Do you love the journey more than the arrival?
Whether you prefer relaxation or adventure, sometimes the journey itself can be our favourite part of a trip abroad. So why not make the most of your time and hop on board a locomotive?
Railway journeys have always offered wonderful opportunities to take in the world’s most dramatic scenery. Depending on whether you prefer a heart-racing ascent up a steep mountain, or a languorous and romantic roll through a winding valley – here are some railway routes to excite you.
The Devil’s Nose Railway in Ecuador (‘El Nariz del Diablo’) is one of the truly marvellous railway engineering achievements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A two hour transfer from Riobamba leads travellers to the train’s starting point, Alausí. This small town is the beginning of a short but spectacular 12km stretch, which leads down to Silambe. The train departs three times a day, pulling through stunning Andean scenery and passing waterfalls, rivers and ravines (not forgetting some vertigo-inducing drops). Of course, the really defining feature is the spectacular ride up and down a nearly vertical wall of rock, the Devil’s Nose – an obstacle which has led the line to be dubbed ‘the most the difficult railway in the world’. The ingenious engineering solution found, was to carve a series of tight zigzags out of the rock, allowing the train to climb 800m by moving forwards and then backwards along the tracks. Unfortunately, despite once being the preferred seat to take in the scenery, passengers are no longer allowed to ride sitting on the roof the carriage. On arrival at the bottom, it’s time to enjoy a light refreshment and be wowed by the locals’ dancing.
Trains have played an important part in Ecuador’s history, with steam trains ferrying passengers and goods from the coast up into the mountains for much of the early twentieth century. The government is now investing heavily in restoring miles of the country’s railway to create even more fabulous experiences like El Nariz del Diablo.
In Norway the sleek Bergen line takes 7 hours to travel from Oslo to Bergen, zooming through some of Scandinavia’s most imposing landscapes and Europe’s largest mountain plateau, ‘Hardangervidda’. It is considered by many international rail enthusiasts to be the most exciting and beautiful train ride in the world. Completed by a 15,000 strong workforce in 1909, the hand-carved tunnels of the Bergen Railway flow through deep canyons, snowy precipices and glacial fjords; it is still the highest altitude train ride between two cities in Europe. Trains are busy all year round, with travellers, commuters and even skiers on their way to the regions many resorts experiencing the scenery on offer. Those with time to spare can take a diversion onto the Flåm railway, one of the steepest in the world. The descent into the village of Flåm, which sits in the corner of Aurlandsfjord, reveals the numerous waterfalls that pour into the valley. No trip to Norway would be complete without a trip on its wonderfully-engineered classic railways.
In comparison, Japan’s brand new super luxury train, Nanatsuboshi (or ‘Seven Stars’) also focuses heavily on the beauty within, as well as the scenery outside. Combining the golden age of travel with modern day comforts, the train is immaculately fitted out, even featuring a piano in the bar for cocktail evenings with the other fortunate guests. Passengers can enjoy exquisite food and seek the privacy of one of fourteen private suites, complete with ensuite bathrooms and heated toilet seats. In a fusion between Japanese and Western cultures, the carriages are furnished in superior woods and fabrics with the type of attention to detail that Japan has become famous for. Departing from the port of Fukuoka, the train takes 4 days to tour around the western Japanese island of Kyushu including a stop-off at Mt. Aso (Japan’s largest active volcano). The volcano has fuelled other tectonic activity such as the hot springs in Beppu on the east coast, which attract scientists to the area for the presence of extremophile micro-organisms that live in such searing temperatures. This deliberately isn’t a rushed affair – the emphasis is on taking time to absorb the history and culture of Kyushu whilst enjoying a luxurious stay on board. It comes as no surprise that the Nanatsuboshi is booked up far in advance, with travellers having to be patient before parting with 1.13 million yen (£6,500) to experience the island in true style
Compulsive traveller Philippe Brown founded London-based luxury travel company Brown + Hudson in 2009 prompted by well-travelled friends who demanded more than existing luxury travel companies offered. His company has an unusual and creative trip planning process: like therapists they interview clients, digging into their motivations and considering the outcomes they seek.
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