Michael Kerr, The Daily Telegraph, December 31, 2013
"Rail holidays of the world" says the banner on the website of Ffestiniog Travel (01766 772030; ffestiniogtravel.com ), sister company of the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway and runner-up in the rail tours category in the 2013 Telegraph Travel Awards.
This year, to mark its 40th anniversary, the company is offering a rail holiday that goes round the world, or at least a sizeable part of it, with transport including the Tsar's Gold private train and stops scheduled everywhere from the Gobi Desert to New York. The full trip, with first-class tickets wherever possible, lasts 40 days and costs £19,695 per person sharing. Too long? Too dear? You can book a sector: London to Moscow, for example, returning by plane, costs from £4,060.
Among other new tours the company is offering are Orcadian 2, a 14-day trip through the Scottish highlands departing on July 1 (from £2,295), and Europe – the Balkans, 13 days taking in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania and departing on May 7 (£1,650).
"Pullman" is a key word in 2014 for Great Railway Journeys (01904 891218; greatrail.com ). On its 15-day American Pullman trip (departures from May until October) the company offers a chance to see the United States from a luxurious private train while learning something of railway history. Flying into New York, you spend two nights there and then two in Washington before travelling on to Chicago on the Capital Limited. Following a visit to the suburb of Pullman, built for employees of the carriage works, it's on to the Pullman itself for a journey to New Orleans. From £3,495.
In Europe, there's a 10-day tour to St Moritz and Zermatt (departing in June, July and August), to relive the golden age of Swiss rail travel on the Pullman Glacier Express, with restored carriages from the late Twenties and early Thirties: from £2,875.
Portillo and Bradshaw – the presenter of the BBC's series on great railway journeys and the editor of his trusty guidebook – provide inspiration for Erail Holidays (020 7619 1080; erail.co.uk), which is offering bespoke trips following in their footsteps. It has arranged for one rail enthusiast an 11-day trip in August, with ferry to Amsterdam, taking in Hamburg, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and the town of Lund and finishing at Oslo, where Bradshaw is buried beside the cathedral. The price: £1,195.
Many companies have arranged special tours to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Battlefields of France and Flanders by Rail, a four-day escorted tour with Travelsphere (0844 334 8501; travelsphere.co.uk), takes in the Somme and Vimy Ridge, Poperinge, Ypres Salient, Tyne Cot Cemetery, In Flanders Fields Museum and the last-post ceremony, with return travel on Eurostar (itself marking it's 20th anniversary in 2014); from £459, with departures from September to November.
Normandy D-Day Landings by Rail, also four days, includes a day at Pegasus Bridge and Arromanches and another at Utah and Omaha beaches and Bayeux: from £499; departures between April and October.
History of a different kind provides a theme for Planet Rail (01347 811810; planetrail.co.uk ) on an 11-night Imperial Cities holiday, with three nights each in Prague, Budapest and Vienna. From £1,395 per person sharing, including first-class rail travel from London St Pancras via Paris and 11 nights' b & b in four and five-star hotels.
Orient-Express (0845 217 0799; luxurytrainjourneys.com ), our readers' favourite rail-tour operator in the 2013 TelegraphTravel Awards, has two new trips in Britain this year. One is a four-day outing on the Royal Scotsman from Edinburgh through "Majestic England", with private tours of the medieval castle of Alnwick Hall, York, the Queen's private residence at Sandringham and Cambridge University (from £3,400 per person, or £900 for a one-night journey from Edinburgh).
For the first time, Orient-Express's British Pullman (departing from London) and Northern Belle (from Manchester) will meet in Bath, so passengers could sample both by travelling to the city on one and leaving on the other. Prices start at £395 per person, including brunch, a guided city tour, entrance to the Roman Baths and a four-course dinner.
Two new trips in Canada have been added to the programme of Holidays By Rail (0800 033 7960; holidaysbyrail.com ). One is an eight-day holiday featuring stays in Quebec City and La Malbaie and a spectacular train journey aboard the luxurious Le Massif de Charlevoix, the brainchild of the founder of Cirque du Soleil ( bit.ly/1cdqZAs ): from £1,317 per person. The other is an escorted 10-day tour through the west, including two days on the Rocky Mountaineer and an overnight journey from Jasper to Vancouver on VIA Rail's Canadian. Trips depart on June 22 and July 20; prices start at £3,267 per person.
Railtrail Tours (01538 382323; railtrail.co.uk ) has a new eight-day, all-rail holiday through Italy, taking in Florence, Pisa and the spa town of Montecatini, plus a brief stop in Turin. Trips depart on April 12, May 17 and June 7; from £1,399. In Switzerland, the company now has five summer departures (between July 9 and September 10) of its Swiss Mountain Steam holiday, combining journeys on mountain railways with lake steamer cruises; eight days, from £1,670).
Tracks of Africa, a 17-day trip in May from the Cape to Victoria Falls with Titan Travel (0800 988 5823; titantravel.co.uk), includes two nights on board Rovos Rail's luxurious Pride of Africa train and two days on safari in Chobe National Park; prices start at £3,945 including return flight and transfers.
If travelling with strangers is not your thing, there's now the chance to choose your own group. This year, the hotel-on-wheels known as the Danube Express (01462 441400; danube-express.com ), complete with restaurant car and piano bar, is available for charter for parties of up to 40 people.
You can draw up your own itinerary, or choose from several sample trips starting and finishing in Budapest: Highlights of Hungary, taking in key sites ranging from Lake Balaton to the cathedral town of Eger; Wine & Dine, a tour of the country's vineyards; and Dracula's Long Weekend, with stops at the Count's rumoured birthplace and Bran Castle in Transylvania and a display by the Magyar horsemen of Lajosmizse. Prices? From £49,000 for the first two, including two nights on the train, or €75,000 (£62,600) for the third, with three nights on board.