This November sees the release of a new version of Murder On The Orient Express, the second big-screen adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel featuring the legendary detective, Hercule Poirot. As is the way with such things, there is a murder, and the suspects are a suspicious group of aristocrats and well-to-do (and their staff) traveling across Northern Europe in the dead of winter on a steam train. Created in 1883, the Orient Express was simply a passenger route, primarily from Paris to Istanbul. It wasn’t until after the 1934 publication of Ms Christie’s book that it became associated with luxury travel. But as our methods of travel changed and became more affordable, the extravagance of a journey on the Orient Express – not to mention the relatively long time the journey took fell out of favour. In 2009, the Orient Express was closed down and forced to remove itself from the timetable of scheduled journeys, instead becoming a private venture.
But the desire to make a slow journey across land in what amounts to a five-star hotel on wheels remains popular for those who can afford it, as there are luxury train routes running throughout the world. Some retain their old-world sensibilities, while others make the best of modern technology to give a more 21st Century feel. And all of this without a dead body in sight.
The Orient Express (or the Venice Simplon Orient Express, to give it its full, less interesting name) currently runs from London to Venice, via Paris, and from Paris to Istanbul. But is plenty of luxury rail travel available throughout Europe. Many are short trips, such as the Swiss Classic Train, or the Belmond British Pullman, both of which have the added authenticity of using steam-powered locomotives. Others take in a variety of routes, such as the Majestic Train De Lux, which runs out of Austria to a number of Baltic States, and is a replica of the personal train of Emperor Franz Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There are also trains that celebrate the destinations as much as the journey, such as El Expreso De La Robla, which covers the countryside and coast of Northern Spain.
Probably the second most famous train route in the world is the Trans-Siberian Express. Currently run by Golden Eagle Luxury trains, this line, the longest train route in the world, cuts a nine thousand kilometre path straight through Russia, from Moscow to Vladivostok. There is also the Imperial Russia service, which additionally runs to Beijing, China. Another epic journey, albeit with a completely different climate, is The Ghan, which runs North to South straight through the middle of Australia, via Adelaide, Darwin and Alice Springs.
Some of these journeys are truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Imagine, for example, taking in an eight day tour of north-west India aboard the Maharajas’ Express. From Mumbai to Delhi, there are visits to palaces, temples and castles on routes that go through mountains, jungles and deserts. There’s even an elephant polo match and a safari. Or if you’d like to see the safari without having to remove yourself from your opulent carriage, then you could take the Pride Of Africa, with its specially designed viewing carriages. Be warned, however, that the price tag for most of these adventures is incredibly high.
Even today, luxury train travel is in high demand. Starting operation in May this year in Japan, the ultra-modern Train Suite Shika-Shima has already sold out until April 2018, despite the journey working out an average of $2.50 for every minute you spend aboard. With 10 carriages but a maximum of only thirty-four passengers, this updates the luxury train experience for the elite of the modern age. Hot-tubs, an open fire and an open kitchen where you can watch a Michelin-starred chef prepare modern Japanese food – it would be easy to forget that you were on a train and not a space ship.
With less people in the entire train than most commuter services have in a single carriage, a luxury train journey can really add a new spin on the holiday experience – provided you can afford it.