About Us

Owen and Eleanor Hardy
Owen and Eleanor Hardy

We are the Virtuoso Luxury Rail Experts, members of the luxury powerhouse travel group, Virtuoso. Proud members of Belmond’s Bellini Club for top sellers.

Our story: It really started when Owen was an exchange student in Germany, living with a family and becoming fluent in German, and in trains. Every weekend, he’d take a train somewhere and began to love this mode of travel. Meanwhile, for me, it started when I was a nanny traveling with a family sometimes by train all over Europe for 3 months. In 1977, each of us with degrees in journalism, we met as reporters in Charleston, SC. We wanted to move up in the journalism world, so we applied to newspapers all over. In 1978, we moved to Louisville, KY, and we have been here since. Owen worked for the Courier-Journal. Eleanor worked for the Louisville Times.

But five years in, in 1983, Owen wanted to publish a monthly journal about international railway travel. He started it in the bedroom of our apartment, then moved to the basement of our new home. Pretty soon, The International Railway Traveler outgrew that small space. We have been growing and growing since. Our subscribers begged us to organize journeys for them to the places we wrote about, and soon, The Society of International Railway Travelers travel company was born.  Now it’s 2019. We’ve been in business for 36 years. We’ve been married almost 40. We love being the Virtuoso Luxury Rail Experts. The Society of International Railway Travelers® (IRT) is a family-owned and operated luxury travel company specializing in over-the-top rail experiences since 1983. In short, we are the luxury rail experts and the only such agency within Virtuoso.

We are committed to providing the kind of care one would expect from a friend. In fact, we’ve become friends with many of our clients. We are proud to offer the very finest in travel the world over. Joining Virtuoso gave us – and our clients – immediate and intimate access to the best of the best. We already personally knew the best trains — and we have travled hundreds of thousands of miles to investigate them and report about them. But we also now offer a portfolio that’s icing on the train cake, so to speak:  the best hotels, cruise lines and tour operators and safari partners.

Entrust your valuable travel time and dollars to the best in the business: The Society of International Railway Travelers®. Call us, email us. We love to hear from you. Thanks so much for reading — Eleanor & Owen Hardy

 

Meet Our Staff

Angela Walker

AngelaI began working in the travel industry during college — an internship with The Society of International Railway Travelers to fulfill a requirement in my field, communications. I celebrated my 20th anniversary with the company in 2018 and serve as senior Luxury Travel Advisor and Vice President, Operations, for our company. I am proud we are the Virtuoso Luxury Rail Experts.

As soon as I took my first international trip, to Mexico, I was “hooked.” Now, not only do I love traveling myself, I love preparing itineraries and experiences for my clients and hearing all the details on their return. I live vicariously through all of their travels.

Although I have traveled thousands of miles to test great luxury trains, there are many places I haven’t physically visited, but feel as if I have, through the stories and experiences of my clients and friends.

I specialize in luxury rail journeys, such as the Danube Express, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Trans-Siberian and Rovos Rail in South Africa. I was invited by Belmond to a study tour on the Royal Scotsman in May, 2019. But there is no limit on what I can organize in cooperation with our fantastic partner hotels, guides, drivers, and special sightseeing opportunities anywhere in the world!

Favorite places to travel (so far): South Africa, Switzerland, Spain, India, and Canada are among the top choices. But I’ve never been anywhere I wouldn’t return.

Next on my travel “wish list”: Antarctica and Australia.

 

Eleanor Hardy

BunkyThe Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Belmond Royal Scotsman, The Blue Train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian— these are some of the luxury trains I have personally inspected for you. (Somebody has to do it!) I love being the Virtuoso Luxury Rail Experts.

