Intrepid Travel just added 40 new rail journeys

Intrepid Travel is launching a new trip range dedicated to rail travel which includes 40 trips and three brand new itineraries; Trans-Mongolian Railway Adventure, Express to the Orient: Paris to Istanbul, and Paris to Rome by Rail.

The range will cater to the rising trend of train travel, with new data showing 75 per cent of travellers are hoping to take a train on their next trip. The launch reflects Intrepid’s long-term product development plans, replacing internal flights with less carbon-intensive options, where viable, as part of its global decarbonization strategy.  

Each rail trip will be accompanied by one of Intrepid’s local leaders, who will not only help travellers navigate complex routes and stations, but also maximize the experiences during rest stops and overnight stays. With an average group size of 10-12 travellers, Intrepid rail trips offer customers community, conversation, and a sense of connection.  

As part of this newly dedicated trip category, Intrepid will offer iconic routes like Bangkok to Southern Thailand, and lesser-known routes like Varanasi to Agra, India, as well as rail family adventures from Tokyo to Kyoto and Rome to Pompeii. The launch is also highlighted by three brand-new itineraries:  

New rail itineraries

1.     Trans-Mongolian Railway Adventure (11 Days from $4035, CAD) 

  • While the popular Trans-Siberian route is currently closed to travellers, this new tour makes use of the Trans-Mongolian Railway, constructed in the late 1940s following the route of ancient tea caravans from Beijing, China through Mongolia.   
  • The trip begins in Beijing, traveling through hilly landscapes in China, exploring Inner Mongolia and visiting Khustai National Park, the dunes of the Gobi Desert and Sainshand, before disembarking in Ulaanbaatar, the capitol city of Mongolia.  

2.     Express to the Orient: Paris to Istanbul (15 Days from $5435, CAD) 

  • This new trip travels from Paris to Budapest by train, following the same route as the historic Orient Express, a long-distance passenger train that ran between 1883 and 1977, and lent itself to many popular films and books. Travellers will stop to explore iconic spots and lesser-known sites in Strasbourg, Munich and Salzburg. 
  • Travellers will then journey on local trains along the Simplon-Orient Express route from Belgrade to Istanbul, stopping for local delicacies, like a traditional Serbian lunch in a Salaš home. 

3.     Paris to Rome by Rail (10 Days from $5030 cad) 

  • On Intrepid’s new Paris to Rome itinerary, travellers will hop on the Gotthard Panorama Express through Switzerland.  
  • This train takes the original historic route on the Gotthard railway, constructed in 1872. The journey spirals through the alps, with panoramic views of the countryside, and Wassen Church, as well as stops for scenic hikes, medieval castles and a fresh farm-to-table Italian cooking demonstration.  

To learn more about Intrepid’s train trips and discover the 40+ rail itineraries, visit www.intrepidtravel.com/rail.

Get on board this 15-night luxury rail trip through the Arctic Circle

For 2024, Up Norway, the leading curator of sustainable luxury travel experiences in Norway, will be offering a northern extension to its Arctic Circle Express Train Journey with stops in Lofoten and then on to Narvik. 

The 15-night rail centric experience begins in Oslo, the vibrant heart of Norway where a bustling metropolitan atmosphere meets pioneering art, architecture, and design. The itinerary continues on from Oslo by train, stopping in Bergen, Ålesund, Trondheim, Bodø, and, with the new extension, Lofoten and Narvik.

About the journey

With Bodø poised to shine as the European Capital of Culture in 2024, an extra layer of cultural enrichment adds to the allure. Along the entire journey, travellers will enjoy personal encounters with locals that offer unique perspectives, a diversity of local sea and farm to table cuisine, and impactful activities from cruising the fjord and kayaking along narrow waterways to the UNESCO protected Bryggen Wharf, hiking the Alnes lighthouse on Godøya island, exploration of both large cities and small town, and more.

