For pure luxury on wheels, look no further than the Belmond British Pullman

If you are seeking a luxurious experience with stunning views to match, this is the trip for you.
Updated 08 November 2017
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For pure luxury on wheels, look no further than the Belmond British Pullman

LONDON: A luxury train with vintage carriages dating from the 1920s, fine dining, tip-top service and the opportunity to visit some of the UK’s most famous places — does all this appeal to you? If so, it is time to book your place on the Belmond British Pullman, sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
Arab News had the good fortune to savor this truly luxurious experience on a full day outing to Chatsworth House, the imposing stately home of the duke and duchess of Devonshire passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family.
From the moment you arrive at Victoria Station, London, you will be swept up into the glamor of a bygone age. You are escorted onto the gleaming umber-and-cream-liveried train by impeccably-dressed stewards and it has to be said that stepping on board is an unforgettable experience. We had a coupe, a private four seat carriage which was beautiful in every detail.

Discover the array of prestigious - sometimes royal - anecdotes to each of the train's glamorous 1920's carriages #TheArtofBelmond

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From the veneered panels decorated with exquisite Art Deco marquetry to the polished brass, beveled glass and hand-stitched fabrics, every aspect had been carefully considered. Our carriage was named IBIS, the oldest carriage on the train dating back to 1925. It has an illustrious history, including operating for several years on the Milan to Venice section of the Simplon-Orient Express.
In their heyday, the carriages formed part of the most famous and luxurious services in Britain — The Bournemouth Belle, The Brighton Belle, The Queen of Scots and The Golden Arrow.
Each carriage has its own unique name, decor and history. “Audrey” carried the queen and Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, to review the national fleet in 1953. Their eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, enjoyed their first-ever trip on an electric train aboard “Vera” in 1954. “Perseus” formed part of Winston Churchill’s funeral train in 1965. “Phoenix” was the favorite carriage of Queen Elizabeth, the current queen’s late mother. “Cygnus” was featured in the film “Agatha,” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman.
Members of royal families from the Gulf have enjoyed the Belmond British Pullman experience too.

In our small but perfectly formed kitchen, a host of delicacies are prepared by our dedicated team #TheArtofBelmond

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So many famous names have traveled in these carriages that it is hard to know where to begin. They range from great figures, such as Nelson Mandela, to rock superstars the Rolling Stones. The carriages have featured in many films, including the upcoming Paddington Bear film, “Paddington 2,” due for release in November. Fans of Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” will also be interested to learn that David Suchet, the English actor who played the impeccably-mannered Belgian detective in the popular TV series, has enjoyed many journeys on the Belmond British Pullman.
Exclusive companies, such as Cartier, have entertained key clients to private showings of their latest collections aboard the Belmond British Pullman. Carriages can be hired for wedding receptions, private parties or business gatherings. There are special black tie evenings where guest have the opportunity to enjoy sumptuous dinners prepared by some of the UK’s top chefs.

Nearly time for our Wonderful @belmondbritishpullman to be on the big screen with @paddingtonbear #paddington2

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It is the attentive and highly-trained stewards who make the whole experience of traveling on the Belmond British Pullman such a pleasure. Our head steward was Thomas Legg, representing the third generation of his family to work with the company. He introduced us to his uncle, Mitch Slater, also a steward on the train, and explained that his father also works for the company. All of the stewards were meticulous in their smart uniforms and combined a friendly, relaxed manner with total professionalism and discreet service.
We had a chance to speak Craig Moffat, director of operations for the Belmond British Pullman, who described the rich history of the service.
“All of our carriages come from the golden age of British rail travel from the roaring 1920s and 1930s. Our goal and passion is to bring back that glorious heyday of traveling when the journey was as important as the destination.
“One of the key things for us is to keep the authenticity of the individual carriages. The marquetry and fabrics you see in each of the eleven carriages is unique and exactly as it was when the cars were originally created. We are very fortunate to have a highly-skilled team of artisans to keep everything in tip-top condition.
“The authenticity of the experience is key. Everything from the environment to the silver service and culinary offering on board is very carefully crafted.
“The beautiful thing about the Belmond British Pullman is that you get to take time out from everyday life. Time to spend with friends and family, enjoy great food and watch the beautiful countryside roll by.”
Norbert Sprater, assistant train manager, said he especially enjoyed seeing the passengers who were fulfilling a dream to travel aboard the train.
“My most precious memories are of the people who have saved up to travel with us. We have birthdays, anniversaries, proposals and honeymoons,” he said.
I could go on at length about the cuisine but let us just say that the four course brunch, including scrambled eggs with chives topped with Scottish smoked salmon, was just a taste of what was to follow — the so called “main event” — a five-course dinner, including a fabulous celeriac and apple soup topped with truffle oil and roast breast of Gressingham duck done to perfection.
The journey up to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire took a leisurely four hours, winding through lovely countryside. Upon arriving at Chesterfield Station in Derbyshire, we were met by a coach only to be swiftly transported to the estate with its expansive grounds designed by the renowned 18th century landscape artist Capability Brown.
We were lucky to catch the stunning “House Style” exhibition celebrating five centuries of fashion and adornment at Chatsworth. Through the display, we got glimpses into the lives of famous personalities connected to the Cavendish family, such as Adele Astaire, sister of Fred Astaire, who married Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the 9th duke of Devonshire, Deborah Devonshire and Nancy Mitford, two of the famous Mitford sisters, model Stella Tennant, granddaughter of Andrew Cavendish, 11th duke of Devonshire, and Deborah Mitford, and John F. Kennedy’s sister, “Kick” Kennedy who married the marquess of Hartington, heir apparent to the 10th duke of Devonshire, and is buried at Chatsworth.
After a relaxed stroll around the grounds, taking time to admire the herd of deer, it was back on board the train and a chance again to savor traveling back to London in high style.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the Belmond experience can also be enjoyed on the Belmond Grand Hibernian which travels through Ireland, the Belmond Royal Scotsman which takes in the Scottish Highlands and the Belmond Northern Belle, which travels to cities such as Chester and Edinburgh.
Further afield there is, of course, the world-renowned Venice-Simplon Orient Express taking in destinations such as Venice, Prague, Berlin and Istanbul and the Eastern & Oriental Express, offering glorious journeys between Singapore and Bangkok in addition to more off-the-beaten track experiences around South East Asia.
Belmond also runs exclusive river cruises and safaris and operates luxury hotels and restaurants across the world.


