Sneak Preview: Inside Ireland's first luxury sleeper train
Belmond Grand Hibernian
Weekend Magazine lifestyle editor Bairbre Power gets a preview of Belmond's Grand Hibernian, set to launch this summer.
Stepping on board the ‘Kildare’ observation carriage of Belmond’s Grand Hibernian, it’s hard to miss the sumptuousness and attention to detail of Ireland’s first luxury sleeper train - which begins service from Dublin’s Heuston Station on August 9.
Three months ahead of the launch, I travelled to Mivan - the Antrim-based interior fit-out and theming specialist contracted by Belmond - for a behind the scenes look at what is going into making the first train of its kind in Ireland.
Belmond operates some of the world’s most famous trains - including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Belmond Royal Scotsman - and the company certainly hasn't spared the cash on its seventh luxury train.
Costs have not been released for the Grand Hibernian, but Mivan has deployed a team of 40 multi-skilled craftsmen who will put in 35,000 man hours to complete the train.
Walking across the factory floor, I passed a new red ‘spa’ carriage for its sister train, the Royal Scotsman, and then suddenly, around the corner, I spied the ten glorious carriages of the Grand Hibernian itself - with their exteriors painted a striking glossy midnight blue.
Hopping onboard the ‘Kildare’ (below), I got my first taste of the comfortable carriage where passengers can absorb the passing scenery on journeys such as a two-night trip taking in Dublin, Belfast and Coleraine, and a four-night trip from Dublin to Cork, Killarney, Galway and Wesport.
And the cost? Prices for the Belmond Grand Hibernian range from €3,160pp for two nights, to €5,420pp for four and €7,722pp for a six-night itinerary.
Despite the exclusivity, 85pc of capacity in the Grand Hibernian’s first season (ending in October) is already sold, I learned, with most guests coming from the US, France, Australia, the UK and Germany.
The Irish resonances and contemporary feel of the train is striking.
I found deep sofas covered in a linen-look fabric with a grid pattern. Tweed bucket seats are covered in a fabric which resembles a herringbone Donegal tweed, but due to stringent EU rail regulations, it had to be made up specially in compliant materials.
Irish lace inspired the print on the curtains, pulled back to reveal the ever changing Irish countryside. The wood fit is walnut and the whole ambiance aims “to create a truly authentic train that reflects the spirit of the counties through which it will travel,” according to Gary Franklin, MD of Belmond Trains & Cruises.
The carpets throughout are a Celtic motif, made by Ulster Carpets.
In the ‘Kildare’ carriage, there’s even an homage to the chrome-plated tubular-steel side table designed by pioneering Irish architect and interior designer, Eileen Gray. It's executed in walnut for the Grand Hibernian.
Judging from the plans Belmond revealed to me, the Grand Hibernian intends to be a totally Irish experience, from James Park Assosiates' chic interiors reflecting Dublin’s Georgian architecture to the storytelling and music on board and the gourmand meals out at locations like Ashford Castle.
The finished sleeping cabin I saw had a chic aubergine and pale grey déco, with smart silver chrome fittings in the 3m x 2m space. The 2m x 1m en suite bathrooms are compact, with a shower. Their tiles resemble traditional Metro bevelled gloss tiles, similar to what might see in the London Underground, but made from a special compliant sheet material profiled to look like traditional wall tiles.
The two dining carriages, the Sligo and Wexford, will have chairs made specially in Ireland, with a colour scheme chosen around county ‘tartans’ uncovered by Belmond researchers. The tables have been designed so they can join together to create a conference setting if required.
Interestingly, Gary Franklin did away with the single occupancy supplement when he joined Belmond, and before launching, Belmond has already received three charters. The four-night trip leaves Dublin every Tuesday, while the two-nighter will depart on Saturdays.
“The focus is on the luxury experience and in Ireland, they will discover its history and culture, food and produce,” says General Manager JP Kavanagh, who joined Belmond from The Doyle Collection Kensington Hotel in London.
Ireland being a small country, of course, actual rail journeys will be short. The trips include far more than opulent spins around the countryside, however. Blarney Castle, Titanic Belfast, Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher are just some of the excursions on offer, and golfing is an option too.
Belmond Grand Hibernian Factfile:
40: Maximum number of passengers
10: Number of carriages
2: Dining carriages (named 'Wexford' and 'Sligo')
5: Sleeping carriages ('Down', 'Kerry', 'Leitrim', 'Carlow', 'Waterford')
1: Observation carriage ('Kildare')
35,000: Man hours invested in the interior fit-out
For more details, see belmond.com/grand-hibernian-train