The television producer from Beverly Hills was on tenterhooks throughout the film festival in Cannes last summer. I could understand. He probably had a few million dollars riding on a deal for his new soap opera. But no, he had a travel problem; he and his wife were wait-listed for the Royal Scotsman, the luxury train that tours the Scottish Highlands. Could I help him? Did I know someone ... ?

Only when the trip was confirmed did he relax. He and his wife could now look forward to six sybaritic days riding what has been lavishly described as "a luxury hotel on wheels" and "a stately land cruise through Scotland's enchanting scenery."

The cost? Well, superlatives like this don't come cheap. My producer paid the thick end of

5,000, about $7,900 -- just about half as much again as two round-the-world tickets in business class. But from the way the guy talked you'd think this was the best deal he'd ever made.

What this illustrates is the growing appetite for all-inclusive luxury vacations, especially those served up with flair and imagination. The Royal Scotsman is a prime example of how people will pay top dollar to get away from the mundane tourist tracks. Start with the best in cuisine, comfort and service, add a large dose of nostalgia and maybe a touch of adventure, generate more demand than you can supply by smart public relations and you have a successful formula.

According to Fergus Hobbs -- chief executive of the nostalgically named Great Scottish & Western Railway Co. Ltd., which owns and operates the train -- occupancy for the 1986 season (with weekly departures from April through October) was around 92 percent; the most expensive staterooms were booked solid.

The Royal Scotsman, now in its third season, is limited to 28 passengers per trip (there are 14 staff members to look after them). It consists of eight carriages of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, meticulously restored to their former glory. It's a similar story to that of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, a reincarnation of the train that became a legend between the two world wars and consists of vintage stock from the 1920s and 1930s. "We'd thought about it before the revival of the Orient Express," in May 1982, Hobbs says. "But to be fair, they gave us the encouragement. We only pressed the button in June of 1984."

But there's a fundamental difference in concept. Whereas the Orient Express takes 32hours to travel 1,000 miles between London and Venice, the Royal Scotsman takes six days to cover the same distance in a figure-eight tour of the Highlands, starting and ending at Edinburgh.

The Scotsman's itinerary is made up of two three-day tours, which can be taken separately: one following a "southern" route through the Western Highlands and the other a "northern" route through the central mountains and Eastern Scotland. The train "stables" every night in a quiet siding or village station (whereas the Orient Express sways and vibrates through the night with uncomfortable authenticity). Most meals are taken while the train is stationary. And passengers have their own Royal Scotsman coach, which appears at strategic stops and takes them off on excursions to stately homes, whiskey distilleries, fish smokeries and ancient battlefields.

According to Hobbs, the eight cars of the Royal Scotsman cost $1.9 million to restore. The dining car, the oldest still in service, was built in 1891 for the London & North Western Railway. It was discovered five years ago in a village in Bognor Regis, bought for just under $100 and refurbished at a cost of nearly $650,000. Its lavatory still has the original Victorian etched window and pewter basin.

The observation car, which provides a panoramic view from the back of the train, dates from 1892 and was owned by the Caledonian Railway; the teak-paneled day car, which has a library and writing area, was built as a family saloon in 1912 for the Great Northern Railway and once carried English gentry on visits to their northern estates. The large center room was for the ladies and children, with a gentlemen's smoking room next door.

But with the four sleeping cars, the canny Scots have sacrificed authenticity for comfort. "What we did was to strip out some old shells and rebuild in the old style, but with roomy cabins and private bathrooms, which nobody had in the old days," Hobbs says. There are three types of accommodations, all fitted out like hotel rooms with proper beds and wardrobes: "state cabins" and "luxury twins," which both have private bathrooms, and "single cabins" with a shared toilet. Prices per person range from $1,660 to $1,980 for three days to $3,190 to $3,770 for the six-day tour.

Expensive. On the other hand, the price is all-inclusive -- five-course meals with fine wines, whatever you want to drink at other times, and excursions with John Cowan, a most affable guide.

What undoubtedly makes the ambiance is the small group of passengers and the fact that you're not paying cash for drinks. "It's like a traveling house party with everybody getting to know each other," Hobbs says. What slightly detracts from this is the "suggestion" that guests tip the staff 3 to 5 percent of the tour cost, which is a bit much for people who have paid 5,000 quid.

But let's go over now to platform 11 at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. It's 2:30 p.m. on a blustery fall Tuesday as we board the Royal Scotsman for the last three-day trip of the year, greeted by staff with flutes of champagne to break the ice with fellow guests: a banker from Dallas, a couple of fellow writers, two young female executives from Denver, a jolly farm woman from Oxford.

