The Belmond Grand HibernianCourtesy of Belmond

Although Queen Elizabeth can command the Royal Train to travel about the UK, when HM headed to Sandringham in December for her annual Christmas holiday she road the rails as her subjects do, taking a public train (in first class and surrounded by a security detail) from London to King’s Lynn Station in Norfolk. Since an invite to join the monarch on board isn’t likely, those wanting some royal-style luxe in their train travel need only check out the sumptuous offerings from Belmond, the luxury hospitality company (in December LVMH announced it is buying the group), which operates such iconic routes as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Belmond Royal Scotsman. In 2016 it debuted Ireland’s first luxury train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, sometimes dubbed the Emerald Isle’s Orient Express, that journeys through Ireland and on certain routes to Northern Ireland too. The train has fast become a popular high-end travel experience, not only for the opportunities it provides to traverse the Irish countryside in style, but also for the cool experiences it organizes and the access to some of Ireland’s top golf courses along the way.

One of the cabins.Courtesy of Belmond

Interconnecting cabins.Courtesy of Belmond

While prices, depending on date and length of itinerary, range from €3000 to 10100 per person, “the trips tend to book up quickly,” says luxury travel expert Geraldine Murtagh, founder and owner  of Elegant Ireland, a company that arranges curated tours, golf vacations and castle and villa rentals.  “The Taste of Ireland option fits nicely into a 10-12 day road tour,” Murtagh says. In addition to the good food and evening entertainment, passengers can count on an “Irish level of hospitality,” which even in a luxury context runs to “very friendly,” she adds.

The bar in the Observation Car.Courtesy of Belmond

On two routes passengers have the opportunity to boat on Lough Leane.Getty

For 2019 the Belmond Grand Hibernian is offering three routes: In addition to Taste of Ireland (two nights), there's Legends and Loughs (four nights), and the Grand Tour of Ireland Southbound (six nights). The shortest trip still covers a lot of ground—both Belfast and Waterford are on the tour. Legends and Loughs takes in the dramatic scenery of West Ireland and travels to among other stops, the Lakes of Killarney, Galway, and County Mayo; the six-night journey covers the areas of the shorter trips. (Light sleepers will be glad to know that whichever tour you choose, the Grand Hibernian stables each evening, so you don’t have to worry about the sway and sounds from a moving train as you try to doze off.) 


Murtagh says she is seeing a luxury customer who increasingly wants to avoid “tourist places and the crowds,” and for those seeking more private experiences, it's worth noting the Belmond Grand Hibernian only has 40 guests. Excursions like jaunting car (a horse-drawn, two-wheel carriage) tours; boating on Lough Leane; visits to the historic Curraghmore House, ancestral home of the 9th Marquess of Waterford, and the Bishop’s Palace, both in Waterford; a stop at a renowned sheepdog farm; whisky-tastings; and falconry sessions are curated for train guests. Golfers can book at top courses (with advance reservations and for a separate fee) like Ballybunion and Adare Manor. 

The Belfast cityscape.Getty

Sunset on the River Corrib with Galway Cathedral in the background.Getty

Shop Street in Galway.Getty

Interiors on the train, which has four double cabins, 16 twin cabins, an observatory and two dining cars, blend modern style with heritage touches and locally-sourced materials—county tartans and tweeds, stone from Dublin and carpets from Ulster. The seasonal menu, overseen by chef Alan Woods, takes advantage of Ireland’s bounty of local farm and sea produce with dishes featuring such area specialties as Beara scallops and Donegal turf-smoked salmon.

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