Former Britain’s Next Top Model judge Jonathan Phang is back with a new series of Gourmet Trains (every Saturday at 8pm, on Travel Channel). This time the lucky presenter will be trying out luxury routes through Scotland, Canada, Australia and Peru. We catch up with him for his best rail journeys of all time…
THE VENICE SIMPLON ORIENT EXPRESS
Route: The Classic VSOE journey is from Paris to Istanbul (via the Alps of Switzerland and romantic Italian city of Venice) and departs from Paris Sud, once a year. It takes 6 days and 5 nights.
“To experience authentic glamour, nostalgia and the spirit of Agatha Christie, nothing surpasses, Belmond’s Venice Simplon Orient Express,” explains Phang.
“Each carriage has been lovingly restored and oozes the elegance of travel’s golden era. Opulent carriages with exquisite marquetry, plush fabrics and crisp damask sheets lie in wait. At the heart of the train is the stylish piano bar, which is open all day, until the last guests stagger to their cabins. Enjoy cocktails while chatting to fellow guests or simply sit back, relax and soak up the romantic atmosphere and the tinkling of the ivories.”
Dining: “Devoted head chef Christian Bodigal has been at the helm for thirty years and creates freshly prepared Michelin standard, European food,” explains Phang. “Expect caviar, lobster, and choux fleur veloutee and saltmarsh lamb, which can be enjoyed in three uniquely decorated dining cars, Etoile du Nord-stlye, inlaid with polished wood, floral marquetry. The waiters are trained in the seamless art of silver service and the attention to detail is faultless. Tables are adorned with the finest, china, silver and crystal.”
THE HIRAM BINGHAM
Route: Travelling between Poroy and the ancient site of Machu Picchu in Peru.
“Upon arrival at Poroy Station, Peruvian dancers and musicians entertained us on the platform before we boarded the train,” explains Phang. “The Hiram Bingham has blue and gold livery and 1920’s Pullman carriages, decorated with polished wood, brass fixtures and large comfortable armchairs. There’s also an open-air observation car at the rear of the train. This is where all the action was. A band was playing, guests were singing and I was left in no doubt that I was in Latin America and on my way to somewhere special. The views kept getting better and better; we passed through colourful villages, waved at smiling children and saw herds of llamas. We descended into the Sacred Valley, at the Andean Foothills; and the train ran alongside the rapid Urubamba River. Granite mountains surrounding us, got higher and higher, I felt emotionally moved by the beauty and the scale of the scenery, and also, insignificant to the world.
“Nothing prepared me for the spiritual power of Machu Picchu and I can find no words to describe it,” Phang continues. “The journey back aboard the Hiram Bingham was one of celebration; I had fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition. We ate; we danced and raised our glassed to an unforgettable trip of a lifetime.”
Dining: “Fine wines and Pisco sours flowed, as I enjoyed a traditional Peruvian brunch of Aji de Gallina,” says Phang.
THE ROYAL SCOTSMAN
Route: The two nights and three-day journey transports passengers from Edinburgh’s Waverley station, through the former Kingdom of Fife, to the highlands. Then it’s on to the Cairngorms National Park, the battlefields of Culloden and south through Aberdeenshire and Angus.
“Being ushered up the red carpet, accompanied by the strains of a Drum Major piping, I was excited by the site of the nine carriage train, which looked like it had come out of a vintage train set box at an antiques fair,” explains Phang. “A champagne tea is served in the observation lounge. Within minutes, the ice is broken and I am getting on well with my fellow passengers. As we set off, I take my champagne glass out on to the open-air observation platform and as we cross the Forth Bridge I raise a toast Scotland and to my adventure ahead.
“The atmosphere on board The Royal Scotsman is that of a five star Edwardian country house. With only 36 passengers on board and with a member of staff to ever three passengers one feels spoiled and exclusive. Staterooms are wood panelled, all en suite, compact and comfortable. Bathrobes, postcards and writing paper were a welcomed touch, while the fixtures and fittings throughout the train have been thoughtfully restored and are of the finest quality.
It is without doubt, the very best way to experience Scotland’s stunning beauty within a short time. The train, the staff, the food, the wine and the service are all exemplary.”
Dining: “The train has two dining cars, each with a long central table seating 16,” explains Phang. “The food and wines are all excellent and every delicious morsel served is freshly prepared on board the train. There is live entertainment in the lounge every night, and, on our last night, we turned Dundee station into a midnight dance floor and danced the Gay Gordon, before joining hands and singing Auld Lang Syne.”