TRAVEL REVIEW: Travelling in style on retro train

Northern Belle by Orient Express
Northern Belle by Orient Express
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Nothing evokes opulence and style quite like the Orient Express.

In Britain, the luxury travel firm operates two trains to transport passengers back to a time when things were done properly, with grace, manners and poise – the Northern Belle for the north of England and the British Pullman for the south.

And it was the Northern Belle I joined on a day trip from Sheffield to Snowdonia.

The whole experience oozes indulgence, from the early-morning Bellini cocktail served as soon as you settle into your comfortable armchair to the immaculate and friendly staff who attend to your every whim with a smile.

The Northern Belle recalls the glamour of the 1930s – and it is easy to imagine you are actually a character in Agatha Christie’s Poirot or perhaps a romantic black and white film while on board.

One of the main draws of travelling on the Northern Belle is the exquisite dining.

Each table is given a personalised menu detailing the culinary delights in store as the train makes its way through town and country.

Our three-course breakfast began with a fresh fruit cocktail, followed by a buttered crumpet topped with scrambled eggs and wrapped in smoked salmon, complete with caviar, crab and hollandaise sauce. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a selection of tempting pastries to finish breakfast off in style.

My one concern had been whether it might all be a bit snooty and pretentious but in reality it couldn’t have been more different. The staff were warm and welcoming, taking time to make conversation and laugh and joke with the passengers, whose names they have gone to the trouble of learning.

Everyone on board is there to celebrate a special occasion or achieve a lifelong dream so there’s a great spirit of enjoyment and adventure.

A trip on the Northern Belle is not something you do every day and the staff know that and do their best to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone on board.

Each carriage is named after a castle or stately home.

We were sat in Harlech, complete with painted daffodils on the ceiling and inlaid in the wood.

I would highly recommend strolling through the different carriages – all decorated in their own style – and soaking up the atmosphere on what is surely one of the most beautiful trains still running.

This is the one time you actually find yourself wishing for delays to leave you stranded on the train a bit longer.

It was a bit of a comedown when we arrived in Bangor and joined a coach (which, while luxurious for a coach, had no hope in competing) for a guided tour of Snowdonia.

We were shown the sights by a friendly local guide before heading to Llanberis for a trip to the top of the highest mountain in England Wales on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

Being crammed into the uncomfortable carriages for the almost-hour long journey to the top was a shock to the system after the luxury of the morning’s travel.

But heading to the summit of Snowdon is an awe-inspiring experience in itself and worth a little discomfort.

I can’t imagine what the legions of weary walkers made of the large group of smartly-dressed people at the top complete in dresses and suits.

We were unlucky that the top of Snowdon was covered in thick mist so we weren’t able to enjoy the amazing views we were assured were there underneath the grey.

Heading back to Bangor station, everyone was eager to get back on the Northern Belle for their next instalment of glamour and decadence. And it certainly did not disappoint.

The evening meal was the highlight of the day.

The staff had changed from their burgundy day-time uniform into a formal black and the meal was impeccably timed to last the entire journey back, from the champagne on departure to the coffee and petits fours served just before arrival back in Sheffield.

The waiting staff must have needed a lot of training to dish up our cauliflower and leek soup on a moving train but they did so flawlessly.

The main course – roast lamb with wilted spinach, wild mushrooms, mint glazed carrots and a redcurrant jus – was exquisite.

A selection of British cheeses with homemade chutney and a chocolate mousse with caramelised bananas completed the meal nicely.

This is five-star dining in a five-star location with the added attraction of a constantly-changing landscape through the window.

After such attentive service and delicious food, there is a sense of sadness as you watch the Northern Belle pull away at the end of your journey.

But it is definitely an experience to savour and remember.