My husband and partner, Owen, and I and our staff have traveled literally millions of miles on trains over 35 years to test them out. My expertise also includes safaris, hotels, and expedition cruising. And I am proud to announce that I am now among the top 1% of Virtuoso travel advisors who has completed training for the exciting new travel planning experience called Wanderlist. This is an exclusive, invitation-only process akin to that of a wealth advisor.  Your wealth advisor manages your finances. As a Wanderlist Advisor, I will help you manage your leisure time. Our clients and my team and I will plan journeys for 3-5 years out, enabling our IRT guests to obtain the perfect cabin on every train, cruise or hotel room. And it will allow you to anticipate from trip to trip — something that will definitely increase your Return on Life. You’ll never miss a Milestone trip that you wished you had booked.

My focus is personal, amazingly detailed service based on direct experience and sound relationships with our Virtuoso suppliers. Our company is family-owned, our team is fabulous, and we were proud to celebrate our 35th year in 2018.

Nothing’s more wonderful than a luxury rail journey. Safaris, cruises, fab hotel stays – these are icing on the cake, and we know just the ones you will want!  We meet the owners and managers of the most wonderful tour operators, safari outfitters and hotels every year, face to face, at Virtuoso Travel Week.  And we meet them when we travel on study tours around the world. Our powerhouse Virtuoso network gives us $26.4 billion in buying power to give you, our guests, the very best in exclusive amenities and VIP treatment. Once you travel the IRT Virtuoso way, you will never look back.

The unusual, the fun, the adventurous is what makes me want to share the excitement. This is why my job as President and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers® and luxury travel advisor is perfect for me. Here is a link to my reviews.

Owen Hardy

OwenLuxury and deluxe rail travel has been my passion for most of my life. This passion has driven our company to become the Virtuoso Luxury Rail Experts.

It’s taken me to Canada, Mexico, Europe, Russia (I’ve ridden across Siberia six times), India, from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam in Southern Africa, Thailand, and most recently to Japan. I have traversed the ancient Silk Road by luxury rail from Beijing, through the ‘Stans, to Moscow. We took 2 private trains, hiked the Great Wall, rode a camel in the Gobi Desert, and toured cities 2,000 years old.

The rail travel bug bit early – I was an exchange student in Germany while at Kalamazoo College and criss-crossed Europe by train. I became fluent in German — and in trains. A stint as a sailor on an old, square-rigged tourist brigantine in the British Virgin Islands expanded my horizons. I learned first-hand what it was like to manage guests on board.

And I’ve never looked back. I founded our company in the corner of our apartment bedrooom — expanding to the basement of our house — in 1983. Owning a travel company like ours — specializing in luxe adventure and specifically luxury trains — has been a natural progression. While I love the excitement, glamour and culture of big cities, I’m equally at home in the wilderness – the wilder the better.

Favorite trips? This includes Japan, testing out the brand-new Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu train. I’ve posted about this on our blog (blog.irtsociety.com) and have had stories appearing in several magazines, including Virtuoso Life.

On our safari in Botswana (after we took the Blue Train), we saw a family of lions – including four rambunctious cubs – devouring an elephant. Thailand’s Eastern & Oriental Express was a dream of temples, elephants, and pageantry.

We usually only do one group trip a year. We’d love for you to join us. We have hosted river cruises on the Irrawaddy River, on the Amazon, luxury train trips across Siberia, on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from Paris to Istanbul, on the Deccan Odyssey across India. We chartered the Belmond Grand Hibernian and the Seven Stars.

So many trains! So little time!  Please call or write me: [email protected] to let me know your interest.

 

Rachel Hardy

RachelI am relatively new at The Society of International Railway Travelers®. But in another way, I have been involved all my life.

Our family-owned company was born in 1983 — 4 years before I was born. So we grew up together, and I have grown up traveling.

Now, I am a Luxury Travel Advisor, and Vice President, Sales & Marketing for our company. I am proud to have earned the title of Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor (VCTA).

