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Belmond and the Rebirth of Luxury Train Travel



When you think of luxury travel, chances are the train is the mode of transportation furthest from your mind. Belmond, a collection of 46 iconic hotels, trains and river cruises in 22 countries, is seeking to change that notion with its world-class train journeys throughout mainland Europe, Great Britain, Asia and South America. The trains — there are six currently, with a seventh launching in Ireland in August 2016 — feature all of the bells and whistles of five-star travel: historic carriages, lavish accommodations, fine dining and the highest levels of personal service. Whether you prefer to trek from Venice to London or see the beauty of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, Belmond’s train experiences prove the old adage: “Life is about the journey, rather than the destination.”

Gary Franklin, managing director of trains and cruises for the 40-year-old company, recently spoke to Homes & Estates about being the driving force behind luxury train travel today.


Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Previews Inside Out When we think of luxury trains, our minds go back to Agatha Christie and the Golden Age of rail travel. Is some of that romance still a part of your train experiences?

Gary Franklin Yes. Our rail experiences are designed to embrace the romance of train travel. The vintage carriages of Belmond British Pullman and Venice Simplon-Orient-Express invite guests to step back into the golden era of travel. The Eastern & Oriental Express’ colonial cream-and-green carriages take guests through scenic Asia, and Belmond Royal Scotsman is like a country house on wheels, transporting guests through the Highlands in authentic Scottish surroundings.

This year, we will launch our seventh luxury train – Belmond Grand Hibernian — in Ireland in August 2016. The contemporary interior designs of these carriages reflect the flora and fauna of the dramatic landscapes of Ireland as well as Dublin’s Georgian architecture. All of our trains set the tone for an elegant, sophisticated and memorable rail experience.

While we operate many historical trains that we maintain true to their original style, we work hard to ensure that we keep the services and facilities as contemporary as the environments will allow. This year, for example, we will be introducing air conditioning to the dining carriages and bar car on Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and air conditioning throughout the cabins will be introduced for 2017. For a train that operates a historic heating system — water is heated by coal fire stoves at the end of each carriage — fitting air conditioning is a mammoth task to ensure greater comfort for our guests while not interfering with the historical fittings.

Previews Inside Out What is most exciting about the upcoming debut of the Belmond Grand Hibernian train, from your perspective?

Gary Franklin I was personally inspired by the warmth of the Irish people when I first visited Ireland back in the early 1990s. In my role as managing director for Belmond’s trains and cruises, I am always looking for new opportunities to grow our collection of trains, and Ireland offers us a rich mixture of stunning scenery, culture and history that lends itself perfectly to a luxury touring train experience.

Belmond Grand Hibernian will be the first of its kind in Ireland — a luxury sleeper train with all en suite accommodations, offering two-, four- and six-night journeys throughout the major destinations of the North and the South. The “country house” on rails will embrace the spirit of Ireland, brought to life with journeys that will take in the island’s stunning and iconic scenery. Daily excursions will include experiences that indulge in traditional Irish rituals, warm hospitality and great “craic” [conversations].

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Previews Inside Out What is the advantage of luxury train travel, in your opinion?

Gary Franklin Train travel proves the old adage that life is about the journey, rather than the destination. So much of our daily lives can be about the fastest way from one point to another, but the true luxury of train travel is the ability to take your time. Our classic route from London to Venice onboard Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is just one night, but along the way, guests will sip a Bellini while rolling through the British countryside, retire to the Champagne Bar after a four-course dinner, and wake up to views of majestic mountain ranges, all before arriving in Santa Lucia station in Venice. A journey on our trains is a very memorable and often sociable experience — the lack of modern technology and daily distractions creates an opportunity to relax and socialize. Certainly tops rushing through airport security and dining on a pack of peanuts.

Previews Inside Out What would you say to a person who says “Train travel is dead” or that it is an outdated mode of transportation?

Gary Franklin I would invite that person to travel with us before coming to that decision. Train travel can be so much more than just a mode of transportation — it’s an experience in and of itself. Despite all of today’s modern technologies, there is still something a little bit magical about climbing aboard a vintage train car and settling in for a fine dining experience while the world outside whirls by you. Also, for travelers planning a multi-destination trip, train travel can be a nice way to stay in “vacation mode” while moving from one location to the next. Our Belmond Royal Scotsman train, for example, will be launching a new spa car on board this year, so a guest traveling through Scotland can enjoy a massage or a manicure as part of the train experience.


Eastern and Oriental Express, Presidential Compartment

Previews Inside Out What are some of the most extravagant offerings or amenities your trains feature?

Gary Franklin We like to think that each train journey has a bit of extravagance weaved in. Our new Champagne Bar on Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, for example, has been outfitted with beautiful Lalique crystal glassware — a small touch that goes a long way for the overall experience. For those looking for an extra celebration, guests traveling from London to Venice can book a “Champagne Celebration” breakfast and enjoy views over the Swiss lakes as they sip Champagne and dine on a luxurious breakfast. Many guests choose train travel for celebratory trips, so Champagne is actually a common theme onboard all of our trains. Over 22,000 bottles of Champagne are popped on Belmond British Pullman and Belmond Northern Belle each year. Truffles are another decadent treat for guests — we serve about 1 kg. of French truffles annually on Belmond Royal Scotsman.


Previews Inside Out How far do the Belmond staff go to ensure that their guests have all their expectations met?

Gary Franklin Our staff are extremely passionate about the trains — they know that many guests are traveling for a special occasion or celebration and that they have as much a part to play in that occasion as the trains do. Many of our staff have worked with us since we launched the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and we have several generations of families who work side by side on board. They have been part of some very special occasions on the trains, including many proposals, where our staff play a key role in facilitating the special moment.

Previews Inside Out “Location, location, location” is a saying in real estate that also applies to the hospitality industry. How do you select the destinations for your train experiences?

Gary Franklin Combined with the obvious logistical requirements for operating a train, a destination that offers a good mixture of stunning scenery, culture and history. Plus, a sense of adventure, which keeps the tradition of the early pioneers of rail travel that allowed travelers to cross international borders for the first time.

Previews Inside Out Where do you see luxury train travel moving in the years ahead?

Gary Franklin We are seeing increasing demand for our train journeys, from multigenerational travel to celebrations and milestone occasions. As time increasingly becomes the greatest luxury, train travel steps into the limelight, offering today’s busy travelers the chance to slow down and engage with their experiences and reconnect with loved ones.


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Belmond and the Rebirth of Luxury Train Travel

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