Siberia journey tops growing number of luxe rail products

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Golden Eagle Luxury Trains’ cars snake through Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland trip.

When it comes to travel, there are few trips that actually live up to the now overused, almost cliche term “iconic.” Those that do, however, often involve luxury trains.

And what fits the definition of iconic better than the Trans-Siberian Express, the longest rail line in the world?

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As travelers increasingly seek the authentic, Golden Eagle Luxury Trains recently unveiled its Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland trip between Moscow and Vladivostok on cars hauled entirely by steam.

The journey, which departs Feb. 25, follows the classic trans-Siberian route that is used in the summer, winding for roughly 6,200 miles across eight time zones of frozen wilderness and pulled by no less than 20 steam locomotives.

While the company said the winter trip will be a first for Golden Eagle, it’s just one example of the growing demand for luxury train travel.

This year, for example, both Tauck and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection have partnered with the company to offer packages in Europe that include a few nights on the Golden Eagle Danube Express, which travels through Italy, Vienna and Switzerland.

While most luxury train trips are in far-flung locales such as South Africa, India and Peru, North America’s Rocky Mountaineer said it has been seeing huge growth in demand in recent years for its train trips through western Canada.

Founded 30 years ago by Peter Armstrong, Rocky Mountaineer started with 1950s-era, single-level rail cars that carried 7,000 passengers a year. Today, the company has 26 single-level and bilevel, glass-domed cars that travel through Canada’s scenic Rocky Mountains and carry more than 100,000 guests a year, according to president and CEO Steve Sammut.

Unlike most other luxury rail lines, however, Rocky Mountaineer’s trains don’t have sleeper cars. Guests disembark at night to stay in different Canadian mountain towns. And the company offers a host of packages in partnership with Alaska cruise lines, adventure operators and destinations in Canada.

The new Golden Eagle trip through Russia is a 22-day passage offering sleeper cabins with butlers, even an onboard doctor.

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Sharing vodka shots on Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake.

The winter trip will travel westbound from Vladivostok to Moscow. The itinerary includes a visit to Sretensk, one of the most remote towns in Siberia; a folk performance in the Old Believers Village at Ulan Ude; and the opportunity to experience a traditional Russian banya (sauna) in Irkutsk, which is known as the Paris of Siberia.

Other highlights include the neoclassical architecture of Omsk; a visit to Yekaterinburg, known as the Great Divide between Europe and Asia; a day in Kazan to discover the Kazan Kremlin, a Unesco World Heritage Site; a stop at Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin; and Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, which freezes over completely in winter and provides a great spot for snowmobiling and dog sledding.

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