7 new sleeper train routes around the world we can’t wait to try

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I’m no stranger on a train. I once spent five months travelling around India’s railways; a few years later, I traversed the world on rail tracks, covering 45,000 miles over the course of seven months. When I reflect on more than 200 journeys, I realise it was the night trains that most enveloped me: the stillness, the phone calls made under duvets, the solitary reader in the dining car. After lights-out, I’d wait for the sound of even breathing before climbing down the ladder and standing in the corridor alone – watching red skies bleed into silver lakes and mists encircling forests. During one memorable overnight, I watched moonlight pour across the black Tibetan plateau, revealing threads of water working their way down from the origins of the Yangtze River. It was on sleeper trains that I’d bear witness to the earth opening up, the day seeming to dawn just for me. On rare occasions, I’d spot a fellow night owl and we’d exchange nods that seemed to say, “Isn’t this magic?”

Over the last 20 years, budget airlines and bullet trains have been blamed for rendering longer, slower services obsolete. The romance of railways seemed to be dying, particularly in Europe. But since the pandemic, travellers are increasingly embracing slow travel and the notion that taking trains can reduce their carbon footprints. Private companies as well as state-owned operators have started popping up, betting that the future can be bright for the sleeper train.

A twin cabin on Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Brenda Van Leeuwen

The French start-up Midnight Trains proposes to connect 12 European cities from its central hub in Paris. By 2024, it aims to provide a service that functions like a hotel on wheels, with private rooms and on-demand movies. European Sleeper, a Belgian-Dutch company founded last year, intends to build a new network of sleeper trains from Belgium and the Netherlands to Berlin and Prague, before extending to southern Europe. Sweden’s state-owned railway operator has already opened sales for tickets on a new service that will connect the capital to Hamburg – leaving at 5:30 in the evening and arriving in the cool German port city at 6:30 a.m., with private sleeping cars available. Meanwhile, one of the first night services, Le Train Bleu, which transported high society from Paris to Nice from its beginning in the mid-1800s until it was discontinued in 2017, has brought back the route – without the silver-service meals but with comfortable couchettes and that glorious final stretch alongside the Mediterranean. About 20 years ago, Belmond revived the famed Paris-to-Istanbul route on its Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, offering decadent surroundings for the five-day journey via Budapest and Bucharest. In 2023, Accor will get in on the nostalgia, launching Orient Express La Dolce Vita, six trains inspired by Italy’s glamorous 1960s, on routes including Rome to Paris; Split, Croatia; and Istanbul. Elsewhere, Rovos Rail’s luxe new “African Trilogy” itinerary – a 15-day ramble across South Africa to the Namibian coast –  and the updated sleeper carriages with wider berths and sleeker interiors on a Bangkok-to-Chiang Mai overnight train suggest that Europe is not alone in rediscovering its love for the tracks.

This article appeared in the October 2022 issue of Condé Nast Traveller, and was originally published on Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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