Saturday 29 April 2017

Pól Ó Conghaile: Full steam ahead for Ireland's luxury rail revolution

Tourism on the tracks

The Belmond Grand Hibernian
The Belmond Grand Hibernian
Belmond's 'Royal Scotsman' - a model for the Grand Hibernian
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

The launch of two ultra-luxury rail holidays in Ireland is good news for tourism, says Travel Editor Pól Ó Conghaile.

Many of the rail stories we encounter involve bad news - strikes, works, Paul Galvin's Twitter tika-taka with Irish Rail's customer service ("For real?"). But two recent announcements look like hot tickets for tourism.

The first comes courtesy of Belmond Ltd, a global collection of high-end hotel, rail and river cruise experiences (including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express). It's launching luxury rail tours of Ireland on a new 'Grand Hibernian' sleeper train from August 2016. Carrying up to 40 guests on refurbished Irish Rail carriages, prices on the 'Irish Orient Express' start from €3,160pp for two days, including meals, drinks and excursions.

Another luxury train, the 'Emerald Isle Explorer', is shaping up for a seven-day steam circuit of Ireland this June. The tour is being offered by Steam Dreams - which runs the UK's Cathedrals Express steam train - and hauled by vintage locomotives owned by The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland. Prices start from £1,695pp (non-dining), with hotel accommodation included.

Clearly, the fares are loco. But they are aimed at wealthy American and European customers - as is the case with other high-end offerings like Ashford Castle and Ballyfin. Belmond says it has already received thousands of enquiries, and well-heeled guests will assuredly stay (and spend money) at either end of their excursions. The rest of us may not be getting on board anytime soon, but overall, this is good news for Irish tourism.

Splash

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Belmond's Grand Hibernian

The Belmond 'Grand Hibernian' (belmond.com/grandhibernian) has two-day itineraries in Ireland from €3,160pp, with four-night journeys quoted from €5,420pp. The journeys include meals, drinks, entertainment and excursions. Steam Dreams (steamdreams.co.uk) has a seven-day tour on the 'Emerald Isle Explorer' from £1,695/€2,297pp (non-dining) with accommodation in "good quality city centre hotels", rising to £2,950/€3,998pp for a Pullman Style Dining package including six nights in five-star hotels such as the G in Galway.

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Steam Dreams: Coming to a railway near you

Rail travel can be eye-wateringly expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Savvy travellers know that the best fares with Irish Rail (irishrail.ie) are booked online several days in advance - with Dublin to Galway, Sligo or Cork starting from €14.99 each way. Meanwhile, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (below, steamtrainsireland.com) offers vintage excursions. An outing on May 31 sees return trips from Balbriggan to Drogheda from €12/€6pp as part of the Balbriggan Summerfest.

NB: All prices subject to availability.

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