Belmond British Pullman
Everyone should have ‘that’ list, you know, the one that contains the certain must-do, must-see, must-experience things that you want (or need!) to do in life. Having studied and worked in the travel sector for over two decades it’s not surprising that mine features a host of places to go and sights to see – and also this one – which is solely routed in how to get there!
There is something incomparable to our rich history of train travel, those bygone days of the ‘golden age of travel’, where the trip itself was as important as the final destination; “supreme comfort, silver service and fine dining”; where every little detail alludes glamour and grandeur.
And offering you the chance to step back in time but most importantly to step into a new class of sophisticated travel is the beautiful and truly breathtaking Belmond British Pullman belonging, of course, to the same family as the legendary Venice-Simplon Orient Express.
Arriving at the dedicated platform at London’s Victoria Station to check in for our day trip to Bath no less, there was an air of discreet excitement amongst the assembled passengers; an eclectic mix of birthday and anniversary celebrants, couples, families and girl’s day outers; who waited with baited breath in the pristine lounge with its plush blue velvet benches and walls bedecked with pictures of yesteryear.
It wasn’t long before the gentle excitement bubbled over into cries of “it’s here!” as each of us swiftly proceeded onto the platform to finally marvel in the glory of the glistening umber and cream carriages, pose for some obligatory pictures and find our designated carriage, where we were welcomed on board by the pristinely uniformed staff and shown to our seats.
The carriages themselves have as much of a rich and varied history as the era itself. Having been in previous commission for some of the most famous British services – the Bournemouth Belle, Brighton Belle, the Queen of Scots and the Golden Arrow – many of them fell into disrepair when the trains were removed from service in the 60s and 70s. Thank goodness then for James B Sherwood who strived to reinstate the legendary Orient Express and who painstakingly located all of the lost carriages and set about a remarkable restoration.
And here we are today, climbing aboard our own carriage ‘Gwen’, and it was breathtaking!
Built in 1932 and formally part of the Brighton Belle, Gwen is the epitome of 30’s chic: sleek walnut panels, glistening polished luggage racks and sumptuous blue and gold armchairs at each table (which were mainly laid for two). The tables themselves were adjourned with the iconic British Pullman pale blue and white crockery, silver cutlery and crystal glasses, ready for the silver-service brunch which is served during the outward journey.
And what a brunch it was!
A truly leisurely affair that spanned a good couple of hours yet was served at a pace that ensured that glasses or teacups were always full, and there was another course on hand.
First up, a classic Bellini with a divine fresh peach juice allowing toasts to be made as the train departed from the station. This was followed by a fresh fruit salad with plump berries and Greek yogurt, before we then embarked upon the most delicious serving of fresh creamy scrambled eggs with chives (by far the best I’ve eaten) served with Scottish smoked salmon and warm crumpets, and then finally a choice from the bakery selection of pastries and yet more tea or coffee – all the more impressive when you consider the size of the gas-only kitchen.
Once brunch service is over you are free to roam the train and can take in the differences and uniqueness of the other carriages – each offer their own charm and layout, even down to the original toilets – before heading back to your seat ready for arrival at the wonderfully historic Bath.
Bath again was one of those places that I had always wanted to go, and this trip affords guests the chance to spend about three hours in the city as well as providing a mini city tour by coach included in the ticket. My guest and I (as well as almost every other passenger!) plumped for this option and were taken on a whistle-stop tour of the major sights and places of interest (albeit during a busy Rugby Saturday) and were able to gleam a little better the historical significance of the city before our last stop at the amazing Roman Baths, entry to which was also included.
We ambled in wonder around the columns, preserved buildings and the natural spa waters before heading off for the city’s renowned spa attraction, the Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s original natural thermal spa.
The New Royal Bath is the result of a multi-million pound project leading to a building that is a magnificent fusion of glass, stone, light and water and offers a range of thermal pools and spa treatments. The new Wellness Suite, scheduled for completion this spring will offer even more thermal experiences with new steam and sauna facilities. Guests are able to enjoy a ‘Thermae Welcome’ which includes a 2-hour spa session with use of towel, robes and slippers. The queues can stretch round the building such is its popularity, yet whilst busy, inside it is still a tranquil haven of bliss.
Once changed you have the option of descending to the lower bath, where you can grab a float and literally lie back as the gentle currents glide you around in the naturally heated 33.5 decree waters; or to the amazing open-air rooftop bath where the steam rises from the waters which contain over 42 minerals and trace elements into the cooler air around.
It was spectacular to see and even better to experience, my guest and I happily bobbed along in the warm waters glimpsing the rooftops and calm skies above.
We left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, and with just enough time to amble around the cobbled streets before reaching the station for our departure back to London.
Even though we knew what to expect on the return leg, the arrival of the Belmond British Pullman to Bath was just as heralded and just as special. We eagerly returned to our seats and prepared for our 4-course dinner that awaited.
This time we started with Champagne before starters of roast cauliflower soup – creamy, rich and with a hint of curry spice, followed by a main of daube of beef, the tender slow-cooked meat dissolved in the mouth; a triumph with its perfectly cooked dauphinoise and tenderstem broccoli sides. This was followed by a plentiful cheese course devoured by my guest and which was effortlessly changed to a fruit platter without me even needing to request it by the efficient team that had noted my dietary requirements, before we ended with a delicate pear, blackcurrant and almond millefeuille with crème anglaise.
We arrived back to London Victoria at nightfall, pleasantly full from the wonderful food and full of memories from an amazing trip, grateful to the staff for their friendly, efficient and wholeheartedly attentive service and grateful for having had the opportunity to tick the box on this once in a lifetime experience.
Although, that said, I’m already desperate to travel aboard again and planning my next trip, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you do too!
Belmond British Pullman
Reservations 0845 077 2222
Thermae Bath Spa