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Travel: Riding the Rails in Style

By Jonathan Adams

Traveling by rail can be a great way to get to know a country. But the last place you'd want to be in many parts of the world is on the overcrowded, smoke-belching firetraps that pass for passenger trains. TIP SHEET has the solution: go upscale. Luxury tour companies have been upgrading their rail packages and embarking on new routes, all complete with royal treatment, spectacular food and topnotch accommodations.

One of the newest is Taiwan's Formosa Star, which offers sightseeing packages that let you soak in the windswept peaks, bubbling hot springs and aboriginal cultures of this underappreciated corner of Asia. The train crawls down Taiwan's east coast, between the sparkling Pacific and the dramatic Central Mountain Range. The carriages offer karaoke and champagne. But even better, dinners and accommodations are at deluxe hotels along the way. These include the minimalist, internationally acclaimed Lalu, a sacred site of the aboriginal Shao people and one-time retreat of Chiang kai-Shek, overlooking Sun Moon Lake. The package also includes short excursions to popular Taiwanese tourist destinations, like the marble cliffs of Taroko Gorge and the Chihpen Hot Springs. It departs Taipei Saturday and Monday mornings; English- and Japanese-speaking tours are scheduled to start in April ($780 for four days; www.formosaholidays.com.tw).

Peru's recently-launched Hiram Bingham offers a unique way to travel in comfort to the famed Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Named after the American who discovered the site in 1911, the 1920s-era refurbished luxury train will whisk you on a one-day trip up the Andes. The package includes entrance to the ruins, and cocktails and dinner on the way back--plus an option to stay overnight at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, if you're so inclined. ($416.50; perurail.com).

For an icier rail experience, try one of the many luxury rail packages through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer. The seven-night Golden Circle package includes four days on the train, accommodations at swank Fairmont hotels in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, and coach tours of Yoho --National Park and the Icefields Parkway. Trips begin and end in Vancouver, and run from May through October ($3,839; rockymountaineer.com).

Or, for the tried-and-true, you can always hop aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient Express. The Paris-Istanbul route includes an overnight stay at the Marriott Budapest and guided tours of that city and Bucharest (starting at $6, 595; orient- express.com). All aboard!

Montreal: A Cold Bargain

Montreal likes to market itself to North Americans as "Paris without the jet lag." And the city does boast a certain je ne sais quoi charm, mixing Old World French style with New World openness. The Canadian dollar is great value, so TIP SHEET splurged:

Stay at the tres chic boutique-style Hotel Place D'Armes (hotelplacedarmes.com) in Old Montreal. The Omni Mont-Royal (omnihotels.com) has an outdoor pool heated to 29 degrees Celsius so you can swim next to snowdrifts.

Eat at cheerful Europea (europea.ca) for a selection of modern European delights--and a divine maple-syrup creme brulee! At Reuben's deli (reubensdeli.com) the eponymous sandwich may be the best you'll ever taste.

See (of course) the exquisitely colorful and ornate Notre Dame Basilica. The Musee des Beaux-Arts (mmfa.qc.ca) houses an impressive collection of Canadian and European paintings.

Shop in the eclectic boutiques on Saint Denis Street and the lovely galleries in Old Montreal.

Life of Luxury: A Singular Smell

We can think of few things more extravagant than having your own personalized fragrance developed and bottled in a crystal replica of a 1925 Baccarat bottle. Thanks to Britain's parfumeur extraordinaire, Roja Dove, it's now possible. Dove, who trained at Guerlain, opened his own Haute Parfumerie at Harrods in London last fall. The rest of his time is spent offering a hand-picked clientele olfactory "interviews" to compose their one-of-a-kind aromas. Once he's determined which type of scents they prefer--floral, chypre or oriental-- Dove refines the quest: which, he may ask, is more evocative: the sweetness of frangipani or the dryness of oak moss? Then he outlines their "odor profile," the blueprint to their essence. "Perfume is about finding something that is an expression of yourself," he says. And a costly one at that: a bottle of your custom-made fragrance runs 20,000 pounds. But when asked what it is you're wearing, you can simply say, "Me, darling."

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