TREASURE THE TRACKS OF TIME
Last year, I boarded a train in Porto’s São Bento station and took a trip back in time. It didn’t look like the timetravelling DeLorean from Back to the Future. In fact, it gleamed with all the polish and nostalgia of the bygone era from which it was pulled. Just a few weeks earlier, the train had been sitting in its permanent home in Portugal’s National Rail Museum. Entrepreneur Gonçalo Castel-Branco is the reason The Presidential now rides the rails once again, just as it did when it carried royals and Portuguese dignitaries across the country.
He invested €1 million in a two-year restoration to return it to its former glory, gained permission for it to follow the Douro rail line, and convinced Michelin-starred chefs to serve up a rolling feast with free-flowing port – the journey culminating in an exclusive soiree at the Quinta do Vesuvio estate for cocktails and cigars. But the biggest drawcard of all is its fleeting nature. The one-day gastronomic journey into the Douro Valley only runs for a few weekends in spring and again in autumn.
Tammy Marshall, founder of The B Hive – a business transformation consultancy – was working for Carnival Australia when she noticed travel moving towards this exclusive, experiential space. Cruise ships were starting to experiment with 1940s nights where guests would break out their post-war finery and party like it was 1945. It was a huge success.
“Ephemeral is one of the big trends now; creating these events and these experiences,” Tammy says. “People value it because it’s not there all the time, it’s not always accessible.
“Creating an event allows you to immerse, get dressed up, play a part … and have that special sense of place.”
One of my most memorable London travel experiences was attending a Secret Cinema show. Clutching our tickets, Mum and I followed the trail of hula-hoop-toting girls wearing bobby socks along the same mystery route. Our destination was a large field – a “secret world” where Dirty Dancing was brought to life through a cast of actors, dancers and stage sets before a live-action screening of the cult film. It was like living inside Kellerman’s and helping Baby carry a watermelon. (The best part? No smart phones or cameras allowed.)
The events are finely executed extravaganzas and only run for a handful of dates. I’ll never be able to repeat the experience, and that’s the sheer joy of it.
When we travel, we don’t just want to do a tour or go to a regular event, we want the experience money never used to be able to buy.
Even within a circle of jetsetting travel journalists, flying first class is a hallowed experience. While jumbos crisscross the sky every day, even in the hyper-exclusive realm of first class, there are only so many bottles of the 1963 single vintage tawny they serve, after all.
The appeal of travel is the fleeting moments. It’s why returning to that edgy city you fell in love with five years later, and finding a Starbucks on every corner, hits you harder than you expect. When I was invited to the opening of Bruce Munro’s Field of Light at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, the buzz surrounding the one-year-only event was palpable. Has some of the majesty been lost now that it’s been extended to five? No.
Even if these ephemeral experiences are around long enough to lull you into a false sense of security, if you really want to do it, think about the consequences tomorrow and just book it. You never know how long they’ll be available. Unless, of course, it’s John Farnham’s last tour.
A one-day gastronomic journey on The Presidential only runs for a few weekends in spring and autumn.