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Into the light

The world’s most mystical natural phenomenon has long drawn visitors into the dark depths of the Arctic Circle, but rarely with the elegance of a private train voyage aboard the Golden Eagle, writes Amelia Hungerford.

To see the Northern Lights, dancing grey-green in the night sky, is to witness nature at her most spectacular. This fabled phenomenon is the goal of your quest, a 12-day Arctic Explorer voyage aboard the Golden Eagle from St Petersburg to the far reaches of Norway. For to see Aurora Borealis in all its luminescent glory is one thing; to see it in the cocoon of a private train is quite another.

The quest begins in St Petersburg, a city of gilded palaces and onion-domed spires, decked in Christmas regalia in anticipation of the Russian Christmas of Rozhdestvo on 7 January. Guided tours will take you behind the turquoise Rococo façade of the Catherine Palace in Pushkin and into the depths of the Hermitage Museum, home to over three million artworks and artefacts, before boarding the Golden Eagle in time for a New Year’s Eve celebration. Herald the New Year by crossing into the Arctic Circle and join the guest astronomer for tea and an illuminating discussion of the majesty to come: the Northern Lights.

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In the Norwegian mining town of Kirkenes, cast your eye to the heavens by night, in the hope of witnessing the Aurora’s kaleidoscopic show, and venture into the frozen tundra on a dog sled by day, visiting the nearby Snowhotel. You may even choose to spend a night in its sub-zero embrace.

From Norway, the Golden Eagle retraces its steps back through Russia to Murmansk, a port city some 193 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. If luck is on your side, the Northern Lights will writhe above, reminding all those below why generations of Russians have associated the display with the legendary fire dragon, Ognenniy Zmey. Your onboard astronomer, however, will reveal the science behind the mystery.

As Rozhdestvo approaches, Golden Eagle will spend the Russian Christmas Eve in Petrozavodsk, the Karelian capital that spreads along the shore of Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe. Celebrate with the city, taking in folk performances and feasting on a traditional Holy Supper of 12 meatless dishes, marking the end of the Orthodox Christmas fast. Rozhdestvo – Russian Christmas Day – then dawns, surrounded by the UNESCO World Heritage charm of Vladimir and Suzdal, where monks at the St Euthymius Monastery will transfix guests with their spellbinding harmonies.

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Moscow marks the end of your Arctic exploration. The grandeur of the Red Square, the Kremlin and dome-crowned St Basil’s Cathedral are a fitting backdrop to a journey into a stark landscape where snow seems everlasting.

Aboard the Golden Eagle, however, life is anything but chilly. Private ensuite accommodation amid the train’s grandeur envelops passengers in comfort, with underfloor heating and a cabin attendant ready to transform your suite from day to night. The Imperial Suites, the most spacious found on a Russian train, also benefit from a complimentary mini-bar, small library, in-cabin dining and bottle of Dom Pérignon to christen each northern adventure.

With journeys departing on 29 December 2014 and 2015, the Arctic Explorer is set to be a hub of festive finery with a traditional Russian flavour. Additional departures are scheduled for 12 February 2015 and 11 February 2016, heralding Valentine’s Day with remote Arctic splendour and indulgent celebration on board.

Golden Eagle Luxury Trains