The 2020 Legend Awards are meant to serve as inspiration for future travel—when it is safe to do so. Learn more about this year's awards on our methodology page.
There is a scene in Midnight in Paris where Marion Cotillard implores Owen Wilson to realize that there is no era better than La Belle Époque; she calls it the true golden age.
She’s not the only one who has a distinct reverence for La Belle Époque. There’s a reason, of course, why travelers, literary scholars, and Francophiles all have an insatiable interest in this 1870s to 1910s era. Literally meaning “The Beautiful Age” in French, La Belle Époque came after the Franco-Prussian War and before World War I. It was an era during which the European quality of life vastly improved, and there was time and money for luxury, indulgence, and artistic pursuits.
Much like Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris, we are forever chasing a 1910s-brand of luxury. And it is in that spirit, that we have sampled the very best of high-end train travel over the last year.
The grandeur of an upscale train car is all in the details. It’s in the cocktails stirred in a Waterford crystal mixing glass, the art deco furniture sourced from auctions around the world, and the tasting menus orchestrated by chefs plucked from Michelin-starred restaurants.
And, of course, bespoke train travel is a way to see underexplored, remote terrain, from the highlands of southern Peru to the scenic Russian expanse. The gentle lull of the train encourages travelers to slow down and appreciate the scenery, before pulling into the bustling cities they’re heading toward.
The following Legend Awards honorees are curating luxury train experiences in far-reaching corners of the world. These trains can whisk you from Russia to Rome right into La Belle Époque and beyond.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express kicked off their 2020 season on March 21 by debuting three brand-new Grand Suites. The three suites, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, are named after cities this luxurious art deco-inspired train visits. And guests of each Grand Suite have access to a personal steward 24 hours a day. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express travels across Europe in the relaxed, old-world luxury that Belmond founder James B. Sherwood envisioned when he bought two vintage cars in 1977 at a Monte Carlo auction with the dream of restoring them into the gleaming luxe train the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has become.
Jose Cuervo Express
The best way to experience the Jose Cuervo Express, which runs from Guadalajara to Tequila, is aboard their Diamond car. Diamond passengers will languish in the train’s most exclusive car, designed to connote old-world glamour, while sampling Cuervo’s premium Reserva de la Familia. Whether taking a sunrise or sunset train aboard the Jose Cuervo Express, the ride is 11 hours, includes a tour of "La Rojeña" distillery, and either starts or ends at Casa Cuervo.
Belmond Grand Hibernian
True to Belmond’s superior form, a trip through the Irish countryside aboard the Grand Hibernian is an unparalleled experience. Passengers can expect the elegance and old-world grandeur associated with the iconic brand, reflected in the train’s sleek Georgian architecture and the staff’s warmth. But what sets this train and its three itineraries apart from others is the unique glimpse it offers into a spirited land of vibrant folk and fable—paired alongside what we’d reckon is one of the best farm-to-train food experiences on the globe. In the short five years that the Belmond Grand Hibernian has been in operation, the locomotive has set the standard for luxury travel in Ireland.
Belmond Andean Explorer
The only luxury train in South America, the Belmond Andean Explorer trains through remote Andes territory en route between Arequipa and Cusco, Peru. These are views you have to see to believe; the train climbs to an elevation equivalent to three-quarters the height of Mount Everest. And the views are, of course, best enjoyed with a cocktail in the Piano Bar Car. It’s the perfect complement to a Machu Picchu vacation, because Belmond Andean Explorer gets you to the remote highlands of underexplored southern Peru and the Uros Islands.
Great Southern, the newest luxury train in Australia, debuted for their inaugural season in December 2019. Winding from Brisbane to Adelaide (in both directions), Great Southern is the newest addition to the Journey By Rail family. The journeys aboard Great Southern explore New South Wales and Coffs Harbor up near Brisbane, and as the train moves closer to Adelaide, it exposes travelers to the wonders of the Great Ocean Road and the vibrant city of Melbourne.
Alpine luxury is what you’ll find aboard the Glacier Express, which travels from St. Moritz to Zermatt over the course of eight hours. Their top-tier—higher than first class—is Excellence Class, which has only 20 inviting leather seats, where guests enjoy a seven-course regionally authentic meal with a wine pairing for each course. The experience on the Glacier Express, as it treks through 91 tunnels and across 291 bridges in the Swiss Alps, is not just over-the-top, it exemplifies the true essence of Swiss luxury.
Belmond Royal Scotsman
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more elegant way through the Scottish countryside than onboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman. The 10 gleaming mahogany cars traverse the Scottish Highlands, serving Scotland-sourced game and seafood prepared by acclaimed Head Chef Mark Tamburrini, known for his work in Michelin-starred kitchens across the UK. As of May 2019, Belmond Royal Scotsman launched brand-new luxury excursions, like stargazing and a night picnic in Cairngorms National Park, biking through the Highlands on a guided tour, or attempting falconry for the first time.
Seven Stars in Kyushu
Seven Stars in Kyushu, by Kyushu Railway Company, is the only luxury train around Japan. Aboard one of the seven cars built meticulously by Japanese artisans, the train explores the seven prefectures of Kyushu. The elegant interiors blend old world aesthetics with more modern Japanese style for a classically Japanese brand of luxury.
With Vacations by Rail, travelers can arrange a luxury train vacation onboard the iconic Golden Eagle, which is perhaps best known for its Trans-Siberian Express route, covering 8,000 miles of Russian and Mongolian terrain over 12 nights. The journey includes luxury hotel accommodations for two nights of the trip, a BBQ on Lake Baikal, several city tours, and cultural experiences in Ulan Ude and Ulaanbaatar.