By John O’Ceallaigh
I’m all for the romance of long-distance train travel, but one of the drawbacks people rarely mention is that a good night’s sleep doesn’t come easy. I loved the old-world charm and non-stop fine-dining during my trip on Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for example, but rumbling and rocking along the old tracks between Paris and Venice through the night jolted me to consciousness repeatedly. Apparently it’s a movement that regular passengers acclimatise to, though at those prices few people have that opportunity.
Anyway, an emerging new hybrid model is maintaining that golden-age allure, in a way, while ensuring overnight guests can sleep easily. In South Africa, eco-minded hospitality group Mantis has just revealed the Founders Railway Carriage, a static train carriage that has been repurposed as a static hotel suite that should especially appeal to families.
Part of the inventory at Mantis Founders Lodge, 72km from Gqueberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), the carriage dates from the 1970s but was purchased more recently by Mantis founder and chairman Adrian Gardiner. He had travelled in the carriage with his family on holidays around South Africa in the late 1990s, so it’s an asset that for him holds many happy memories.
In its new form, the carriage is stationed permanently at a hilltop within Mantis’s private concession. It will provide exclusive-use accommodation for five guests across three cabins, and the idea is that its guests can reside there more or less in perfect isolation if they so choose. There are indoor and outdoor dining and lounge spaces, as well as a private swimming pool. Guests will be catered to by a dedicated team of staff, who can facilitate early-morning nature walks, Big Five game drives, picnic brunches or late-night firepit get-togethers.
Also new to the property’s inventory is a Honeymoon Pod, revealed last November; a plush suite perched above the main lodge, it overlooks the valley and couples in residence will enjoy a range of romantic extras.
What’s more interesting than that betrothed bolthole, though, is how many other static train stays are now emerging. In Thailand, the Bill Bensley-designed InterContinental Khao Yai National Park will feature standalone hotel suites fashioned from salvaged train carriages. Also in South Africa, recently opened Kruger Shalati is a safari lodge built from renovated rail carriages that are set above Kruger National Park’s Sabie River.
Exclusive-use stays at the Mantis Founders Railway Carriage cost from £1,450/$1,960 per night on an all-inclusive basis for a family of two adults and two children. From this summer, Mantis fans will be able to couple their stay in the lodge with a voyage about Mantis Kivu Queen uBuranga, a new luxury cruise experience the company is launching in Rwanda.
LUTE is a luxury-travel consultant and content agency that works with hotel groups, tour operators, tourist boards, airlines and more. You can learn more about LUTE here. For frequent luxury-travel updates, follow LUTE and LUTE founder John O’Ceallaigh on Instagram.