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What To Do During Pandemic? Be Wise: Revitalize, Improvise

By Eleanor Flagler Hardy

Poster of Switzerland’s famous Glacier Express and Bernina Express
Switzerland’s famous Glacier Express and Bernina Express, two of The Society of International Railway Travelers®’ “World’s Top 25 Trains.” Poster by IRT Art Director Steve Sebree

Last week, I struck gold—on your behalf!

I found tantalizing travel ideas, contacts and places you can go (when we get back to traveling, of course).


At Virtuoso Travel Week (VTW), which ended last Friday, 4,000 travel company owners, operators and advisors from all over the world came together — virtually.

Usually, VTW happens at the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas. Not this year.

Funny thing, though. This was one of the best travel meetings ever.

Here are my top 10 takeaways:

1. Switzerland’s new luxury-class service on its extremely popular Glacier Express, which plies the stunning Zermatt-St. Moritz route through the Alps:

Want a a guaranteed window seat, with about half the passengers? This is the service to book.

I also got the lowdown on some stunning new Swiss hotels. They’ll be great additions to our Switzerland’s Classic Trains journey.

They include Bern’s Bellevue Palace, where, as a Virtuoso travel advisor, I can get clients a complimentary upgrade at booking to a junior suite or better.

Or maybe you’d prefer the Fairmont Le Montreaux Palace, just a quick stroll from the railway station on the shores of Lake Geneva. (Great place to finish a Swiss rail journey: I love the idea of a final, quick “train scoot” over to Milan.)

2. Vietnam’s new Vietage, a six-hour day service in a luxury rail car (capacity: 12 passengers) attached to a regularly-scheduled train connecting two luxury hotels:

The service is run by the Anantara hotels in Hoi An and Quy Nhon. Fare includes a three-course gourmet meal, selected free-flowing wines, beers, soft drinks, tea and coffee, and head and shoulder treatments by an onboard masseuse or masseur.

Ticket price includes access to a sit-up bar, dedicated area for head and shoulder treatments, power outlets and charging stations, complimentary WiFi, “Discovery Book” and an amenity basket whose contents include a pillow and blanket.

Sounds exciting. Stay tuned.

3. How Belmond will manage social distancing on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express (VSOE): The plan is to operate at half capacity, with guests spread out for two seatings in four dining cars. (The lounge will be refitted as a dining car.)

Fanciful animal motifs inspired by panels in a dining car of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Fanciful animal motifs inspired by panels in a dining car of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Photo by Owen Hardy, Society of IRT Founder/CEO. Poster by IRT Art Director Steve Sebree

4. Elite safari camps just a hop and a skip from Adelaide, one of the stops on our Australia Rail Extravaganza: It’s the perfect way to add magical visits to the bush, with its stunning flora and fauna.

5. The Esprit St. Germain, our favorite Paris hotel, has been almost totally renovated/redecorated: Kudos to owner/president, Laurence Tafanel, with whom I spoke, for using down time for a gorgeous makeover. And thanks for showing me the perfect room, with the perfect view for our guests coming to town next year on the VSOE.

6. Lowdown on the fab suites at our favorite London hotel, the Milestone, with a personal tour by General Manager Andrew Pike: Would you prefer the Hermés suite with its gorgeous framed, antique scarves, or the two-story Meaghan suite on an upper floor with its great views of Kensington Park?

7. Meanwhile, at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Rocco Forte hotel, news on its latest renovations: I spoke with Samara Doucette, Director of Global Sales. We’re sending a large, multi-generational group there next June before they board the Belmond Royal Scotsman. Samara’s double-checking to be sure everyone gets one of the newly renovated rooms.

The Belmond Royal Scotsman has just passed under a tunnel in IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy’s photo from the train’s rear, outdoor platform.
The Belmond Royal Scotsman has just passed under a tunnel in IRT President Eleanor Flagler Hardy’s photo from the train’s rear, outdoor platform. Poster by IRT Art Director Steve Sebree

8. Best rooms for VIP guests heading to Belmond’s Reid Palace in Madeira or La Residencia on Majorca? And whom should I call when it’s time to book and later, to “VIP” our guests? I have his direct contact. Thank you Filippo! These would be great extensions to a VSOE journey, popping down to Maderia from London or to Majorca after a Gran Lujo journey.

9. Where will our IRT guests get the best value at Lake Como’s Hotel Grand Tremezzo?  Valentina de Santis filled me in on the right rooms to choose for our guests, and the best activities while they’re there. It’s a perfect fit to extend our Romantic Italian Holiday VSOE trip.

10. Meanwhile in Mongolia…Undraa Buyannemekh, President of Nomadic Expeditions, promised to develop a personal greeting for our VIP guest heading to the Three Camel Lodge next year. She filled me in on an inspiring documentary to send to people interested in Mongolia. Email me if you’d like the info.

That’s the scoop. And am I excited!

So until next year, please know we’ll be putting all I learned at Virtuoso Travel Week to work for you, so we can craft your perfect journey when the coast is clear and we’re ready to travel.

(Questions? Please email me.)

(Eleanor Flagler Hardy is President and Co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.® She was chosen 2020 Condé Nast Traveler World’s Top Specialist for Luxury Trains.)