LONDON, Sept. 23, 2009 -- For so many people, there is something undeniably romantic about the idea of train travel. Of the many great train journeys to be found around the world, we picked 10 of the most scenic and unforgettable; some expensive and luxurious, others historic and rustic. From Siberia to South Africa, Switzerland to Singapore, these are trips that will whisk you back in time, and away through some of the world's most stunning countryside.
South Africa's famous Blue Train is just what it sounds like, a beautiful blue train. It bills itself as "a window to the soul of South Africa," and it does give you a literal window onto the ever-changing 1,000 miles of countryside that stretch between the coastal city of Cape Town and the inland capital, Pretoria. A five-star hotel on wheels, the Blue Train is outfitted with elegant bed linen, marble floors and gold fittings in the bathrooms, and cocktails, high tea and fine cigars can all be had on board. Dine on fresh meals prepared by top chefs as the train winds its way through the country's diverse and gorgeous landscapes.
This 72-mile journey takes you through some of England's most scenic countryside, among hills and villages, over arches and through tunnels. From the Yorkshire Dales, with its lush green hills, distinctive limestone cliffs and grazing sheep, through the lakes and streams of Cumbrian Falls and over the impressive 24 arches of the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Settle-Carlisle Railway is equally famous for its scenery, and the Victorian architecture along the route. The journey ends at the city of Carlisle, along the Scottish border. Hop off and explore, or turn around and head back through the countryside. Either way, your eyes will find plenty to feast on.
If you're traveling through Southeast Asia, and have some time (and money) to spare, hop aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express for the 1,200-mile journey from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand. This train, which boasts luxurious overnight cabins, an observation car, delicious meals prepared by internationally chefs and an elegant bar, whisks you through the lush, tropical countryside of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in style. Towering palm trees, impossibly green mountains, rice paddies and glimpses of the ocean stretch in every direction beyond the panoramic windows, and will make you wonder why you ever considered flying over all this beauty.
Trains are generally the best way to travel through India, but the Palace on Wheels is a class apart. It is what it sounds like, an elegant, enchanting means of travel. Decorated in ornate, colorful regional textiles, inside, the cars look almost like they belong to a different age. The journey, which starts and ends in Delhi, takes you on a loop through the towns, cities and expansive, gorgeous desert of the northern region of Rajasthan. Then, there are the added elements of the trip, which is stretched over eight days, like the elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari, and the requisite tour of the Taj Mahal.
The Jambo Kenya Deluxe whisks you from the seaside city of Mombasa inland to the capital Nairobi, through Kenya's expansive, beautiful countryside. The overnight train offers a three-course breakfast. Keep your eyes peeled as the train chugs through the country, and you're sure to spot impala, giraffe, ostrich and a variety of other exotic African wildlife meandering through the plains. The train, which used to go daily, now operates just three times a week, and often runs late. But for the flexible and adventurous, this is a great trip.