In Lofoten, with the added trip extension, travellers can enjoy remote villages, a dramatic Scenic Route, adrenaline-pumping arctic surfing, and international art collections.

Then, they’ll progress on to Narvik where a private guided tour of the War Museum offers insight into the World War II events that shaped the area. Additionally, the Narvikfjellet Cable Car provides panoramic views of the city and its surrounding fjords and mountains. 

Itinerary highlights

But perhaps the standout highlight of this itinerary is the journey itself on a trio of Norway’s most spectacular railways: Flåm, Rauma, and Ofotbanen. The Flåm Railway, an engineering marvel and Europe’s steepest rail line, treats travelers to a descent of 2,828 feet to the fjord below.

Meanwhile, the Rauma Railway offers an unrivaled passage through the dramatic Romsdalen valley, and the Ofotbanen Arctic Train is a unique marvel fully above the Arctic Circle presenting panoramic views of towering peaks and cascading waterfalls. 

Luxurious and authentic accommodations range from boutique hotels that overlook the commanding Hardangerjøkulen glacier to the cozy embrace of a traditional fisherman’s cabin. In 2024, guests can also opt to stay at the brand new Basecamp Narvik in the Narvikfjellet Mountains. 

This enhanced 15-night itinerary invites discerning travelers to embark on an immersive adventure through Norway’s captivating Northern landscapes, unveiling hidden gems and rich cultural experiences along the way. Up Norway provides effortless travel experiences every step of the journey over dates of one’s choosing. Guests are provided with a comprehensive pre-trip digital guide filled with insider tips and recommendations, all travel details, and a 24-hour direct chat to access the Up Norway team with any questions. 

The 15-night Arctic Circle Express with Lofoten and Narvik starts at $6,587 USD per person for a couple. Without the extension, the 11-night Arctic Circle Express Journey starts at $4,639 USD per person. For more details about the new extension of the Arctic Circle Express Itinerary, visit https://upnorway.com/journeys/hop-on-the-arctic-circle-express-train

New international train ticketing platform launches in Canada

International rail ticketing platform, Rail Online, has launched in the U.S. and Canada.

Rail Online is a new rail booking platform, offering fairer fares for American and Canadian passengers, with carrier fare price matching, instant refunds on e-tickets and, most importantly, no foreign currency transaction fees, with customers able to book in local US or Canadian dollars.

About Rail Online

Founded in 2019 by Australian tourism and transport expert, James Dunne, Rail Online allows North American travellers to book UK, European, and North American rail travel via one single platform.

Customers can currently book tickets with Amtrak (US), VIA Rail (Canada), National Rail (UK), and SCNF (France, including Eurostar), with further networks to follow, including Trenitalia (Italy), which will be introduced to the platform in the coming weeks.

Eurail passes, for travel itineraries across Europe, are also currently available to book via the Rail Online website.Rail Online is committed to maximising convenience for customers whilst also eliminating the paper waste associated with rail travel, delivering e-tickets for both domestic and international travel direct to the customer within minutes of booking.

Luxury cruise line partners with Rocky Mountaineer for Alaska journey

Luxury cruise line Cunard is offering guests the opportunity to experience the world-famous Rocky Mountaineer train when they sail through Alaska on Queen Elizabeth this summer.

Guests will be able to extend their Alaska voyage with either a four-night pre-voyage train experience or a three-night post-voyage package, depending on the sailing date. The three-night Rocky Mountaineer tour takes guests on an eastbound journey from Vancouver to Calgary, while the four-night train tour goes the opposite direction and gives guests an additional day of sightseeing in Banff, where the highlight is an impressive trip on the Banff Gondola.

Rocky Mountaineer pre- and post-cruise tours

  • The three-night post-voyage tours starts at $2,850 per person based on double occupancy, available on two Japan to Alaskavoyages (Q318A, Q319) and four Alaska voyages roundtrip out of Vancouver ranging from 10 to 11 nights (Q323, Q324, Q325, Q326).
  • The four-night pre-voyage tour starts at $3,250per person based on double occupancy, available on three Alaska voyages roundtrip out of Vancouver ranging from seven to 10 nights (Q321, Q322, Q323).

