When the legendary orient express route debuted june 5, 1883, it captivated sojourners across the globe with an aura of mystique, sophistication and romance. Long portrayed as a glam train, rather than the actual railway service linking Paris to Istanbul, this icon still kindles images of indulgent travel with passengers basking in palatial sleeping and dining cars.
Luxury rail is once again picking up steam among wander lusters with the passion, time and means to immerse within an evolving canvas that’s literally at their fingertips. Th ese epic excursions intrigue as much by how we’re transported from point A to Z as by what we’ll encounter along the way.
THE GREAT RAIL
“Th ere’s such a sense of nostalgia and romance with rail travel,” says Todd Powell, president and founder of Vacations By Rail (VBR), which inspires escape artists with a mother lode of independent, escorted and custom train itineraries. “It’s the last accessible adventure. When you leave the station—especially aboard an overnight train—that adventure beings to unfold.”
Hawai‘i’s convenient air access to Vancouver makes VBR’s “Best of the Rockies” a natural. Weaving in stays at historic Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Vancouver, Banﬀand Jasper, the eight-day loop with two distinctive rail experiences can be customized to extend length of travel and oﬀ-train diversions.
To maintain Fairmont-style pampering, opt for GoldLeaf service aboard the all-daylight Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver along the Fraser River to Kamloops and Banﬀ, and Sleeper Plus on VIA Rail Canada’s overnight Canadian from Jasper to Vancouver.
Prepare for nirvana and boundless gawking through fully domed observation windows and open-air platforms that sweep you into the grandeur of Western Canada’s dramatic mountains and vast wilderness unfolding with a wildlife frenzy of moose, black bears, bald eagles, elk and big-horned sheep.
Days four and five twist from passive to active mode via motor coaching along the Icefields Parkway that connects Banﬀ and Jasper National Parks—two of seven contiguous Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks that merge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Instrumental in developing this gorgeous destination during rail’s golden era, Canadian Pacific Railway built Banﬀ Springs Hotel and Jasper Park Lodge to accommodate moneyed travellers intrigued with witnessing “The West.” Both are now Fairmont properties, with the former a landmark referred to as “The Castle in the Rockies.” A Fairmont Gold Floor upgrade elevates the already plush hospitality with private lounge access and other exclusive amenities.
The great outdoors lures you to unleash your inner explorer by dipping into medicinal Banﬀhot springs, ascending to Sulphur Mountain’s 7,486-foot summit in a gondola and visually drowning in the turquoise water of Lake Louise.
Considered by many as adrenaline utopia, however, is the Columbia Icefield astride the Continental Divide. Here, Ice Explorer snowcoaches transport outdoor enthusiasts onto massive Athabasca Glacier that recedes by nearly an inch each day.
CALL IT A NIGHT…
If you’re absolutely enamored by the thought of elevating overnight travel, the 2,775-mile Trans-Canada By Rail route links outdoorsy Vancouver and cosmopolitan Toronto, with two-night hotel stays on each end and four nights aboard the Canadian. This gracefully restored 1950s Streamliner delivers a fresh take on “beauty sleep” with contemporary spins on old-school luxury.
“When you think of an iconic rail journey with overnight sleeping and dining in a classic car as chefs prepare meals, this one delivers in style,” Powell says. “It has earned a spot on the bucket list of North America rail travel— especially since you depart Vancouver at 8:30 at night and wake up in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. It’s definitely inspiring.”
Those preferring to migrate from east to west can flip it with a Toronto departure.
Refined Prestige Service indulges with upscale accommodations, services and amenities. Bringing Mother Nature’s finery inside through a panorama window, each private cabin is glitzed by an en-suite bathroom with shower, double Murphy bed, converting into a sleek leather sofa by day, fully stocked bar and flat screen that’s rarely on (since the scenery outside steals the show). Electric radiant-heated floor and walls maintain a comfortable, constant temperature to keep cabins cozy.
Adding more pizzazz are bells and whistles like personalized concierge service, priority dining reservations and complimentary all-inclusive bar service. Prestige passengers are also privy to the Skyline dome observation car with its 360-degree views, and Park Car with a trio of salons and an upper observation deck. Both a social and snack hub, the Skyline car is stocked with juices, coﬀee and muffi ns, plus board games and magazines. Also count on interactive wine tastings for toasting the stimulating scenery that makes this so much more than a cruise on rails.
To keep you up to speed on the scenery that’s rolling out, an onboard attendant shares detailed commentary on the region you’re traveling through along this journey spanning five of Canada’s 10 provinces.
Culinary soirees are equally stellar in the Art Deco dining car, as chefs pair Canadian wines with such farm-to-table delicacies as baked salmon or pot roast garnished with locally sourced vegetables.
Far less stressful than air travel, trains often exceed perks provided in business class on international flights—without the monotony of waiting for clouds to break so you can sneak a peek of the scenery 32,000 feet below. While your cabin remains a private retreat, you’re privy to more freedom, since you’re not confined to a single seat or area. Like-minded ramblers can connect over libations in the Skyline Car as a black bear fishes for its dinner in a river. It’s an extremely civilized way to immerse within the great outdoors.
“Those who have limited their Canadian experiences to larger cities or ski resorts are amazed with the ever-changing landscapes of tranquil lakes, dense forests, verdant river valleys and the majestic Canadian Rockies that unfold along the nearly 2,800-mile trip from Vancouver to Toronto,” Powell says. “It’s a remarkable journey.”