This Luxurious Train Journey Through Scotland Comes With an Onboard Spa, Whisky Tastings, and Castle Tours
While luxury train experiences usually harken visions of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Belmond operator behind the service also runs six other high-end rail journeys around the globe, including the Belmond Royal Scotsman, which is set to return to the tracks when its season starts on April 12, 2021, with trips through October.
The train winds through Scotland, with itineraries that include Glamis Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Culloden Battlefield, Alnwick Castle, and Glenfinnan Viaduct, as well as experiences like stopping at whisky distilleries or going clay pigeon shooting.
These days, a maximum of 40 passengers can be on each trip, meaning there's plenty of room for proper physical distancing, plus there are private bathrooms in each cabin for comfort and hygiene. The observation car, which has a bar with 65 whiskies, also features an open-air veranda to breathe in some fresh air along the route.
For those looking for even more seclusion, the train will be available for private charters for up to 24 guests in 2021. Those trips can be tailored to individual interests, from golf to whisky to stargazing. Two-night charters start at £35,000 (about $47,491).
Launched in May 1985, the Royal Scotsman started in rented carriages and quickly won such acclaim that it was awarded the Queen's Award for Export. It soon upgraded to bespoke Edwardian-style carriages, and over the years, the train went from steam heating to electricity, as well as upgraded from steel to wood. In 2007, the operation was absorbed into the Belmond (formerly the Orient-Express) family.
One of the most luxurious additions was the Bamford Haybarn Spa, the first spa carriage in Europe, according to Town and Country, when it launched in 2017. "When I think of Scotland, walks in the Highlands, fresh air, rushing streams, and beautiful heather-covered hillsides come to mind," Haybarn founder Carole Bamford said on the Belmond site. "I have always loved traveling and am inspired by all the beautiful sights, sounds, and scents along the way.... It was very exciting to take the Bamford Haybarn Spa on board a train that is synonymous with luxury, relaxation, and innovation."
With price tags starting at £3,195 (about $4,330) for a two-night journey and £12,500 (about $16,950) for seven-night trips, many of the itineraries are already sold out — perhaps in great part to the Starz TV series Outlander and movie series Harry Potter.
In fact, Outlander has accounted for so much of the increased interest in the area since it aired in 2014 that the author of the book series it was based on, Diana Gabaldon, was awarded the Scottish Thistle Award for helping boost tourism, the BBC reported. Visitors to landmarks that were featured in the series rose an average of 40%, according to The Outlander Effect & Tourism report, published by Visit Scotland.