Owen Hardy is what you call a rail raver rather then a ‘train spotter’. This Louisville KY-based internationalist started The Society of International Railway Travelers IRT in 1983. Now a member of Virtuoso, IRT is often called the world’s most respected luxury rail travel agency. It certainly has an impressive list of partners, including train operators Belmond, Rocky Mountaineer and Rovos Rail It partners with such travel advisors as Lindblad, National Geographic and Tauck and, interestingly, only two hotel companies, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental (Girlahead cannot for the life of her think which of those two groups’ hotels are anywhere near a main train station – possibly FOUR SEASONS MONTREAL is closest). Question, why doesn’t IRT work with Fairmont, which, as CP Hotels, saw such palatial beauties as FAIRMONT VANCOUVER, FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE and FAIRMONT ROYAL YORK TORONTO and others established specifically to cater for rail passengers?
There are numerous other ‘railway hotels’. In Scotland think Edinburgh’s CALEDONIAN, now Waldorf Astoria, and THE BALMORAL, now Rocco Forte Hotels, and, a wee further north, GLENEAGLES. And so on…
Back to trains. Owen Hardy and his wife and daughter publish annual lists of the best trains in the world. Well, they haven’t seen anything yet. Wait for the late-2024 start of Italy’s La Dolce Vita – Orient Express.
The image above sets the scene – interior designers are Milan-based Dimore Studio, namely Britt Moran and Emiliano Salei, whose past works include PUBLIC CHICAGO, and Arts Clubs in London and Dubai). The concept has been put together by Arsenale Group SpA, led by Paolo Barletta, who on this is partnering with Annabel Holdings, founded by Nicola Bulgari. Funding has primarily come from Los Angeles-based $163bn investing powerhouse Oakfield Capital Management, whose co-founder, Howard Marks, coincidentally is the feature of today’s Financial Times’ Lunch with the FT (‘the food at this restaurant is kind of like Oaktree investing, always good, sometimes great, never terrible’).
Others involved in La Dolce Vita – Orient Express includeTrenitalia-Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato and, conveniently, Fondazione FS, established 2013 to protect and manage over 400 pieces of historic rolling stock. Initially there will be six trains, each formed of 12 re-conditioned heritage cars carrying a total 62 passengers. Accor’s Orient-Express division will handle all sales, marketing and ground support, plus onboard services, including dining, bars and entertainment.
Oh boy, THIS will be the way to ‘cruise’ without going to sea! It is fascinating, by the way, how top people love trains. In the USA, Philip Anschutz, owner of THE BROADMOOR and SEA ISLAND, both affiliated to Xanterra (which includes Windstar Cruises), owns the Grand Canyon Railway. In Israel, SIX SENSES SHAHARUT owner Ronny Douek has a collection of mini-trains….
While on the Xanterra route, let’s hear Windstar’s Chris Prelog, here: