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The Glacier Express train between Preda and Bergen - Rhaetische Bahn/swiss-image.ch

Gourmet Train Experiences

July 6, 2017 | By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

What’s better than an unhurried train ride through the countryside? Savoring the scenery while savoring dishes designed by Michelin-starred chefs. Consider these movable feasts on some of the world’s most interesting trains.

Swiss Delights

The first-class Panoramic Carriage on the Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt, Switzerland Photo by Andrew Harper

The Glacier Express ranks high on the bucket list of every train geek. Launched in 1930, it glides through the Swiss Alps almost year-round, connecting the resort towns of St. Moritz and Zermatt. The Glacier Express is an express train in the sense that passengers travel directly to their destinations without having to change trains. It touts itself as the world’s slowest express train, taking about eight hours to complete a 186-mile one-way trip.

You won’t mind the leisurely pace. Both seating classes enjoy cars equipped with panoramic windows. First class buys a bit more room to stretch out, with three seats per row rather than four. At certain times of year, the Glacial Express offers themed weeks with special menus. Its Graubünden Weeks program, which was held through May, spotlighted the cuisine of the east Switzerland canton, serving Prättigau cheese soup with croutons, Oberhalbstein roast veal in a Malans red wine jus and mushrooms, and Graubünden nut cake. From September 18 to October 2017, experience Valais Weeks, when produce, meats and wines from the Valais canton, in southern Switzerland, will be highlighted.

Food Fit for a King

The interior of a car on The Presidential Train, a gourmet train experience in Portugal The Presidential Train

The Presidential Train debuted last year in Portugal and remakes its menu every season. Running twice a year in spring and fall, it offers rolling feasts aboard what was once Portugal’s presidential train — it carried kings and heads of state from 1890 to 1970. It underwent refurbishment in 2010 and resides in the National Railway Museum when it’s not running culinary journeys.

The May 2017 itineraries should whet your appetite: Esben Holmboe Bang, head chef of the Oslo, Norway, restaurant Maaemo, which holds three Michelin stars, catered the first week. Pedro Lemos, of the one-star Porto Pedro Lemos in Porto, Portugal, handled the second week, and the third week belonged to Chef João Rodrigues of Feitoria, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lisbon. The nine-hour train trip also included an exclusive port wine tasting at the Quinta de Vesúvio estate.

Confection on Rails

The exterior of Japan's Sweet Train H.Fukushima

Japan’s Sweet Train is a folly in the best sense of the word. Launched in 2015, the two-car train travels routes on the island of Kyushu, primarily on weekends, but no one takes it to get from point A to point B. Its exterior is painted with gold and black flourishes; its interior boasts elaborate wooden ornamentations; and its menu puts Willy Wonka to shame. Created by Yoshihiro Narisawa, chef-owner of an eponymous Michelin two-star Tokyo restaurant in the Minami-Aoyama neighborhood, he starts the gourmet festivities with a box lunch that celebrates the best of the season. The March 2017 menu featured squid from Nagasaki and shabu-shabu-style Kyushu beef.

Then follow the four courses that give the train its name. Cream cheese ice cream cake, warm crepes with chocolate sauce and citrus fruit, and strawberry shortcake have all appeared on past menus. The meal finishes with mignardises — a delicacy described as tiny tea cakes, but can take the form of a macaron flavored with yame matcha tea from Fukuoka. The train offers an English menu as well as limited service in English.

For more great rail journeys, see our list of 9 Luxury Train Trips You'll Never Forget.

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