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PARKHOTEL MONDSCHEIN

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The Art Gallery of South Australia Presents Japan's Avant-Garde Ceramics

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Belmond Andean Explorer

Panoramic Views & Impeccable Service on a Journey Through the Andes

February, 2020
South America’s first luxury sleeper train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, passes through the Cusco region of Peru, during its journey between Arequipa, Lake Titicaca and Cusco | Photograph © Matt Crossick

After setting off mid-day, the Belmond Andean Explorer cruised past villages, moody mountain peaks and raging rivers to a height of 4,300 meters in the Andes mountains. It was easy to feel at one with the elements while traveling on South America’s first luxury sleeper train on a journey to discover the Spirit of the Andes.

One of three routes on offer, this particular journey of a little less than a day started in the Peruvian town of Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca, and wound its way through the highlands to the ancient Incan capital of Cusco

The journey from Puno to Cusco | Photograph © Sarah Hucal
Writer Sarah Hucal enjoys the view and a manzanilla tea | Photograph © Sarah Hucal
The Observation Bar on board the new Belmond Andean Explorer luxury sleeper train, during its journey between Arequipa, Puno and Cusco | Photograph © Matt Crossick

The luxury train hit the tracks in 2017, and its interiors, from the dining cars, to the piano lounge and observation deck, were designed by London-based interiors firm, Muza Lab.

The designers paid careful attention to detail, incorporating whimsical items like vintage suitcases and local craftwork, such as Peruvian textiles while leaving some of the original train’s details, such as intricate brass door handles and towel racks, harkening back to the golden age of train travel.

Yet the designers took great care to ditch the paisley and dark velvet ala Murder on the Orient Express and give the interiors a decidedly contemporary feel with timber walls painted in muted shades of linen. I appreciated the local touches: the train’s observation car was stylishly decorated with colorful pillows in hand-woven alpaca wool, and floral arrangements of flowers native to the region, for example.

Interiors are executed by Muza Lab, using local craftsmen and techniques | Photograph © Matt Crossick
Colourful pillows are made from alpaca wool | Photograph © Sarah Hucal
Floral arrangements use flora native to the region | Photograph © Sarah Hucal

While the nine suite cabins felt spacious at 13 square meters, the petite size of the 7.4-meter twin bed cabins meters did not detract from the luxurious experience. Each room had a bathroom, a comfortable leather couch decorated with black and white textile pillows woven with Peru’s unique methods.

The professional staff, which had their hands full providing first-class comfort to the train’s 70 guests, folded the sofa into a bed for a comfortable night’s sleep as dusk settled, and left behind a small hand-painted ceramic bull – a figure typical from the region – as keepsake from the journey.

The Belmond Andean Explorer features 24 private cabins | Photograph © Matt Crossick
Local craftwork on the train - interior details at their finest | Photograph © Sarah Hucal

At such high altitude, one is practically inside the rapidly changing weather.

By 4 pm, rain was falling over the golden fields like a veil, while lighting illuminated dark mountainside. I had been standing on the observation deck snapping photos and was beyond chilly, yet found it difficult to pull myself away from being engulfed in the elements. Eventually, I forced myself into the observation car to observe from the window and warm up with a manzanilla tea.

Dramatic skies change from light to dark throughout the day | Photograph © Sarah Hucal
The Belmond Andean Explorer train cuts through Peru's vast landscape | Photograph Matt Crossick
The train also boasts an elegant piano bar and outdoor observation car | Photograph © Matt Crossick

Night had begun to fall as the train stopped at 4,300 meters during the passage through the La Raya mountain range. The moody weather had shifted yet again; it was snowing as we entered a small chapel. Candles provided just enough light to glimpse at a golden altar. Then we were back on the train for a mug of warm almond milk with rum before dinner in the dining cars.

The service was impeccable, particularly during mealtimes. In a dining car decorated with artwork by local artists, staff served three courses, including thoughtful dishes such as duck ravioli with sweet potatoes, nuts and kaniwa, a local grain only found in the region. I also appreciated the activities offered throughout the journey, such as a bartending class on how to make the local cocktail of choice, a pisco sour, or a cooking class on how to prepare a Peruvian salad with one of the train’s chefs.

When the train rolled into the lush green landscapes around Cusco, my heart sank with the realization that the trip was coming to an end. This was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime journey I wouldn’t mind taking again.

Fine dining onboard is by chef Diego Munoz | Photograph © Sarah Hucal
Full-service fine dining on the train | Photograph Matt Crossick
The journey's views are indeed breathtaking, making the train ride through Peru indeed unforgettable | Photograph © Matt Crossick

BELMOND ANDEAN EXPLORER
Specific journey: Puno – Cusco, 1 night

Images courtesy: Belmond Andean Explorer
Words: Sarah Hucal

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February, 2020