IN THE PINK The upmarket Palace Hotel Tokyo, situated just across the moat from the Imperial Palace gardens, is selling a two-night Blossoming Tokyo package, which anticipates the coming cherry blossom season with the promise of a private, chauffeur-driven tour to some of the best viewing sites in the capital, a seasonal lunch, a bottle of exclusive house sake and more.
The package will be offered from March 1 to May 31 but, as the hotel notes in the small print, “Palace Hotel Tokyo cannot be held responsible for guaranteeing optimal dates for sakura viewing as they vary from year to year.” Keep an eye on www.kyuhoshi.com/japan-cherry-blossom-forecast for the 2017 forecast, which has not yet been released, or book late March/early April and hope for the best. Rates start from 212,000 yen (HK$14,300) for a deluxe with balcony room, double occupancy. See en.palacehoteltokyo.com for full details.
DARK PASSAGES Hurtling headlong through the foreign darkness, beneath a frantic swirl of steam, no mode of transport stirs feelings of romance, mystery and adventure quite like the night train. Starting with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich (1940), night trains have long been a successful milieu for filmmakers.
Numerous night-train novels, too, have been written, by the likes of Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon and Maurice Dekobra, who got the first fictional Orient Express under steam with the bestselling Madonna of the Sleeping Cars, which was published in 1925 (and adapted for the cinema in 1928 and 1955).
In his latest railway-related book, Night Trains, Andrew Martin attempts to recreate some of the great real-life nocturnal journeys once offered by Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens – services such as the Orient Express, the Blue Train and the Sud Express – using what few night trains remain in service on the European continent. He also takes a non-Wagons-Lits-related trip up the coast of Norway, and one of the last train-ferries, from Malmo, in Sweden, to Berlin, Germany.
With an extensive bibliography already under his belt, Martin knows his subject well (his father, a railwayman, took him all over Europe on free staff tickets in the 1970s) and the book is filled with fascinating trivia and anecdotes. Only rarely does he branch off into territory beyond the interest of the general reader, and this is one of the most keenly observed, and funniest, travel books I have read in a long time.
Published next month, Night Trains is available for preorder at amazon.co.uk for £14.99 (HK$142).
CUBAN RETREAT Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts has just opened the first Asian-branded resort in Cuba, the Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria. It’s also the first Dhawa – a brand launched by Banyan Tree in October 2015. Oddly enough, the property is located not on the island of Cayo Santa Maria, but on neighbouring Las Brujas.
It claims to be the only all-inclusive lifestyle resort with a private beach in the area, but the emphasis here is on “private beach”. This is a popular and well-developed tourist area, dotted with all-inclusive resorts. It’s located just off the north coast of Cuba, about 350km east of Havana, and for Asia-based travellers would likely only be of interest as an add-on to a longer trip to the capital. For a closer look at the resort, go to www.dhawa-cuba.com, but beware of the very loud Cuban salsa music that will greet you on arrival.
DEAL OF THE WEEK A couple of Ho Chi Minh City’s more interesting older hotels are included among the usual offerings with Charlotte Travel’s two-night package to the Vietnamese city formerly known as Saigon. At the Grand Hotel, known as the Palace when it opened, in 1930, deluxe rooms start from HK$1,990 while rooms at the nearby Rex Hotel, which dates back to the 1920s, when it was a Citroën garage, start from HK$2,250.
This package includes flights with Vietnam Airlines and daily breakfast, and will be available until the end of March. For more details and a full list of hotels, go to charlottetravel.com.hk and scroll down to International Packages.