10 Of The Most Dapper Throwback Travel Experiences

19 Aug 2016

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In recent years two curious throwback events in the UK – The Distinguished Gentlemen’s motorcycle ride and The Tweed Run (see numbers 10 and 9 respectively) – have uncovered a yearning for yesteryear. Clothes, manners, haircuts – all reveal a desire to return to what might be seen as a kinder, gentler time before mobile phones, sportswear as day wear and ever faster food.

The past is increasingly seen as a golden age (tuberculosis, polio, women’s suffrage and rickets aside) when we took the time to dress for dinner and a well-turned ankle was all it took to get a chap’s pulse racing.

Nostalgia, as someone once said, might not be what it used to be but you can still grab a slice of the past with one of these retro experiences. So, grab your cane and monocle, toss on some tweed and follows us on a magical mystery tour into the good old days of travel.

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The Grand Hotel in Sri Lanka, a stunning colonial building
Photo credit: The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Founded in 1846 this hill country retreat for British civil servants and tea planters in what was then Ceylon is still known as Little England today. There are plenty of extant colonial-style buildings such as Queen's Cottage, General's House, Hill Club and the Town Post Office but nowhere does nostalgia live larger than in the luxurious Elizabethan-style Grand Hotel. Spend an evening in the dark, wood-paneled bar and its attendant billiard room. With a cue in your hand and G&Ts on tap you really will feel like a tea baron.

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The Belmond Eastern Oriental Express passes by palm trees and jungle
Photo credit: Belmond Eastern and Orient Express

The Eastern & Oriental Express, Singapore - Bangkok

For timeless glamour what else can match a classic train journey? Belmond's Eastern & Oriental Express is an extravagant ride from Singapore through Malaysia and on to Bangkok, Thailand. The train itself is gloriously elegant, with fine furnishings, three restaurant cars, a piano bar and a library with 100 books. Sip a cocktail in your plush paneled cabin with its beautiful marquetry while sliding seamlessly past silk farms and watching the peasants toiling in tea plantations and rice paddies.

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Cunard cruise boat Queen Mary 2nd
Exceptional dining aboard The Queen Mary ll. Photo credit: Cunard

Queen Mary II, Southampton

White-gloved silver service, dressing for dinner, afternoon tea and knitting lessons – what could be more British? From the outside the Queen Mary II might look like any other cruise liner but boarding this flagship of the Cunard line is like waltzing (there are lessons, yes) back in time. Make sure you bring a dinner jacket as these are de rigueur in some areas. Throw in a bow-tie if you really want to look the part. Can’t afford a cruise? Then have a Pimms or two at the lovely Art deco bar on the original Queen Mary, now a floating hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.

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Pan Am Stewardesses and Pilot
Photo credit: Pan Am Experience by Air Hollywood

Air Hollywood’s Pan Am Experience, Los Angeles

Not everyone is enamored of the colonial era, of course. What if you’ve got a hankering for the days of dodgy moustaches and big hair? Then Air Hollywood’s Pan Am Experience in Los Angeles is for you. They offer monthly dinner parties on board a replica Pan Am Jumbo Jet from the 1970s, complete with crew in authentic 1970s Pan Am uniforms, shrimp cocktails and chateaubriand carved at the trolley. You are expected to dress the part so dust off those flares.


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Maharaja Express, India

A train with double beds, bath tubs and turbaned butlers? Break out the gin, Tarquin old boy, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. All we need now is Poirot and a murder to solve. Said to be the most opulent train in the world India’s Maharaja Express is a palace on wheels, which is just how it should be. Depart from New Delhi or Mumbai and take a few days to explore India in refined, opulent and elegant surroundings. The website says one of the attractions offered is elephant painting. Beats shooting them I suppose.

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Picturesque Augill Castle in Cumbria
Photo credit: Augill Castle, Cumbria, England

Augill Castle, Cumbria

In Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, England, there is a terribly Agatha Christie looking manorial pile called Augill Castle. It’s less a castle than a magnificent folly (built in 1841 by one John Bagot Pearson to outdo his younger brother) but it is all gothic towers, crenellated turrets, sweeping staircases, mullioned windows and four poster beds. If you don’t wear plus fours and tuck a pipe between your teeth here you’re just not playing the game, old bean. There’s croquet on the lawn, of course.

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Sweeping white columns of Raffles Hotel Singapore
Photo credit: Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The iconic, five-star Raffles Hotel in Singapore is an obvious oldie but still a goldie. First opened to the public in 1887 and named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the bright white hotel has come to epitomise – as Somerset Maugham wrote – “all the fables of the exotic East”. Today it sits as an example of classic colonial architecture among Singapore’s modern high-rises. Break out the linen suit, shirt and tie and nip into the Long Bar for its famous Singapore Sling.

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Glimpses of the Victoria Falls from hotel room window
Glimpses of the Victoria Falls from hotel room. Photo credit: The Victoria Falls Hotel

The Victoria Falls Hotel, Zimbabwe

The Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe is one of the oldest Hotels in Africa and has dramatic views of Victoria Falls. Originally built by the British in 1904 as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway it is today one of the most distinguished and luxurious hotels in the world.  Los of prints and posters of yesteryear on the walls but the good old days are still there in the public areas and the service. Makes you want to put on a pith helmet and shoot a few unarmed lions. Don’t.

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People in old fashioned costume cycle past Big Ben
The dapper chaps and damsels of the Tweed Run. Photo credit: The Tweed Run

The Tweed Run, London

The Tweed Run is simply a bicycle ride through London but it’s cycling in style –to wit, tweed jackets and plus twos and plus fours. The first run was held in 2009 and has since been copied all over the world. The London one is the best, though. It starts in central London and pootles around all the main landmarks, stopping for afternoon tea and a picnic. Finishes with a glass of bubbles, dontcha know.

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Men in old fashioned dress on motorbikes
Don your glad rags and ride for a good cause. Photo credit: The Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride

The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride, Worldwide

The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride has the wonderful tagline of “Live tweed, ride dapper” and isn’t so much a destination as an ‘event’. Still, for those who like a bit of retro with their travel it’s worth a look. Essentially, thousands of chaps and ladyfolk straddle their motorbikes to raise money to find a cure for prostate cancer. You must dress the part, though, as this is for people who bemoan the fact that sentences such as “I say, what a spiffy blazer. Who is your tailor, sir?” are not uttered enough these days.

Keith Austin

Originally from London’s East End, Keith Austin has been a journalist more than 36 years. He has been, variously, a chief sub, travel editor, feature writer, news reporter, restaurant and book reviewer, and has also edited two cookbooks, Blokes and Seafood, four editions of the NSW Good Pub Food Guide and written three Young Adult novels - Grymm, Jago and Snow, White. He is passionate about food, drink, travel, writing, photography, humour and football. But not in that order.