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Need an escape? Check out these scenic train rides from around the world

From South Africa to Japan, we’ve rounded up the world’s most luxurious train trips

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By Architectural Digest US | September 19, 2022 | Travel Leisure

Scenic train rides exemplify the wisdom American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson worked to impart: It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And when you start to see the world this way, life gets a whole lot better. Philosophical thoughts aside, since trains run on their own—oftentimes remote—routes, they give you the opportunity to see parts of the world you may not be able to in a car, and most definitely not in a plane.

Even though any train ride can be an opportunity to unwind and watch the world pass by through the window, these scenic train rides are among the most beautiful. From the highlands of Peru to the Swiss Alps, see AD’s top train destinations that will have you yearning to hear that storied call: “All aboard!”

Seven Stars in Kyushu, Japan

Japan’s ultra-luxe rail line traverses the dramatic mountainous island of Kyushu, stopping at the rustic town of Yufuin, a destination famous for its hot springs. Every detail is considered in the Seven Stars’ passenger suites. The walls feature Kumiko latticework, made by local craftsmen in Okawa, Fukuoka, without the use of nails. The sinks were created by the late Sakaida Kakiemon XIV, a celebrated potter.

In the dining car, extensive rich wood detailing—from the chevron parquet pearwood floors to the coffered and arched ceiling—competes with epic views of Japan’s countryside.

Rovos Rail, South Africa

South Africa’s Rovos Rail has one of the largest fleets of refurbished trains from the late 1960s and early ’70s, and it operates painstakingly restored vintage coaches. Given the spatial limitations of a train coach, transforming one into a luxurious sleeper is no easy feat, since it requires all kinds of architectural strategizing. Period details abound on the Rovos coaches, including the carved-teak pillars of the dining car, which emulate the design of a 1924 train restored by the South African firm.

The Al Ándalus, Image: Renfe/Architectural Digest

Al Ándalus, Spain

The Al Ándalus traverses southern Spain’s scenic Andalusian region, departing from Seville (or Grenada) and stopping at various gastronomic and cultural destinations. Several of the coaches used for the Al Ándalus were originally built in the 1920s and welcomed British monarchs traveling from Calais, France, to the Riviera. The interiors have a mix of period details, like the metalwork and lighting, and Belle Epoque–inspired flourishes.

Andean Explorer making its way through Peru, Image: PeruRail/Architectural Digest

Andean Explorer, Peru

Traveling through the highlands of Peru, the Andean Explorer overlooks dramatic terrain, from Cusco to Lake Titicaca. A bar car with panoramic windows and an open-air observation deck provides an ideal vantage point.

The wood paneling, bronze details, and elegant geometry of the ceiling of the dining car summon the Pullman trains of the 1920s, the inspiration behind the Andean Explorer’s design.

The Belmond Royal on its route, Image: Belmond/Architectural Digest

Belmond Royal Scotsman, Scotland

The Belmond Royal Scotsman weaves its way around the picturesque Highlands and glassy lochs of Scotland. Polished marquetry walls give warmth and elegance to a Belmond Royal Scotsman sleeper car. Historic prints and carefully chosen textiles add a sense of traditional Scottish style.

Interior of the Eastern and Oriental Express, Image: Belmond/Architectural Digest

Eastern and Oriental Express, Southeast Asia

Belmond’s Eastern and Oriental Express passes through Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. The dining car windows of the train were extended to allow for more panoramic views of the scenery. The interior design scheme of Belmond’s Eastern and Oriental Express combines Southeast Asian touches with colonial embellishments. Chinese and Thai lacquer abounds, and the observation car is covered with teak paneling. The Presidential Suite (pictured here) features inlaid wood, antique brass fittings, and campaign-style furniture to accommodate the room’s small dimensions.

Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, India

The seven-day trip on the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels offers a luxurious way to see some of India’s most storied spots in the princely state of Rajasthan—also known as the Land of Kings—from the temples of Khajuraho and the holy city of Varanasi to the Taj Mahal.

The interior of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Image: Belmond/Architectural Digest

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe

The original Orient Express took its first trip in 1883, departing Paris for Istanbul. Today’s iteration, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express continues to represent the height of luxe European travel, but it traces a different route: It leaves London for Venice via France, Switzerland, and the Austrian Alps.

The exquisitely restored Art Deco coaches of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express convey the spectacular craftsmanship of the era, with stunning exotic wood paneling and fine metalwork. French artist René Prou designed the six sleeper cars, each of which is inlaid with an Art Deco marquetry design. The formal dining car of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express evokes the golden age of European travel—the 1920s and early ’30s—with elaborate table settings and top-shelf crystal and china. René Lalique designed the Tulip wall lights throughout the train as well as a series of Bacchanalian-themed wall panels.

Written by Meredith Mendelsohn and Katherine McLaughlin

This article originally appeared in Architectural Digest US