Ireland's 'Orient Express' launches - with prices to match
Castles, Causeways and ‘the Craic’
Booking are now being taken for an Irish 'Orient Express' that will provide luxury rail experiences throughout the island.
The Belmond 'Grand Hibernian' has launched its Grand Tours of Ireland - including two, four and six-night itineraries starting from €3,160pp - for sale.
Four-night journeys are being quoted from €5,420pp.
As the prices indicate, the journeys - set to begin in August 2016 - are aimed squarely at the luxury overseas market. They include meals, drinks, entertainment and excursions.
The Grand Hibernian has had "thousands" of enquiries, its Irish PR company said, with at least 25 bookings this week along from the US, UK, Germany and Switzerland.
Belmond Ltd. is a global collection of high-end hotel, rail and river cruise experiences, including the celebrated Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Royal Scotsman trains.
The Grand Hibernian, which incorporates 11 carriages undergoing refurbishment after their purchase from Irish Rail, will carry up to 40 guests on its Irish itineraries.
A dining carriage on the Grand Hibernian
The first journey - 'Legends and Loughs' - is described as a four-night tour of the Republic of Ireland travelling from Cork to Killarney, Galway and Westport. Excursions include a tour of Jameson’s Whiskey distillery, ‘kissing’ the Blarney Stone, sheepdog trials and sporting activities at Ashford Castle.
The two night tour, titled ‘Realm of Giants’, journeys north from Dublin to Belfast and Portrush, with excursions to Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and the Old Bushmills Distillery.
Both journeys can be combined to create a six-night Grand Tour of Ireland.
Travel will be akin to "a land cruise," the company says.
Interior designs, created by James Parks Associates, draw on Ireland’s character and mythology with colours inspired by the countryside, it adds.
A dewy-eyed press release also promises "authentic" Irish immersions, ranging from "fiddles and flutes that will get toes tapping in a traditional pub to the fabulous folklore tales of mischievous faerie folk, flame-haired pirates and ghostly banshees."
Golfers can avail of daily tee times or bespoke extensions to their journeys.
A cabin on board the Grand Hibernian
Two opulent dining cars are named after Wexford and Sligo, filled with light and tweed fabrics, while the observation car ('Kildare') is pitched as a "social hub".
Irish Rail will be contracted to provide operational support, including haulage and stabling on the train. Belmond will pay in full for all services, the company says.
No State aid has been sought or given by the Irish government.
The launch of the service comes shortly after the announcement of an 'Emerald Isle Explorer' itinerary run by UK company Steam Dreams with vintage locomotives owned by The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.
It sets off on a seven-day circuit of Ireland this June, with prices starting from €1,695pp (non-dining) including accommodation in "good quality city centre hotels", and rising to €2,950pp for a Pullman Style Dining package including six nights' in five-star hotels such as the G in Galway.
For those looking for a taste of vintage trains without the sky-high prices, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (steamtrainsireland.com) offers regular excursions.
On May 8, a one-day return trip from Dublin to Rosslare is priced from €50pp.
For more on the Grand Hibernian, see belmond.com/grandhibernian.