There’s a lot to love about a journey by train, but here’s my favorite: since every view is fleeting — there’s no rewind button or doubling back for a second look — my world shrinks to the beauty on display through the windows. Sometimes, as I watch for wildlife or crane my neck to catch the first glimpse of what’s around the next curve, the anticipation gives me an almost childlike sense of wonder.
My favorite way to take in the scene is aboard a wine train, where those wondrous views are paired with not only a celebratory flute of Champagne or a mellowing glass of Syrah, but with seasonal, multi-course gourmet meals prepared by talented chefs, many of whom have often helmed the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world. The setting is equally grown up, as designers have transformed utilitarian rail cars into lounges and dining rooms appointed with velvet banquettes, glossy mahogany woodwork, and sparkling crystal chandeliers. Even better, since most of these wine-soaked journeys cover several days, guests are treated to a generous array of sumptuous meals, lovely wines, and those glorious views. Read on for a few of the world’s most luxurious options.
Rovos Rail — Africa
There’s no better way to get a taste of South Africa’s centuries-old wine making tradition than aboard one of Rovos Rail’s fabulously plush coaches as you steam past herds of elephant and antelope, through golden grassland and ruddy sand dunes. Experiment on your own — there are more than three dozen sparkling wines, roses, whites, reds, and dessert wines available — or let the sommelier guide you through pairings that might include springbok loin with a spicy Stellenbosch Pinotage or rack of lamb with a nuanced South African Bordeaux-style blend.
Glacier Express — Switzerland
No one ever minds this nearly eight-hour train journey between St. Moritz and Zermatt: passing over 291 bridges as it makes its way through the dramatic Swiss Alps, it’s considered one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Excellence Class passengers get more than a view. After a glass of Champagne, you’ll sit down to a five-course meal paired with a variety of Swiss wines, including creamy Swiss Pinot Blanc, sparkling Rose, or even a flight of several expressions of Pinot Noir. Be sure to end with a Swiss dessert wine, which, not surprisingly, pairs perfectly with Swiss chocolate.
The best of England’s bounty and the world’s most delicious wines come together within the hushed carriages of Belmond’s British Pullman, a train that begins and ends the day at London’s Victoria Station. In between, you can sip British bubbly and briny oysters from Whitstable as you make your way through the English countryside, attend a wine tasting at historic Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire or tour an award-winning winery in Kent. Whatever you choose, you’ll be treated to a gourmet brunch and dinner, with Champagne and wines paired by the onboard sommelier.
Napa Valley Wine Train
This historic train offers a wide range of wine-tasting journeys, some completely on board; others with stops at partner wineries along the route, which runs between downtown Napa and St. Helena. Highlights include the Grgich Hills Estate Tasting, which pairs a gourmet onboard meal — dishes like grilled beef tenderloin and smoked salmon make regular appearances on the rotating menu — with a private tasting at Grgich Hills Estate and Tasting on the Rails, a seven-course expedition through the wines of Chandon, Charles Krug, Belle Glos, and others.
Le Grand Tour
Like a perfect evening out, this six-day journey through the great wine regions of France begins, where else, but Champagne, with lunch and a tasting at Maison Perrier-Jouët. From there, you’ll sip vintage Burgundy in Beaune, taste oysters fresh from the sea with local white Bordeaux in Arcachon, and wander through the medieval village of Saint Emilion after sipping wine at one of the city’s tasting rooms. Created by Michelin three-star chef Alexandre Couillon, the train’s multi-course lunches and dinners are as extravagant as the wines.
There’s a reason Japan’s Koshino Shu*Kura train, which takes passengers on a three-hour journey through the mountains and coastline of the Niigata Prefecture, is referred to as the Joyful Train: onboard sake tastings feature five brews from the region, which is renowned for both its rice and sake, as well as an exclusive sake from Kiminoi Brewing. Each sake was specially selected by Niigate Bijoux, a group of local women determined to share their love of sake with others. Perfectly paired bites come neatly packaged in a Bento box for easy snacking, live music keeps the joy going.