This summer GRJ Independent – a division of Great Rail Journeys Ltd and the leading rail holiday company in the UK – reported a 100 per cent increase in passenger numbers for next year. The real surprise? The greatest uplift looks to be from the under-50s, who, it seems, are embracing independent rail holidays like never before, from interrailing around Italy and Spain to touring India’s Golden Triangle. Tim Starke, International Sales Director for Lernidee, the biggest rail tour operator in the German-speaking market, isn’t surprised by the market growth. “Like slow food, slow travel is in fashion right now, but also trains as a mode of travel are more popular now than they were 15 years ago.”
This is something that he puts down to the destinations themselves. “There is nowhere that is so remote that you can’t get there, but in terms of experience, train travel is much more in-depth than if you were going by air”, he continues, citing the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and the Silk Road as continually popular routes. “For instance, we have a tour that covers five countries in central Asia – it would be difficult to do that by air because some of the destinations don’t have flight connections.”
In South Africa, The Blue Train takes 52 passengers between Pretoria in the North and Cape Town in the South, travelling 994 miles overnight with a stop-off and excursion in Kimberley. There is also a second train, available for private charter, where route options include going further into the Kruger National Park, to Durban or Port Elizabeth. As well as the suites, the trains have a gentleman’s-club-like club car, with wood-panelled walls and leather armchairs, along with a lounge car for traditional afternoon tea and five-course dinners.
In terms of design (surely another contributing factor to the increase in popularity of rail holidays with the Instagram generation), Themba Masheula, Brand Marketing and Communications Manager of The Blue Train, says that trains cannot be compared to a hotel. “The challenge with train design is thinking about how to maximise small spaces, especially in the public areas where guests spend most of their time”, he says.
It’s a challenge that Inge Moore – co-founder of interior design and architecture studio Muza Lab – knows all about. Moore was behind the design of the new Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru, which launched earlier this year as South America’s first luxury sleeper train. “All the spaces were very tight, so the scale of each piece of furniture was carefully considered”, says Moore. “For instance, having a piano in the bar was a given, so we had to work around those ‘musts’ to make the spaces feel comfortable and relaxed.”
Guests who book one or two night journeys from Cusco, travelling across the Andes to Lake Titicaca and the UNESCO World Heritage city of Arequipa, will be surrounded by white timber-panelling on the walls, linen roman blinds and locally sourced textiles and artwork. Moore concludes, “the beauty of travelling by train is that it’s a place to ponder and dream, a space where the changing landscape can infuse the soul.”
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.