Short cuts

Marseille Compagnie du Ponant, a French company offering luxury cruises onboard smaller vessels (between 32 and 132 cabins), has launched a range of “grand voyages” lasting at least a month and travelling far beyond the usual ports of call. The itineraries include a 38-day trip (from £6,145) starting in the Caribbean on Martinique, then passing along the Colombian coast, through the Panama Canal and continuing all the way down the Pacific coast of South America to Ushuaia, often called the world’s southernmost city. Another cruise starts in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and travels for 34 days along the coast of Nunavut and Newfoundland to Montreal (from £9,336).

Rome Italy’s new high-speed train, the Italo, is due to enter service on April 28, running between Naples and Milan, via Rome, Florence and Bologna. The Italo will be run by Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV), Europe’s first privately owned high-speed rail operator, using the latest version of the AGV train from French manufacturer Alstom, which has set a speed record of 575kph and will run at up to 300kph in regular service. The Italo will be governed by the same speed limits as trains operated on the line by state-owned Trenitalia but NTV hopes to compete on levels of comfort (the Italo trains will offer leather seats in all three classes, WiFi and a cinema carriage). Similarities between the train’s red colour-scheme and that of Italy’s most famous luxury car marque, Ferrari, are not a coincidence: the colour was chosen by NTV’s chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, who is also Ferrari chairman. Tickets are due to go on sale tomorrow and will be priced using a flexible airline model.

Chile Tour operators are hoping that a supreme court ruling in favour of the construction of a vast hydroelectric project in the pristine Aysen region will prompt a surge of visitors eager to “see it before it’s gone”. The HidroAysén scheme involves building five dams, flooding 15,000 acres of land and constructing a 1,250-mile transmission line to take power to Santiago. It has been the subject of fierce opposition from environmentalists who argue it will damage Laguna San Rafael National Park. The scheme still needs government approval but, if granted, construction could begin in 2014 and is expected to take 10 years. Journey Latin America offers a 13-day trip, with five days’ driving through Aysen, from £3,358.

Marrakech A lavish sister hotel to Le Bristol in Paris and the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc in Antibes has opened in the desert just outside Marrakech. The Palais Namaskar has 41 opulent suites set in 12 acres of Balinese gardens complete with waterfalls and lakes. The hotel is the first property outside Europe for the Oetker Collection, the hotel division of Dr Oetker, the German company that also makes frozen pizzas, yoghurts and cake mixes. Doubles from €390.

London Virgin Atlantic is to unveil its new Upper Class cabin on April 21, part of a £100m programme of upgrades for its business class product. The new cabin and service will be offered first on the Heathrow to JFK route, before being rolled out across the fleet. Details have yet to be announced, apart from the fact the cabin will contain a “futuristic bar” and that catering will now include a cheese trolley, and afternoon tea with cakes, scones, clotted cream and jam. Meanwhile Virgin has announced it will seek to operate 12 Heathrow landing slots released by International Airlines Group, British Airways’ parent, to satisfy competition rules relating to IAG’s purchase of BMI last month. The slots are for routes including Nice, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and so would involve the creation of a short haul division of Virgin Atlantic, until now a long haul only airline.

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