great train journeys from Australia and beyond
Sure, travelling by plane is quick. And jumping in the car is convenient. But when it comes romance — with the landscape melting behind you, mountains creeping along the distant horizon — they’ve got nothing on the train.
A byword of luxury travel since the 1800s, the humble train journey has survived the age of jet propulsion for the simple fact it’s so damn pleasant. Its purpose is, in essence, what all travel should be about: enjoying the journey. And it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re winding through the world’s most spectacular countryside in comfort, with the best in food and drink.
If you’re new to locomotive adventures, it’s probably best not to start with all 9,289 kilometres of the Trans-Siberian Railway. There are plenty of accessible, and incredible, shorter train journeys to explore.
The Hiram Bingham
Cusco to Machu Picchu, Peru
As far as ends-of-the-line go, it doesn’t get better than this. Travelling from the Peruvian town of Cusco, built on the foundations of an ancient Incan city, through the Sacred Valley, and high into the Andes, the Hiram Bingham’s last stop is at the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu.
While some choose the four day walk up the Inca Trail, the Hiram Bingham is a relaxing way to get there. Decked out in the high-style of the 1920s with polished wood and brass, the recently-refurbished train features two dining cars and an observation deck. A three-course lunch is served on the way up, and a four-course Peruvian-style dinner is delivered right to your plush armchair on the way back, with a Pisco Sour to boot.
And, of course, the views are amazing. The railway up to the citadel runs along a river and sweeps up into the mountains, and delivers you a short shuttle-ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu itself. Once you get there … well, you’ll just have to see that for yourself.
The Rocky Mountaineer
Vancouver, Jasper, Banff, Canada
The Rocky Mountains, which stretch 3000 miles from New Mexico to British Colombia, are home to some of the world’s most spectacular unspoiled wilderness. Canadians are well aware of that fact, so they built a luxury railway line just to see it. The Rocky Mountaineer, with its glass-domed roof, gives passengers a 180-degree view of the snow-capped peaks, the forest-lined rivers, and the salmon-eating bears within them.
Built in 1990, the Rocky Mountaineer is renowned for its opulence, which at the high-end features a double-decker carriage with bar service to your seat, and a downstairs dining room. Guests don’t sleep aboard the train itself. Instead, the train stops at impressive accommodation along the way.
There’s a varied range of itineraries on the Rocky Mountaineer. You could take the Coastal Passage up from Seattle and through Vancouver, up into the Canadian Rockies, or you could travel the First Passage to the West, which begins in Vancouver and travels along the historic Canadian Pacific Railway through Kamloops, via Lake Louise to arrive in Banff.
There’s also a varied range of prices, beginning with two-day packages in its SilverLeaf class, right up to 10-night circumnavigations of the entire rail circle in GoldLeaf Deluxe.
The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels
Delhi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Manvar, India
India is a world unto itself. Rajasthan, a northern state that stretches from green, leopard-filled wilderness to the harsh desert sands, feels like an entire country. It’s not surprising that it can be a little disorienting to navigate. The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels makes it all much easier.
Travelling from the heaving metropolis that is modern Delhi, the journey provides a window into the vast diversity of India. You’ll wind through the blue-tinged walls of Old Jodhpur, with its imposing Meharangarh Fort rising in the centre; onto Udaipur, built on the banks of Lake Pichola; back east into the ancient temple city of Varanasi, with a stop-over at the Taj Mahal on the way home.
Though the line’s been running for 25 years, the train received a major update in 2009 in high Rajput style. Passengers can travel in ‘deluxe’ or ‘super-deluxe’ style in lavishly-decorated saloons with sofas, built-in wardrobes and bathrooms, accompanied by two on-train restaurants, a bar and a spa.
Mainz to Koblenz
One of the beauties of rail travel is that you can have a magical experience at a realistic price. Continental Europe is crosshatched with railways, and they are, for the most part, very affordable. One of Germany’s most picturesque journeys follows the Rhine River north from Mainz, just west of Frankfurt, through the towns of Rudesheim and Bacharach and up into Koblenz.
Along the way, you’ll see picture-book villages unchanged since the middle ages, and hills covered with ancient grapevines, forested hills running down to the river, and Castle Rheinfels, which is straight out of a Disney movie. Given you’re setting your own agenda, you can get out anywhere you please for a crisp glass of Riesling and a schnitzel and spätzle, then jump on-board again.
The Indian Pacific
Sydney to Perth, Australia
You don't need to get on a plane to travel on a train. We've got one of the world's great railways right here in Australia: the Indian Pacific. Stretching 4352kms out across the Nullabor, the 30 carriages make their way between Sydney and Perth in four days and three nights.
Although it might lack the trimmings of some other luxury train journeys, the private cabins are stylishly simple, and the food is designed to showcase the best in Australian fare (including beer and wine, of course).
What the Indian Pacific does have over any international railway, however, is the vast expanse of the Australian outback. It crosses the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, heads out into Broken Hill, through Adelaide and into the bush proper, you'll never see anything like the desert at dusk. Particularly when they stop the train for a barbie in the Nullabor. Really.
Whatever your trip might be, consider travel insurance before you go: basic international cover for overseas medical expenses, or international comprehensive travel insurance for everything else in between.