Timeless Train Travel Across Great Britain: My Journey on Belmond's British Pullman
I love seeking out unique travel experiences and this past year I’ve had my eyes on your not-so-typical train journeys. I had never given train travel much thought, but with it being Greg’s favorite way to get around Europe, I was curious what was out there in terms of luxury overnight sleeper cars - a way to take his preferred mode of transportation and turn it into the destination itself. After a little research I was instantly on-board with the idea! With so few magical experiences still to be had in the world, the thought of being transported not only across the continents but back to the golden age of travel sounded fascinating. I quickly learned that Belmond is the company at the top of the train game. Initially, we were hoping to take our maiden voyage in this world on their Andean Explorer, which crosses Peru, but as with so many of our travel dreams the past few years we put it on hold due to Zika concerns. However, when our travels took us to London in April, I was thrilled that Belmond offered trips throughout the country on the British Pullman and booked us a journey right away!
If you’re not familiar with the wonderful world of Belmond, let me quickly introduce you to help set the stage for our recent journey with them. Belmond is a high-end travel company with a wide collection of carefully curated hotels, trains and river cruises across the globe. Arguably their most iconic adventure offered is a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (yes, that Orient Express!) which goes to show the type of world-class experiences you can expect with them. Much like the VSOE, the Belmond British Pullman's carriages have been restored to their former glory of the heyday of train travel in the 1920’s. The carriages have hosted celebrities and members of the royal family, both in the ‘20s - ‘30s and today, adding to the train’s romanticism and history. The British Pullman does not offer overnight journeys, but their wide selection of day trips give you just as much grandeur and dash of adventure as a lengthier excursion would.
Upon stepping onto the train at London’s Victoria Station, we were greeted not only by our friendly steward - whose impeccable uniform set the scene - but by the glamorous art-deco design all around. With its polished wood, rich velvet upholstery and antique fixtures, our carriage, the Gwen, was a sight to be seen and we truly felt as though we’d stepped back in time. I was sure at any moment I would see a member of the Crawley family coming aboard! After taking in our surroundings and getting settled into our plush wingback armchairs, we were poured champagne and tea as the train departed the station. Before we knew it the hustle and bustle of London faded into the distance and the charming English countryside opened before us. Shortly into the journey we were served a delicious three-course brunch on beautiful blue and white china that was nothing shy of fine dining.
A relaxing two-hour ride through the countryside of Kent led us to our destination, the historic town of Canterbury, where we spent the afternoon roaming cobbled streets and touring the town’s cathedral made famous by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Belmond’s British Pullman offers a variety of journeys throughout England. Whether you want to visit a country retreat of the royal family, take a trip to the coast, or participate in a murder mystery lunch, there’s sure to be an itinerary suited for you. I would love to take another ride during the holidays to enjoy their festive Christmas lunch - complete with carolers! - or visit one of the country’s popular Christmas markets. Both sound like magical ways to get into the holiday spirit! No matter what you chose to do, know that your experience will be nothing short of memorable!
The return trip to London was just as delightful, with quaint cottages and patchwork fields parading across our window as we were served a traditional English afternoon tea of finger sandwiches, yummy scones, and tray of petit fours. In between treats, I took the opportunity to explore a few of the train’s other carriages, each unique in style but equally timeless. Before we knew it we were pulling back into Victoria Station and our adventure on the rails came to an end. Journeys on the British Pullman will cost you around $350, give or take depending on the trip you choose, and while that’s not cheap, I felt it was worth it between the abundance of good food, topnotch service and one-of-a-kind experience had. If you’re interested in vintage rail travel, Belmond also has trains in Scotland, Ireland, Peru and Southeast Asia, each with a style and story representative of the locale. It was a special day that only fanned the flames for our desire to travel by train and bumped the Peru adventure higher on our bucket list!