Dec 17, 2022
Rail journeys are growing in popularity, especially as eco-minded travellers seek ways to reduce their carbon footprint. On top of being an environmentally friendly transport option, trains also offer a scenic way of getting from point A to B – whether you’re traversing the Swiss Alps, whizzing past Tokyo’s urban sprawl or trundling through the Scottish countryside. Here are 5 epic rail journeys to inspire your next holiday.
The route: The Glacier Express is your window to the Swiss Alps. The nearly eight-hour rail journey starts in the morning from Zermatt and takes you through the cantons of Valais, Uri and Graubünden before arriving in the elegant resort town of St. Moritz.
What you’ll see: Expect varied panoramic views as the Glacier Express travels across 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels between Zermatt and St. Moritz. The route offers the perfect combination of lush alpine valleys, snow-covered peaks and blue skies. Along the way, you’ll see the Rhone river, the mountain village of Andermatt and the Oberalp Pass before descending into the stunning Rhine Gorge. You’ll also cross the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Landwasser Viaduct – a curved, single-track railway bridge that towers 65m above the Landwasser river.
Dining on board: Choose from a range of Swiss and international dishes, including Graubünden barley soup, chicken tikka masala and a platter featuring various types of mountain cheese. All meals are freshly prepared on board and brought straight to your seat. However, note that due to staff shortages, the full menu is currently only available on certain trains.
Where to stay: If Geneva is part of your Switzerland itinerary, book a stay at the elegant Fraser Suites Geneva, located in the prestigious shopping and business district of Rue du Marché.
The route: The Jacobite is perhaps the world’s most magical railway journey – in fact, it doubled as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. Built in 1949, this steam-belching relic puffs its way from the town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands to the village of Mallaig on the west coast. A round trip is 84 miles and there are two daily return services (one in the morning and another in the afternoon), with each one-way ride taking about two hours.
What you’ll see: The Jacobite will reveal some of Scotland’s most impressive natural sights. Your starting point of Fort William lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, so you’ll get to glimpse Britain’s highest mountain. Thereafter, the train will travel to the UK’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig. En route, it’ll pass the deepest freshwater lake in Britain, Loch Morar, as well as one of the shortest rivers in Scotland, River Morar. Another highlight of the journey is the crossing of the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct, a curving railway bridge with 21 arches towering 100 feet above Loch Shiel. At Mallaig, disembark for glorious views of the Isle of Skye and Scotland’s Inner Hebridean islands.
Dining on board: Pre-order the scrumptious Jacobite Cream Tea, which features hand-cut sandwiches made with locally sourced mature cheddar, free-range egg mayonnaise, Scottish ham and coronation chicken. These are complemented by homemade cakes and fruit scones served with strawberry preserve and clotted cream. Vegetarian and vegan versions are available too.
Where to stay: Before embarking on your rail journey, spend a few days exploring Glasgow (around a 2.5-hour drive from Fort William). Bed down at Fraser Suites Glasgow, which is set in a beautifully restored 1850s Victorian building in the stylish Merchant City district.
The route: Named for the two oceans you’ll encounter on your rail journey, the Indian Pacific traverses the width of Australia – from Sydney through Adelaide to Perth. The 4,352km odyssey spans four days and three nights, recreating the path once travelled by bush pioneers, gold rush prospectors and legendary adventurers.
What you’ll see: Widely regarded as Australia’s greatest train journey, the Indian Pacific traverses some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, with off-train experiences in Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook, Rawlinna and Perth. During the trip, you’ll witness a world of contrasts – from lush vineyards to vast goldmines, majestic mountains to wild bushlands, bustling cities to ghost towns. The rail journey also winds through the breath-taking Blue Mountains, the vast and treeless Nullarbor Plain (which includes the longest stretch of straight railway track in the world), and the rolling green hills of the Avon Valley.
Dining on board: The ticket price includes gourmet meals crafted by an expert culinary team, who source quality ingredients from local producers and farmers. Not all meals are taken on board the Indian Pacific, however. On the third night, guests disembark at the remote outpost of Rawlinna for a traditional long-table dinner under the stars.
Where to stay: The award-winning Fraser Suites Sydney is a luxury serviced residence just minutes from Darling Harbour and a short cab ride from Sydney station. Designed by famed architect Norman Foster, it features 201 serviced residences – take your pick from cosy studios, spacious one- and two-bedroom apartments, and opulent penthouse suites.
The route: Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen may be commonly known as the “bullet train”, but its name actually means “new trunk line”. Launched in 1964 to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics that same year, the Shinkansen is capable of speeds of up to 320 km/h. Renowned for its safety record, it also features a fastidiously punctual timetable. From its massive Tokyo Station terminal, it whizzes to both ends of Japan’s four main islands, delivering everyone – from salarymen to tourists – to their destinations comfortably and swiftly.
What you’ll see: One of the many services operated by the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) is the Tokaido Shinkansen, which connects Japan’s five largest metropolitan areas: Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. After Tokyo’s urban sprawl diminishes, majestic Mount Fuji will come into view, weather permitting – be sure to sit on the right side of the train for the best views. Those lucky enough to be travelling during Japan’s brief but beautiful sakura season will be in for a treat as the train hurtles through the countryside – you’ll get to glimpse numerous cherry trees along the way.
Dining on board: Tea, coffee and canned drinks, along with snacks like chocolates and crackers, are available from the food cart that plies up and down the aisle. For something more substantial, most commuters pick up a bento box or sandwich from the main hall in Tokyo station or from the food stands, convenience stores and vending machines on the platform. Be sure to make your purchase before boarding, and not during one of the train’s very brief stops at other stations. Also, remember to take your trash with you when you disembark, or use the bins found at the end of each carriage.
Where to stay: In Osaka, book a studio, one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fraser Residence Nankai, Osaka, which is situated in the vibrant Namba district. Its zen-like interiors offer a welcome respite from the area’s bustling shopping streets and boisterous bars.
The route: Travel back in time on the storied Venice Simplon-Orient-Express by journeying along its original route from Paris to Istanbul. Upon your arrival at the platform, a steward in blue and gold livery will welcome you on board with a wave of their white-gloved hand. You’ll then be led to your elegant Art Deco cabin fitted out with French-polished cherry wood – or to your Grand Suite complete with a marble-clad bathroom, a butler and free-flow champagne.
What you’ll see: The classic five-night itinerary includes stops in some of Europe’s oldest and most culturally rich cities. After departing the City of Light, you’ll visit the Hungarian Parliament Building and experience a dinner cruise in Budapest, before enjoying local cuisine and music in Bucharest. At your final destination, Istanbul, you’ll embark on a full-day tour of the city’s headline attractions, including the Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar.
Dining on board: Every morning, a sumptuous French-style breakfast spread will be served straight to your cabin. And each night you’re on board the train, you’ll get to tuck into a lavish four-course dinner in one of the meticulously restored dining cars. There’s also a bar car where you can enjoy a cocktail or two while enjoying tunes by the resident pianist.
Where to stay: Fraser Place Anthill Istanbul offers 116 gold-standard luxury residences with sweeping views of the Bosphorus Strait. The apartments and penthouses come fully furnished with modern conveniences, so you’ll hardly miss the comforts of home.
Adapted from Fraser Cachet Issue #38 © Frasers Hospitality and SPH Magazines. Updated in December 2022.