The inaugural passengers on the first all-Ireland luxury sleeper train began a week-long rail tour yesterday.
At nearly €7,800-a-head, the grand tour is not for everybody, but organisers say bookings for this and shorter breaks over the next year are already brisk.
The Belmond Grand Hibernian pulled out of Heuston Station in the afternoon, bound for Cork where the 40 US and British passengers got a chance to taste some of the country’s finest whiskeys at the Jameson Experience in Midleton.
After overnighting at Charleville in their en-suite cabins, featuring Westport-made goose feather and down pillows and duvets, it is off to Blarney Castle this morning. The tour will rail them to Killarney for a visit to the National Park and a boat tour of Lough Leane later today.
The six-night tour later brings guests to stops in Galway for some shopping; Westport where lunch and a tour of Ashford Castle are planned; followed by an afternoon in Dublin. The last couple of days take in Belfast’s Titanic Experience and a journey down the east coast to learn about Waterford’s Viking and glass-making history.
The maiden tour has been booked out by the Society of International Rail Travelers, a tour operator whose website carried a preview of the journey. “Our private luxury train will be our hotel on wheels, a veritable ‘cruise ship on land’. There’ll be no schlepping bags from city to city. We’ll unpack just once,” it read.
“At night, our train will stop at quiet sidings for restful slumber. By day, we’ll ‘go ashore’ for a wide range of cultural, historical, and culinary events.”
While guests will be dined and entertained on board at night, head chef Alan Woods promises the finest local produce dominates the menus — they include Killarney venison, Donegal turf-smoked salmon and crab cannon, and warm Kildare wild elderberry and plum compote.
The season continues to at least mid-October before tours resume in April, with various options available. The shortest is a three-day itinerary taking in Dublin, Belfast, and Waterford.
With prices for that tour beginning at €3,160 per person, the Grand Hibernian is not within everyone’s reach. A spokesperson said that they have already confirmed some bookings for 2017, with guests from the the US, UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere among those buying packages.
A crew of 10 is on board the 252m-long train, under the management of JP Kavanagh. They will cater for guests on the Grand Hibernian, whose carriages were fitted out in Northern Ireland over the past year.
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