Q&A with Belmond: world leaders in luxury train travel

Our UK Managing Editor recently hopped aboard the Belmond British Pullman luxury train (sister train to the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) for a bucket-list day trip to Cambridge and Ely. From the comfort of a plush armchair in carriage ‘Lucille’, she caught up with Howard Barclay – Sales Director for Belmond’s UK trains – to get an insider’s view on one of the most magnificent train journeys you’ll ever take. Read on to discover Howard’s personal favourite journey and most memorable moment.

Belmond British Pullman

Which journey or route do your guests love the most?

All our excursions are fabulous and offer a unique experience for guests, but our most popular journeys are the day trips to York and historic Bath – the latter includes free time to explore the Roman baths, Georgian architecture and historic abbey. Our Cornwall short break is also really popular.

What’s your favourite detail or feature onboard the Belmond British Pullman train?

All the carriages are wonderful, with each having its own fascinating history. As you walk through the train you can read the history plaques in the vestibules to learn about what routes the carriages ran and the famous people that have travelled onboard. All the Art Deco touches add some extra glamour to the carriages and set the scene for a journey back to the golden age of travel.

Belmond British Pullman

Are the interiors onboard the train original? Or a recreation?

All the carriages that form Belmond British Pullman are original Pullman palace car company carriages dating from the 1920s and 1930s. Before forming the magnificent Belmond British Pullman, its cars were used in some of the most famous services in Britain – the Bournemouth Belle, Brighton Belle, the Queen of Scots and the Golden Arrow. These have been lovingly restored back to their former glory and combined with their supreme craftsmanship, they form a distinctive part of your journey.

What are your guests most surprised by when they first board the train?

The elegant table settings with crisp white linen and sparkling crystal glasses, alongside the wonderful marquetry wooden panels that feature in each carriage – each design is individual to its carriage.

Belmond British Pullman

Tell us a cool fact that we might not know about the Belmond trains.

We sell over 25,000 bottles of champagne a year!

How many trains do you have in total on the UK routes?

We have two day trains in the UK – the Belmond British Pullman and the elegant Belmond Northern Belle, which offer a range of dining and day trips from regional stations across the country. We also have two luxury touring trains in our collection, and you can sleep onboard these extra-special trains: there’s the Belmond Royal Scotsman departing from Edinburgh, and the newest addition – the Belmond Grand Hibernian departing from Dublin on scenic journeys of two to seven nights.

Belmond Royal Scotsman

What is the most memorable moment from a journey?

The first journey is always the most memorable – you can’t believe how wonderful the train actually is! Belmond British Pullman is a beautiful vintage train and it’s just like stepping back in time to the most glamorous era of train travel.

Any funny or interesting stories to tell from your time with Belmond?

A personal favourite was a dinner with celebrity chef Raymond Blanc onboard – it was my birthday and he led the singing of happy birthday in the carriage, much to my embarrassment and blushing!

Belmond Northern Belle

Do you often have celebrity or high-profile guests onboard?

Yes, we’ve carried queens, kings, prime ministers and presidents, not to mention many celebrities from the stage and screen. We also offer a range of celebrity chef dinners throughout the year – from Tom Kerridge to James Martin.

Are all Belmond British Pullman journeys steam-hauled?

Not all of them are; we offer a steam-hauled programme throughout the year using various guest locomotives. The remainder of the schedule is diesel-hauled. Steam-hauled journeys will always be clearly marked on our website, if that’s the specific experience that you’re looking for.

How does the kitchen work? Is it the same as any restaurant kitchen?

The onboard kitchens are fairly tight spaces – they’re not even the full width of a carriage – but the chefs create sumptuous brunches, lunches, afternoon teas and dinners from them, with around 1,500 plates served each journey.

Kitchen onboard Belmond Northern Belle

Do you have a favourite dish or meal onboard?

My favourite is the festive lunch served onboard our special pre-Christmas excursions. The trains are decorated for Christmas and the journeys are a great way to get into the festive spirit.

Why do you think a trip onboard Belmond British Pullman is on the wishlists of so many?

People (quite rightly) love to treat themselves to memorable experiences – especially to celebrate special occasions – and fine dining in the luxurious surrounds of a vintage train is a once-in-a-lifetime treat unlike anything else!

Belmond Northern Belle

 Join Secret Escapes to book a Belmond British Pullman experience with a London stay and Cambridge day trip here, or a Chester and Lake District train journey on board Belmond Northern Belle here. All images featured are the property of the Belmond group.

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