A new chapter in luxury train travel has begun in Ireland. Travellers can now enjoy the scenic Emerald Isle in great comfort.
The last time I boarded an Irish train was in 2003 but it might as well have been 1963 such was the antiquated assemblage of bone-rattling cars that jolted me from Carlow through to Dublin Heuston.
Given that smoking had been banned on Irish trains for quite some time, the stale tobacco smell that permeated the carriage must have been smoked into the vinyl seats. I'd have opened the sliding window for a breath of fresh air if it hadn't been jammed shut.
All this is a far cry from Ireland's newest train service, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, which recently departed on its inaugural journey, a six-night Grand Tour of Ireland, from Dublin Heuston to Cork.
It is, in fact, Ireland's first-ever luxury sleeper train and the 40 guests on the train may have felt they were being whisked along the 2217km route in a country house on wheels given the elegant interiors of the cabins which are named after Irish counties and are inspired by the local tartan and scenery of each of those counties.
The sleeper cars, include Waterford, Leitrim and Kerry, and have 20 luxury en-suite cabins including four double cabins with plenty of storage and details such as Galway crystal jewellery stands and Irish goose feather and down pillows and duvets.
Kildare is the observation car and social hub with live entertainment every evening and Irish gin and whiskey in good supply. In Wexford and Sligo, passengers dine on a menu with a contemporary twist. Prepared by head chef Alan Woods dishes include Irish seafood chowder, roast Killarney venison, Donegal turf smoked salmon and crab cannon, Skeaghanore duck leg confit and warm Kildare wild elderberry and plum compote.
But 2217km? Ireland's not that big!
Happily for the guests, the Belmond Grand Hibernian took the long way round to Cork - visiting Galway, Mayo, Belfast, Waterford and Killarney with passengers alighting to sightsee at places such as Blarney Castle, Lough Leane and the Titanic Experience along the way.
Guests will enjoy similar experiences on Belmond Grand Hibernian's two, four and six-night itineraries for up to 40 passengers which are available until the end of October and, in 2017, from April 25 - October 14.
Fares are from €3160 (about $4646) per person for a two-night journey with two guests sharing a twin or double cabin. See belmond.com/grandhibernian.
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