Panoramic views

Guests travelling on the legendary Rocky Mountaineer train – the only passenger rail service on this historic rail route – will experience expansive glass-dome windows and luxurious coaches. Breathtaking 180-degree panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, shimmering lakes and winding canyons are offered from all angles.

Renowned for its GoldLeaf Service, Rocky Mountaineer offers an onboard dining room where guests can indulge in culinary delights inspired by the region with a new 2023 menu as well as full complimentary bar service.

Queen Elizabeth’s summer in Alaska will be a season full of adventure and discovery, with the onboard Insights program featuring experts from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, TV personality Bear Grylls, and famed explorer Mensun Bound, to name a few.

Other highlights on Queen Elizabeth include the bespoke Alaska Afternoon Tea, the elegant Ice White Ball and a new dining concept called Frontier, which offers a taste of Alaska.

 

Take a journey through Northern Spain aboard a luxury sleeper train

The scenery encompasses such sights like vivid blue lakes in a scene reminiscent of Switzerland, or the rock formations of Playa de las Catedrales, where during low tide, you can walk through the arches that line the beach.

When it comes to pouring sidra — the hard cider originating from the Asturias region in Northern Spain — it’s best to leave it to a professional. That’s because in order to spark natural carbonation and release the flavours of the tart beverage, it’s meant to be poured at least three feet (or more) from above into a small drinking glass slightly tilted on the side, a feat that takes some practice to perfect without spilling too much. 

While I may not have mastered the art of the pouring technique during my journey along the northern coast of Spain, I was a natural at the tasting. With a freshly poured sidra in hand sitting on a bridge in the parish of Covadonga overlooking a waterfall to my left and a basilica next to a dramatic mountainscape to my right, I was struck by how different this part of the country was from cities like Barcelona and Madrid. In fact, northern Spain is known as Green Spain for its scenery, coastal landscapes and lush vegetation.

To get a sense of what the area offers, I’d boarded the Costa Verde Express, and was ready for a luxury adventure on the rails along with fellow travellers from Brazil, the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), South Africa and all across Europe. 

All aboard for the memories 

After a three course meal, a nightly ritual quickly developed on board. The trip director would appear to hand out the itinerary for the next day over post-supper drinks like port or schnapps. This got the group excited to take in some of the top sights in the region like Cangas de Onís’ famous roman bridge with five arches and a Victoria Cross in the middle, or the remarkable Covadonga Sanctuary, which is built into the side of a mountain. 

The coastal route features many notable stops like Picos de Europa, a stunning mountain range peeking out through the mist with cows roaming freely. The scenery encompasses such sights like vivid blue lakes in a scene reminiscent of Switzerland, or the rock formations of Playa de las Catedrales, where during low tide, you can walk through the arches that line the beach. 

There’s also free time built into the schedule at various stops along the route to allow for independent exploration, or like multiple women on the trip opted for, shopping. As the late Anthony Bourdain once said, “Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”

For me, it was during these unscripted free moments that some of my favourite memories were made. This is how I found myself on a beach named Playa de Poo. What originated as a bit of a joke destination based on the name, wound up being a stunning secluded cove beach with gorgeous mountain views, a highly recommended stop during the free time portion in Llanes. Overall, there is no shortage of beaches to choose from in the city. A quick Google search of the top things to do in Llanes will list various beaches in the top 10 — you can’t go wrong. Another lovely option is Playa del Sablon, with views of the town’s medieval wall. 

As for the food, not all meals are served on the train. Several lunches were at Paradores, unique accommodations in castles and monuments around Spain complete with wine or beer for the table, as well as some Michelin-star restaurants. Dinners on board were elaborate affairs with multiple choices per course, including vegetarian options, served with wines from the region. Breakfast offered a buffet spread with made-to-order eggs. Several people in my departure group got off in Bilbao with the goal of carrying on to San Sebastian, a city with renowned beaches and innovative chefs.