A political science major at the College of Charleston, I founded my own company, Bluegrass Voodoo Vintage. But since 2016, I have worked full-time at the Society of International Railway Travelers. I was honored by Belmond (owners of some of the finest luxury trains in the world) at Virtuoso Week 2018 by the Trains & Cruises division. I was the first travel advisor from the Western Hemisphere to be invited to see the brand-new Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Suites. And, as the result of my blog posts about it, we booked more Grand Suites in 2018 than any other agency in the world. I was also nominated as a Rising Star in Virtuoso Cruise Sales in 2018.

Please see several of my blog posts about the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. 

And I welcome you to see my blog post on Track 25 about my first study tour for IRT on one of our World’s Top 25 Trains®, The Rocky Mountaineer.

If you’d like me to arrange a Grand Suite for you on the VSOE for a luxury European vacation, or on a Canadian luxury rail vacation, I can share with you all my knowledge about these regions and fantastic trains.

I recently enjoyed a study tour to Ireland, and experienced the fabulous Grand Hibernian, the five-star Adare Manor, and the warm and inviting Merrion Hotel in Dublin. I have also visited Chile on a study tour – and experienced one of the top Virtuoso Adventure hotels, Explora Lodge Patagonia, as well as the Singular in Santiago. India is another specialty — and we have two luxury trains there for your traveling pleasure.

Call me so I can tell you about the Towers hike, our favorite Peruvian Amazon adventure cruise, or a fabulous cruise to the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador. I loved them all — let me tell you why!  Here is a link to my Virtuoso.com reviews.

 

Nora Elzy

I may be a new member of The Society of International Railway Travelers team, but my interest in trains started when I was a young girl playing with my father’s model railroad sets in our basement in Louisville, KY. I grew up in a family that valued traveling, and I have loved visiting England, with a brief foray into Scotland. I was graduated from Centre College in Kentucky, a small liberal arts college that emphasized the importance of reaching beyond one’s home borders. Languages have always been an interest of mine, and I relish the opportunity to experience them first-hand while traveling. While I was an English major at Centre, I elected to study a language brand-new to me – Japanese – and to study abroad in Japan.

My four-month home-stay program showed me an entirely new way of viewing the world. From the Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto to the Akiyoshido cavern in Mine City, each day was exciting. Even though I was an “outsider” to my Japanese host family and friends, they welcomed me wholeheartedly as they shared their culture with me. I now firmly believe in the ability of travel to enhance people’s open-mindedness and respect towards others. As a result, I’m excited to be working with The Society of IRT to help make our clients’ travel dreams come true!

As a Luxury Travel Associate, I am excited about our specialty – luxury trains, and I loved my 2018 foray onto VIA Rail’s Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer. Read my blog post here. But I am thrilled, too, with all the great VIP treatment I have been able to arrange in Virtuoso hotels and on Virtuoso Voyages for our guests. I am also pleased to advise a great honor as a relatively new advisor: I was just named as a nominee for Virtuoso’s Cruise Sales Rising Star Award. The award will be given out this summer at Virtuoso Travel Week.  Further, I will be heading to Miami this fall for Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor training for a week. All the better to serve you!

 

 

Natalie Schuetz

I believe travel is a gift; it is an opportunity to explore and experience our planet. It enables us to meet new people, learn more about cultures that are different from our own, and have a better understanding of the human experience.

Travel has been a passion of mine ever since I was a child; to date, I have visited 37 states and 6 countries – all over Spain, Italy, much of the US, Canada, and Central America. I have no intention of slowing down any time soon!  See all the places I have been – posted on my Virtuoso.com profile – all the better to help prepare you for your visit. Also, you can learn a lot about me from reading my blog posts about my study tour to Canada. When we go on study tours, we analyze everything there is to check out about the train, its staff, dining experience, scenery – and the hotels and activities on the ground that are the “icing on the cake.”

As a Luxury Travel Associate, I work as a team with my colleagues at The Society of International Railway Travelers and our Virtuoso partners. I am thrilled to help you plan and fulfill your dreams of traveling on the most luxurious trains in the world!  Let me put my training as a Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor to work for you.

 

 

 

 

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