The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express may be the world's most famous train, but its Scottish sibling, The Royal Scotsman, is the most luxurious. It holds the title even though—and unlike its many rivals, South Africa's vaunted Blue Train, Australia's Ghan, the polished-brass and wood-marquetry laden portfolio of Belmond—it doesn't link destinations, usually traveling in a loop. But then the Royal Scotsman makes no pretensions about providing mere transportation. It is luxury travel for no other reason.
Why do its many fans opt for what are essentially trips to nowhere? The answer starts with living room. It has far fewer cabins per car than its chief competitors, and a different floor plan from even those running the same era vintage Edwardian cars. Forget cramped ship's interiors with fold down bunks and moveable sinks, the Scotsman offers a mobile hotel room, with permanent beds, fine linens, tables and fully equipped bathrooms with showers. The train "stables" quietly every night, rather than noisily rolling on. Dining and lounge cars are equally opulent, as are their offerings. An observation and bar car at the back with an open-air veranda is the perfect place for a leisurely smoke.
But with one staffer for every two to three guests, highly personal service is the real hallmark of the train. Everything is included (at the rate of $1,500-$1,900 per person per night), from four dozen top-shelf single malts to shockingly good food for such a tiny galley. The kitchen emphasizes the finest local specialties like smoked River Tay salmon, natural pastured lamb, fresh bay scallops and of course, pure grass-fed Aberdeen Angus beef. Greens come from a private garden. The train manager, stewards, chef and barmen all make themselves very well known to passengers (never more than 36). Evening entertainment on-board involves a revolving door of visiting experts, from bagpipers to guided whisky tastings to historians. Daily excursions (also included) feature VIP access on tours of stately private homes (including Sandringham) and distilleries. More active outings include a round of golf, clay shooting and fly-fishing.
Each trip starts in the train's private lounge at the station, where a bagpiper announces boarding, immediately followed by a Champagne welcome reception. On formal nights kilts and clan tartans often outnumber tuxedoes (the staff will find and return your rental).
Last year the train made a significant change, traveling to London for the first time. It will now offer several shorter one-night trips from London to Edinburgh, an easy add-on to a London visit, a great way to sample the experience, start a golf trip or finally use the world's most luxurious train to actually get somewhere.