Two roads diverged 

Costa Verde Express trips depart from either Santiago de Compostela or Bilbao, so travellers can select which end of the line to start from. I began my journey in Santiago de Compostela, where Anu Pitkanen from Santiago Tourism was quick to share that not everyone who visits is a pilgrim. The destination has, however, gained a reputation around the word as the end point for the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage that dates back to Medieval times to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. 

In order to receive an official certificate, participants must walk at least 100 kilometres of the route. However, visitors can look for direction markers all around the city and walk a few humble steps along the route. While The Original Way is thought to be the first pilgrimage route starting off in Oviedo, there are now other popular ways like The French Way (or The Camino Frances), starting in the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port; or The Portuguese Way, kicking off in Porto or Lisbon. 

Fresh off of walking for over a month along the French Way, one man on my trip was happy for the train to do the heavy lifting for him. About one million people visit Santiago each year, about 300,000 of which are pilgrims. A popular time to visit is during The Holy Hear, also called the Jacobean year, which happens when a holiday called the Feast of St. James, on July 25, falls on a Sunday. This happens every five, six or 11 years. It was extended from 2021 to 2022 because of the pandemic. During this time, the Holy Doors of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela are open so worshipers can go inside to have their sins forgiven.

“Not if you killed someone,” Pitkanen says. “Only small sins.” There are plenty of nearby patios to enjoy views of the cathedral over snacks and pints. The Old Quarter can easily be explored by foot and features many shops, boutiques and restaurants. Foodies will want to visit Casa Marcelo, a Michelin star-rated restaurant with two set dinner times offering a creative tasting menu. Those who opt to start the trip from Santiago are encouraged to come a few days early to experience all that the city has to offer. 

Things to do in Bilbao beyond the Guggenheim 

Although the Guggenheim Museum helped put Bilbao on the tourism map, the cultural city offers loads of activities and experiences for travellers to discover. 

Forget tapas, it’s pintxos here! 

Eat your heart out sampling various pintxos dishes, which are small snacks typically eaten in bars across northern Spain. Bar El Globo, Cafe Iruna and Amaren — a slider bar — are just some of the many tasty options. Tour guide Flora Paradiso says it’s typical for locals to bar hop from one pintxos joint to the next. 

Follow in the footsteps of Game of Thrones 

Basque Country has been utilized to shoot multiple scenes from the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. One of the most stunning places to visit is the rocky islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, something to see whether or not you are a fan of the series. Other memorable filming locations are Zumaia (Gipuzkoa) and Muriola beach in Barrika (Bizkaia).

Witness geological phenomenons 

Another cool thing to experience is the Flysch of Biscay, which originally formed under the sea, a unique geological phenomenon that dates back more than 200 million years. The end result is unique layers of cliffs that line the coast of Basque Country. This makes coastal hikes extra interesting, but if lounging is more your style, there are also beaches like Arriatera and Atxabiribil surrounded by Flysch. It’s also possible to take in these sights from a different vantage point — while paragliding or surfing.

Dubbed the Little Basalt Giant’s Causeway of Fruiz, the area is also home to its own more modest version of the Giant’s Causeway (found in Northern Ireland), featuring unique columns of basalt. Finally, those who are into chasing waterfalls won’t want to miss out on Nervión Waterfall, located between Burgos and Bilbao, a stunning waterfall that plunges down from 222 metres. 

Enjoy the first underwater winery in the world 

Wine aficionados looking to experience wine with a twist can sample wine from Crusoe Treasure Underwater Winery, which is aged under the sea. Led by enologist Antonio Palacios, the team of master winemakers seek out and blend unique terroirs and then store the wines in the sea to “bring out their full potential.” The results are limited-edition underwater wines that make for an equally fun story to tell if you bring a bottle back home. The winery is located in the picturesque Plentzia Bay on the Basque Coast. 