Tantalizing Tokyo: The unique charms of Japan’s capital city

Ameyoko Market in Tokyo. (Shutterstock)
Updated 11 December 2018
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Tantalizing Tokyo: The unique charms of Japan’s capital city

  • A short stay guide of Tokyo
  • A variety of things to do in this immersive city

DUBAI: Before my trip to Tokyo, I’d been told how terribly expensive Japan was; how, without some basic knowledge of the language I would struggle; but, on the flipside, how it was leaps and bounds ahead of the world with technology.
What I found was quite different: from the affordability (shop around and you’ll find some brilliant deals), the welcoming nature of its people, and the fluently spoken English (with signage to match), but, weirdly, the least-accessible Wi-Fi I have ever experienced. (Tip: If you’re staying in Japan for any length of time and don’t have data roaming and the hotel hasn’t provided a complimentary smartphone, buy a SIM at the airport — you really will need access to Google Maps.)

For my week in Tokyo I was staying at Daiwa Roynet, a modern, spacious hotel in the top-notch upmarket shopping district of Ginza. It’s a great area to get over the jetlag — bustling enough to make it fun, but not too crazy.
Following the advice of the concierge (more useful than any travel guide) I headed to the Ameyoko market, close to Ueno Park. The narrow walkways are filled with shops and stalls selling everything you’d expect to find and more — from raw fish and meat, to shoes, bags and clothes. It was an assault on the senses. The air filled with the noise of traders shouting out their offers in Japanese, and the varied smells of what they were offering.

You can pass hours wandering here — taking photos and admiring the organized chaos — but you’ll need to find some lunch eventually. Thankfully it’s easy to grab a hearty bowl of ramen at one of the scores of doorway noodle bars in the district. All seemed worth trying.
From the cacophony of noise at Ameyoko, it’s a short trip across the street to the much-calmer Ueno Park, which boasts a selection of galleries, museums and Tokyo’s famous zoo. During my visit, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum had a varied free exhibition of high-quality work by up-and-coming local artists, but the majority of its other exhibitions required individual entry fees.

Ueno Park itself was like a scene from a movie: Busy with weekend crowds enjoying the afternoon sun, and distractions including arm wrestlers and small congregations of people dancing to various genres of music. A passer-by stopped and asked one of a group of Rockabillies if they were dancing for money. “No,” came the response. “We do it because we like to dance.”
If you visit, as I did, during the sumo-wrestling season (it’s complicated — Google can explain) and want to check out Japan’s national sport, head to the Ryogoku arena. But make sure you book in advance — sumo is a major draw. The wrestling starts early — about 8 a.m. — but the majority of people show up from about 2 p.m. onwards and stay until the end. Expect to spend around $90. It’s worth it. Sumo is fun. The build-up can take several minutes before these enormous men finally collide like locomotives, grappling at one another, before seconds later the bout is over and one is declared the winner. You don’t need to be an expert to figure out what is happening and you don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy it.

To appreciate just how vast this sprawling megacity is, head for the Tokyo Skytree tower, which takes you up to 450 meters above the busy streets. On a clear day you can reportedly see Mount Fuji in the distance. I did not visit on a clear day. Even so, the sights that were visible, in all directions, were stunning.
After a week traveling across Japan, I returned to Tokyo, and booked into the cozy boutique Shibuya Hotel EN, a short walk from the world-famous pedestrian crossing where, as the traffic stops, the street becomes a sea of people. This crossing is such a draw that even the Starbucks overlooking the road has become a tourist destination. This is next-level people-watching.

The surrounding area, too, is well worth a look — whether in the shops selling cards and figurines from various Japanese manga comics, or in the more generic stores selling every bargain you could possibly want.
Prior to my trip, some had said that Tokyo had little to offer and it was better not to spend too much time there. I suspect those people had never been. One week barely scratches the surface of this fascinating city. Next time, I’ll stay longer.