Belfast Telegraph

Visit Giant's Causeway on Ireland's answer to Orient Express for £2,600

By Margaret Canning

There could be caviar for breakfast and a private tour of Titanic Belfast.

And when you are not sightseeing, you will be reclining on some Antrim-crafted seating on Ireland's answer to the Orient Express.

If you have more than £2,600 to spare, that is.

Craftsmen at Antrim fit-out company Mivan have completed work on a £2.5m project to upgrade former Irish Rail carriages into cabins worthy of a €3,160 (£2,645) price tag.

That is the cost - per person - of a two-night trip branded The Realm of Giants by luxury travel company Belmond.

The journey starts in Dublin, heads up north for a private tour of Titanic Belfast, and then makes for Bushmills and the stunning Giant's Causeway.

By way of comparison, just under £2,000 can buy you five nights off-season in Dubai's luxury Palm Hotel - and that is including flights.

Punters interested in Belmond's offer will travel on the Grand Hibernian train, which yesterday made the journey from Mivan's Antrim HQ to Dublin.

Simon Calder, travel correspondent at the Independent newspaper, said wealthy Americans, Asians and Australians, rather than the home traveller, were Belmond's likely targets.

He added that the price tag of more than £1,000 per day was similar to that found on Belmond's Venice Simplon-Orient Express, and the Blue Train tour, a luxury route in South Africa.

"The sort of people who are doing this have plenty of disposable income and are not price-sensitive," Mr Calder explained. "It can actually be quite difficult to spend lots of money on luxury travel, short of chartering a private jet. But these are people, most likely rich Americans, who will think nothing of spending up to $4,000 on this kind of journey.

"They'll be thinking: 'So long as Belmond takes care of us and gives us every possibly luxury, we don't mind the cost.'"

A five-day, four-night trip taking in Cork, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher and Westport, costs €5,420 (£4,537) per person. A six-night tour adding a longer stay in Dublin and a visit to Northern Ireland costs €7,772 (£6,506) per person.

Menus and wine lists are yet to be announced, but Belmond will reveal within the next few weeks the name of a famous chef who will prepare the meals.

A description of the Realm of Giants tour explains that passengers can expect "leisurely breakfasts" and "sumptuous dinners" - and on the second night their dinner will be served amid the backdrop of a traditional Irish music session.

With smoked salmon, eggs, truffles and caviar available for breakfast on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, expectations will be high for the Grand Hibernian.

Mr Calder said he was already a fan of our rail offering, even without the extras planned by Belmond.

"I love the value on Northern Ireland Railways, in particular the £22 family and friends tickets that gets up to six people anywhere by train (or bus) in the country for a day," he said.

"In comparison, the Grand Hibernian is more than 100 times more expensive, but I have no doubt that there will be takers.

"Belmond is a company with a good, strong brand in the luxury market, and this will attract rich individuals from North America, Asia and Australia. Besides the short-term gains, it should bring longer-term benefits once people discover the warm welcome and fabulous attractions of Northern Ireland."

Mivan factory supervisor Jonny Boyle, from Glenarm, Co Antrim, said the Belmond job was one of the most complicated projects he had worked on in his 14 years at the company.

"We're used to doing this type of thing for luxury cruise ships, but this time we were working in a corridor of just 600m while everything from the electrics to plumbing was going on," he added. "From the word go, everything - the en suites, desks, beds - was five-star, but it's nothing we're not used to."

Belfast Telegraph