Take in the sights from above 

For terrific views of the city from above, head to Mount Artxanda by funicular, bus or on foot. Along with posing alongside large Bilbao letters, visitors will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the city and a unique view of the Guggenheim. Fun fact, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, is largely set in the Basque Country.

—STORY BY ANN RUPPENSTEIN

South America’s first-ever luxury train will take you on one of the highest rail routes on earth

As of Mar. 31, the Andean Explorer, the first luxury train in South America, rides the rails once again after a brief hiatus.

A journey on the Andean Explorer is a magical experience designed to connect guests with the nature of the Peruvian Andes while travelling through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country.

This luxury train traverses one of the highest train routes on earth and travels between the ancient Inca capital of Cusco to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca and the dazzling white city of Arequipa. Along the way, guests experience floating islands, fascinating archaeological sites, majestic natural wonders, and ancient kingdoms. 

Andean Explorer’s 20 beautiful cars evoke a contemporary aesthetic, perfectly designed to frame the awe-inspiring Andean vistas. Each carriage is named after flora and fauna found along the route.

Guests can take a seat for a world-class feast in the train’s two beautiful dining carriages – Llama and Muña – and enjoy a series of unique dining experiences against a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery.

Muted hues and luxurious leathers mingle with artisanal millwork, and polished macramé divider screens keep culinary adventures intimate. Soothing treatments are available in the spa car, Picaflor, and further relaxing spaces include the Observatory Bar Car and Piano Bar Car.

For more information on Belmond’s Andean Explorer, click here!

This luxury train will take you to 14 magical destinations across Europe in style

More than 150 years ago, Georges Nagelmackers turned a dream into a reality when he launched the first luxury Orient Express train. Soon, Orient Express will head back on track to offer travellers an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s most beloved countries: Italy.

The Orient Express La Dolce Vita will welcome its first passengers in 2023. Six trains will embark through several iconic itineraries across 14 regions and beyond, including three international destinations from Rome to Paris, Istanbul and Split.

A magical stopover in Rome will feature the very first Orient Express Hotel, Minerva, scheduled to open in 2024.

The concept for the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains pay tribute to “La Dolce Vita”, a historical period of glamour, joie de vivre and artistic fervour in Italy during the 1960s.

With support from Accor, La Dolce Vita train’s official hospitality partner, and thanks to the partnership with Trenitalia and Fondazione FS Italiane, the journey invites passengers to travel through more than 16,000 kilometres of workable railway lines – 7,000 kilometres of which are not electrified and are vestiges of Italy’s storied history.

The Orient Express La Dolce Vita offers a new way of experiencing the country: an environmentally-friendly adventure where forgotten roads are explored, hidden treasures discovered and where architectural triumphs take centre stage.

Designed by Dimorestudio, the global architectural and design studio founded by Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran in 2003, the Orient Express La Dolce Vita train embodies the Italian art of living and all its beautiful traditions with a more contemporary spirit of travel.

The train’s sumptuous decor will adorn 12 Deluxe cabins, 18 Suites, and one Honour Suite and restaurant, all boldly celebrating the craftsmanship, design and creativity of the 1960s and 1970s.

In collaboration with renowned local and international chefs and sommeliers, travellers will experience five-star service on board, savouring the beauty and excellence of “Made in Italy” through award-winning Italian wines and exclusive haute cuisine.

Before departure at the Roma Termini station, the Orient Express executive lounge will welcome passengers offering them a selection of refreshments in a convivial and elegant space, complete with dedicated services and staff to assist them.

The itineraries have been chosen to create unique travel experiences, all capable of awakening our five senses. Most will start in Italy, revealing the wonders of the Alps, the bucolic countryside, or the paradisiacal beaches of southern Italy. In addition, three dedicated itineraries will take you through eight countries, linking Rome to Paris, Istanbul, and Split.