In this age of harrowing airport check-ins and unpredictable flights, some travelers are returning to a slower, more comfortable and far more romantic way to see the world: by luxury train. The grande dame of such trains, the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, sparked a resurgence in luxury rail travel in the 1980s, carrying passengers between Paris and Venice in wood-paneled cars replete with polished brass and dining cars decked out with starched white linen, French silver and heavy crystal. Since then, the destinations have expanded to include cities like Istanbul, Budapest and Warsaw.
Over the years, other railways have sought to emulate the opulent comfort of the Orient Express. South Africa's Blue Train transports passengers between Pretoria and Cape Town in high style (www. bluetrain.co.za), the elegant Royal Scotsman weaves among Scotland's lochs and highlands (royal scotsman.com) and Russia's first private train, the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, takes passengers from Moscow to Vladivostok via the Siberian plains (from $12,795 for 14 days; www.gwtravel.co.uk). A new crop of luxury railways can also be found in Asia, where travelers can ride beautifully restored historic trains from the deserts of India to the tropical Malaysian jungles.
No country has climbed aboard more enthusiastically than India. The Deccan Odyssey features cars resembling a maharajah's palace, with overstuffed sofas and wood-paneled carriages. They journey from Mumbai to the old Portuguese port of Goa and the hilly city of Pune on the Deccan Plateau (from $390 nightly per person; deccan-odyssey.com). The Golden Chariot covers the main tourist sights of Bangalore state, including the palace of Mysore and the World Heritage Site of Hampi (from $287 nightly per person; thegoldenchariot.co.in). This month sees the launch of the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, which follows a route almost identical to the well-known Palace on Wheels: Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Bharatpur and Agra. But it offers even more luxurious accommodations that include a spa, a boardroom carriage and Wi-Fi Internet access (from $1,200 nightly per person; royal rajasthanonwheels.co.in).
China will soon jump in with the launch of the Tangula Luxury train along two routes starting in April. The five day Beijing-Lhasa route will take travelers through vast grasslands and deserts that were once part of the old Silk Road, before passing through snow-capped mountain ranges to reach the Tibetan plateau. The five-day Beijing-Lijiang route moves through the picturesque Guangxi and Yunnan provinces, home to more than 24 different ethnic groups. Travelers can enjoy in-room spa and wellness treatments, as well as the services of a 24-hour on-call butler (from $5,500; tangulaluxurytrains.com).
In Southeast Asia, the well-established Eastern & Oriental Express, which winds its way through rubber and coconut plantations between Singapore and Bangkok, will next month undertake its first Voyage to Vientiane, a three-night trip between Bangkok and Laos. Highlights of the journey include a visit to the impressive Phimai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a tour of a local Thai vineyard and a day trip to Vientiane. Unfortunately, the train can only continue for a few miles inside Laos—the country still lacks a full rail system—before visitors must disembark and complete the journey by bus (from $2,640; orient-express.com). But as T. S. Eliot once wrote, "The journey, not the arrival, matters."