THE RO­MANCE OF RAIL

Lux­ury rail jour­neys are the lat­est sybaritic plea­sure for the well-heeled trav­eller who wishes to evoke the magic of lo­co­mo­tive travel

India Today - - TRAVEL - By FA­REEDA KANGA

IT IS SAID THAT J.K. ROWL­ING got her inspiration for the char­ac­ter of Harry Pot­ter aboard a train from Manch­ester to London. Per­haps it’s be­cause long-dis­tance train travel reeks of magic, ad­ven­ture and in­trigue, mak­ing it a per­fect set­ting to in­spire her iconic best­seller. The finest way to ex­pe­ri­ence the most beau­ti­ful and least tram­pled land­scapes around the world in the opin­ion of not just Rowl­ing but oth­ers is on the rail­road. From the gleam­ing um­ber and cream car­riages boast­ing ve­neered pan­els and art deco mar­quetry to the liv­er­ied wait­ers that greet you with a flour­ish, there’s no finer way to view the English coun­try­side than aboard The Bel­mond Bri­tish Pull­man.

The Re­vival Of Rail Travel

What makes this jour­ney so spec­tac­u­lar is not just the up close views of the riv­et­ing scenery but the his­tory of the Bel­mond fleet—as leg­endary as the jour­ney it­self. With the ad­vent of air travel, the rail­ways were sud­denly rel­e­gated to be­ing too slow, te­dious and old-fash­ioned. As a re­sult, many lux­ury trains were in dis­use and car­riages fell into dis­re­pair. The lucky ones were bought by rail en­thu­si­asts; oth­ers were left to lan­guish in rail­way sid­ings or sent to the scrap heap.

Luck­ily, in 1977, ev­ery­thing changed at a Sotheby’s auc­tion in Monte Carlo. In at­ten­dance was James B Sher­wood, who har­boured a dream to re­vive the leg­endary Ori­ent Ex­press that would oth­er­wise be for­got­ten. Over the next few years he painstak­ingly lo­cated all the lost car­riages, even­tu­ally ac­quir­ing 35 his­toric sleep­ers, Pull­mans and Restau­rant cars. The Pull­mans were kept for the leg of the famed transcon­ti­nen­tal route. Named af­ter the Amer­i­can, Ge­orge Mor­timer Pull­man, who de­signed trains to be

“palaces on wheels” of­fer­ing true com­fort and de­lec­ta­ble cui­sine, the Pull­mans were syn­ony­mous with lux­ury train travel.

All Aboard

On board the Bel­mond Bri­tish Pull­man train, the leg­endary rail cars have been im­pec­ca­bly re­stored to pris­tine glory and time stands still amidst the hal­lowed car­riages with their in­laid mar­quetry and gleam­ing brass.

“Step on board and the real world evap­o­rates be­hind you”—is the thought that comes to mind as we prepare to dis­con­nect our­selves from the out­side world and thun­der down the tracks. Guests are trans­ported to an era of 1920’s glam­our and mys­tique and ‘Mur­der on The Ori­ent Ex­press’ fan­tasies be­gin to run riot as the train pre­pares to de­part from London’s Vic­to­ria Sta­tion.

The Bel­mond Bri­tish Pull­man can carry up to 226 pas­sen­gers and the car­riages seat be­tween 20 and 26 pas­sen­gers in each. On board, pas­sen­gers are seated in ei­ther ‘coupé’s’ (small com­part­ments seat­ing up to four peo­ple) or in the open car mostly at ta­bles for two.

Ush­ered to our seats with their Lib­erty-print up­hol­stery, we im­me­di­ately perk up when we see that the in­te­ri­ors of each of our 11 car­riages are daz­zlingly dif­fer­ent. With names such as Au­drey, Vera and Min­erva and in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed mar­quetry, they once formed part of a his­toric lux­ury train and each has its own story to tell: some car­riages were used by roy­alty, oth­ers took part in the Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain or starred in movies. The stun­ning wood pan­elling in our car­riages was re­stored by the Dunn fam­ily who are ex­perts in the rare craft of mar­quetry.

The in­te­ri­ors of the car­riage are ap­pro­pri­ately grandiose and al­most up­stage the stun­ning scenery if that’s pos­si­ble at all.

A His­tor­i­cal Treat

It’s easy to min­gle with guests on board; a re­tired naval cap­tain, housewives from Bath and a young hon­ey­moon­ing cou­ple who are as ex­cited as we are to be on board. Soon its time for the famed sil­ver ser­vice…

Our ta­ble is set with starched white linen, spe­cially com­mis­sioned china and sparkling cut glass­ware for a fault­less, at­ten­tive din­ing ser­vice.

Menus fea­ture the finest sea­sonal Bri­tish pro­duce, from guinea fowl and sea bream to smoked salmon and mag­nif­i­cent cheeses, all ex­pertly pre­pared by the ex­ec­u­tive head chef and his team.

Drinks are sim­i­larly de­lec­ta­ble: Champagne Lau­rent-Per­rier and som­me­lier-se­lected wines in fluted glasses make the rounds.

A de­lec­ta­ble menu of smoked Scot­tish Salmon and Roast beef fol­lowed by a sea­sonal straw­berry tart with crème anglaise and a cheese board with home made chut­ney have us in gas­tro­nomic par­adise notwith­stand­ing the views of the coun­try­side and its rolling hills. And we owe praise to the talented chefs who cook up a feast in a tiny gal­ley kitchen even cater­ing to a last minute veg­e­tar­ian guest on board.

As we pass through scenic Kent also known as ‘The Gar­den of Eng­land’ a sur­prise awaits us! The train halts abruptly in ru­ral Eng­land and we are ush­ered out.

“Have the coaches de­vel­oped a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem?” asks one pas­sen­ger anx­iously?

Be­fore we have a chance to worry we hear the strains of a jazz band and see wait­ers ap­pear mag­i­cally with trays of oys­ters and champagne. It’s a sur­prise treat for Valen­tines day we are in­formed by the ev­er­at­ten­tive staff.

Af­ter sway­ing to Ella Fitzger­ald and way too much Champagne, we tot­ter re­luc­tantly back on board, guided by our liv­er­ied wait­ers, as they lend us a help­ing hand to climb back on and savour the fi­nal few mo­ments of our lux­ury es­cape into a by­gone era of glam­our and style.

Fact File

The Bel­mond Bri­tish Pull­man of­fers a variety of train jour­neys the­mat­i­cally based for spe­cial oc­ca­sions like Mother’s Day, Valen­tine’s Day to jour­neys high­light­ing great Bri­tish mon­u­ments in Bath, Can­ter­bury and Cam­bridge as well as sport­ing events across Bri­tain.

SU­PERB SER­VICE Menus fea­ture the finest sea­sonal Bri­tish pro­duce

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