There wasn’t a murder on the train. Actually, quite the opposite was true. We toasted with champagne and Irish Gin made from milk, enjoyed 3-course gala dinners with chanterelle Mille Feuille and dwelled in long conversations at the bar. And all of this was accompanied by the soft rocking and choo-choo sound of our moving luxury train called the Grand Hibernian.
The Grand Hibernian train is a luxury train by British company Belmond.
The origins of luxury train travel
Traveling on a luxury sleeper train has kept it’s appeal since the 1920s, when the Orient Express was the epitome of glamour. British luxury hotel and train company Belmond has slowly built an empire of luxury trains all across the world and the Grand Hibernian has been it’s latest addition in Ireland in 2016. It’s the first of it’s kind in the Emerald State and a truly unique way to discover the destination.
From it’s midnight blue coating to it’s splendid interior – the train exudes luxury.
From the 1920’s to the 21st century
Belmond bought an old 1980s train and carriages and completely refurbished it in 2016 to recreate the atmosphere of a heritage train – yet updated with 21st century amenities. While the Orient Express didn’t (and still doesn’t) have any showers and only one toilet for all the guests on board, the Grand Hibernian has en-suite bathrooms for each cabin with your own private shower, sink and toilet. There’s wifi in the train and a safe in your drawer, enough space to store even large pieces of luggage, it provides bathrobes, slippers and a hair dryer. It’s truly a luxury hotel on wheels.
The Grand Hibernian features comfortable cabins with en-suite private bathrooms.
During my mediterranean cruise I loved having my hotel room with me while traveling (although the ship wasn’t nearly as luxurious as this train). The constant packing and unpacking, checking in and out of hotels can become quite tiring after a while – so getting from one place to another without the hassle of changing hotels is a huge plus of this kind of travel experience. The other being that you don’t have to organise a thing. From the moment you “check in” to the train to the very end of the trip everything is being taken care of.
From check-in to brunch and dinner – everything is being taken care of.
The chef creates some wonders in the small kitchen aboard the train.
Everything is homemade – even the bread!
And yes, the bar is open and all the drinks are complimentary. Yay! 🙂
From bus tours and guided experiences
The downside is: There’s not a lot of room for individual travel experiences. The Belmond package comes with a completely and meticulously pre-arranged itinerary. So while on the tour you’ll be on a schedule for most of the time. Personally I would prefer to have less group bus rides and guided tours on the itinerary, but rather a private driver picking me up from the train station to create my own experiences and program.
A private visit at the Curraghmore House in Waterford was part of the itinerary.
Now when it comes to the itinerary Belmond has chosen quite unusual experiences, which do add to the luxury appeal. A tour of a private 11th hundred estate of the Marquess of Waterford gave a glimpse of the life of the Lords and Ladies of Ireland – all including a privately hosted afternoon tea just for our group. While these experiences are really unique I personally prefer to have time to discover a destination on my own terms. I missed having a bit more flexibility when it comes to the itinerary.
After a day of excursions we returned to the train just in time for sunset.
A “Taste of Ireland”
Especially our half-day visit of Belfast turned out to be only interesting for somebody who’s keen to learn about the conflict between Catholics and Protestants and how it affects the city nowadays, but not for someone who wants to experience a bustling metropole of today. Being brought to suburbs with fences and huge walls wasn’t really for the faint hearted.
The 2-night “Taste of Ireland” tour brought us to Belfast in Northern Ireland and Waterford in the South East.
When our guide started showing us the different kinds of bullets that were used to shoot each other during the years of unrest we kind of lost all appetite. The “Taste of Ireland” tour became quite bitter at that moment. I’m not sure this is the way luxury travellers want to experience a city for the first time – but I personally would’ve preferred to jump in a taxi and see Belfast on my own terms.
This is all we experienced of Belfast – a city struggling with it’s history.
After the tour of the fenced suburbs we were brought to the Titanic Museum, which is quite interesting and done in a very interactive way. We also got the whole museum to ourselves as we were brought in after the regular opening hours. Again: This is the kind of luxury service, that Belmond is famous for. While the tour was interesting, I would’ve rather seen a bit of Belfast or the surrounding areas instead – but this is just a personal preference.
How to travel the Grand Hibernian
Luckily I had already been to Ireland two years ago, so I had the pleasure of seeing the cliffs and rugged coastline, driving around the rolling green hills while loosing count of the sheep all around. If I hadn’t already seen more Ireland before I’m sure I would’ve been sad to not really get a chance to experience more of the unique landscape of the Emerald Isle during the train trip. But then – it’s only a 2-night trip and should only give a “Taste of Ireland” 🙂
So my recommendation would be to do the Grand Hibernian tour as an add-on to a longer Ireland trip. This way you’ll get the best of both worlds!
Good to know
There’s a few things I learned on the tour, which are interesting if you think about booking a tour with the Grand Hibernian through Ireland:
- While you will need a tuxedo to travel on the original Orient Express, the Grand Hibernian is a little more casual. A collared shirt and suspenders or a bowtie will be a perfect fit for dinner.
- The train will be stabled at night – meaning it will stay overnight in a train station, so you won’t be sleeping on a moving train.
- You’re not allowed to throw paper in the toilet 🙂
- Let the team know beforehand if you’re a vegetarian (like us) and they will prepare a special menu for you – as there is no à la carte selection at dinner.
- Definitely try the selection of Irish Gins served aboard the train – especially the Milk Gin called “Bertha’s Revenge” is worth a try (or more) 🙂
- A big suitcase will fit under the bed in the twin cabin, so you don’t have to pack too lightly. But cabinet space is limited. There is one full size cabinet with about 10 hangers – so don’t go overboard with your stuff.
Dundalk Station was one of the train stations where we were stabled for the night.
Carla, the bartender, presents “Bertha’s Revenge” – an Irish Gin made from milk!
Disclaimer: We were invited to the “Taste of Ireland” tour on the Grand Hibernian as a complimentary press trip by Belmond, but our views stay independent from that invitation.