"It's definitely Claridge's, Concorde and QE2, but we get a mixture of people, mostly from overseas -- a lot of married couples, but very few from the blue-rinse set," Hobbs says. "For example, we had {actress} Morgan Fairchild and her sister. We get the odd railway buff and a number of enthusiasts who own their own railroad cars -- like one man who owns a carriage that used to belong to Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth's heiress. And quite a few have Scottish ancestors they'd like to trace.

"It's probably good for rubbing shoulders with business contacts, although most people seem to come more for the food and to be looked after for a week -- not having to make any decisions."

The hardest decision I have to make as we draw out of the station is whether to stay with champagne or move straight into the single malts, as we head west across the lowlands to Glasgow and then north, past Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and on past Crianlarich, across Rannoch Moor where the train bounces up and down on the track, which is laid over spongy peat bogs, to Spean Bridge for the night. I can't see much in the darkness and rain, but the party in the observation car is convivial. A left-handed fiddler plays to us at dinner.

Wednesday is a treat: The train is hauled by a vintage london Midland & Scottish steam locomotive (regrettably, just for the day) for the spectacular run from Fort William, on the northern tip of Loch Linnhe, to the fishing port of Mallaig, on Scotland's west coast. Images pass by: sheep and deer running by the track, the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct past the head of Loch Shiel, bodies of water lit by a remote Wagnerian sun, vast reaches of gorse and heather and Caledonian pines, like giant bonsai trees. Then we return to Fort William, and travel further south to the little village of Taynuilt.

The next day the train heads west, to the coastal resort of Oban, then south, along Loch Lomond and Gare Loch, skirting Glasgow before heading northeast to Perth and southeast to the village of Ladybank, near the Firth of Tay on the east coast.

Friday, the three-day folk are shuttled back to Edinburgh while the six-day passengers have a coach ride to Glamis Castle, north of Dundee, the setting for "Macbeth," and the ancient university town of St. Andrews, home of the Royal & Ancient, the oldest golf club in the world.

The northern tour heads up the northeast coast through Aberdeen to the small market town of Keith and the Strathisla distillery, home of the Chivas Regal distillery, where there's a convivial sampling of single malts after dinner. On Saturday, it's west from Keith via Elgin and Forres to Nairn (with a visit to the 15th-century Cawdor Castle, scene of Duncan's murder in "Macbeth"), through Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, reaching Kyle of Lochalsh, opposite the Isle of Skye on the west coast, in time for dinner. The next two days it's back through Inverness, via Garve (visiting Castle Leod), then south through the Cairngorm Mountains back to Edinburgh.

Says the Great Scottish & Western Railway Co.'s Hobbs: "What we've tried to do in choosing visits is to get to places people can't normally get to, such as the home of Sir Donald Cameron, head of the Cameron clan. We also try to arrange special things for individuals. For example, we got a helicopter so that a railway buff could photograph the train from the air; one person went fly fishing in a real Scottish burn near the Strathisla distillery, and we managed to get permission for two golfers to pay at the Royal & Ancient."

My most memorable excursion was a preprandial visit to Inverawe Smokehouse at Taynuilt where a small group of us demolished a luscious spread of smoked salmon, trout and eel. It was the most enjoyable meal we'd had on the trip.

Not that the meals on the train were anything less than fabulous. But it was the type of rarefied nouvelle cuisine that left some of us hungry. As one of the women from Denver said, "It's good for what it is -- but it shouldn't be what it is." We hankered for a baron of beef and poached salmon to go with the fine wines. Instead we were served thin slices of duck and beef that seemed to have been cut with a microtome, and tiny salads with dressings like bilberry vinaigrette. The "rendezvous of native seafood" (salmon, halibut, langoustine and turbot with a saffron beurre blanc) was superb. But such small portions! (The portions have since been increased.)

Coming back from a pub late one night, we drank a bottle of champagne in the tiny galley with chef David Taylor while he cooked us a midnight snack of lamb chops. It was all great fun, and at the end of a full day, our impromptu party seemed the quintessence of the ambiance touted by Hobbs. Royal Scotsman tours of the Scottish Highlands are scheduled weekly from April through mid-November. The train also is available for charter (for six-day tours only) both during and out of season. For more information: Abercrombie & Kent, 1420 Kensington Rd., Oak Brook, Ill. 60521-2106, (312) 954-2944. Roger Collis is a free-lance writer and columnist.