Porters help with luggage on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train


 

Very few travel experiences offer grandeur and elegance intertwined with romance and nostalgia, in the way that a European journey by rail on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train does.

Too often these days, we rush from departure to destination, without considering that the journey itself can be something truly fabulous. For most of the fifty years that spanned the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, the wonder and excitement of luxury modes of transport were heinously replaced by functionality and cost-sensitivity. But the roaring (twenty)-twenties heralds an era where the magic and awe of the journey has been reignited and elevated once again, be it in luxury cruising, premium aviation, and now evocative journeys by rail.

In this world defined by haste and immediacy, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express offers a welcome respite courtesy of Belmond. Travelling aboard this iconic train is a step back in time to a bygone era of luxurious pan-European intercity travel and wanton joie de vivre. It embodies a celebration of the important cultural connections between European destinations, of burgeoning cultural curiosity, and of borderless friendships.

As the rhythmic clickety-clack of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in motion filled the air, we travelled not just between places, but through the annals of history itself. Each meticulously restored, highly polished carriage (there are 17 in total, each with its own story), whispered tales of the high society and adventurers who once traversed their very corridors. But the train is the protagonist here; every detail indulges our senses and steeps us in its storytelling. The gleaming carriages, lavish bar/dining cars, and decadent Art Deco cabins are adorned with the finest marquetry, sparkling crystal (Lalique, no less) and sumptuous furnishings. There’s a heavy nod to their century-old beginnings, without ever compromising on modern comforts (although only just enough to meet the more demanding needs of today’s travellers.) This is not the only sort of time travel we’re doing. As we glide along the tracks, time slows to a leisurely pace onboard, allowing us to savour every moment of our journey on this magnificent train.

We relaxed into the warmth of our beautifully appointed private cabin with a glass of champagne in hand (in fact, it was very rare that we didn’t have one in our hands, or thrust into our hands throughout the journey), gazing out of the picture-windows of the world passing by. A light afternoon tea was also served by our dedicated cabin steward here (they appeared at the press of a button), showing us just how versatile our bijou, Historical Cabin space was. A flip of a table and a crisp white tablecloth laid and we were ready to take tea. Opening a little wooden door made two cabins into one, perfect for friends travelling together or should you want separate spaces to relax and sleep in. As twilight fell, a ring of the cabin bell meant our steward turned our cabin down, moving our hand-embroidered scatter cushions to the luggage racks, changing the whole space into a comfortable bedroom with a single bed, or bunks for two. What’s behind those curved double doors? There was an elaborate dressing and sink area so that we could freshen up before dinner. Each carriage had a shared WC, but there were no showers – just like in the old days.

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While you’re Out There
As the train winds its way through the picturesque landscapes of Europe, each passing vista unfolds like a living canvas. New vistas are the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps, the glistening sunshine of the Italian Riviera (all aboard for Portofino) and the mystique of Istanbul. All this is on top of the classic stops of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express… Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome and Verona); France (Paris and Cannes); Czechia (Prague), Hungary (Budapest) and Austria (Vienna) among many others. All journeys run predominantly from March to November. Some destinations are one-offs, other ones are more frequent, so be sure to consult the programme carefully.

Above and beyond our heritage bedroom, there are also six Grand Suites; billed the epitome of elegance and extravagance on board. Each unique, they are named after the cities that have inspired their designs. First-class guests can expect pretty mosaics, encrusted woodwork, en-suite bathrooms, double beds, living area and underfloor heating, all brought together in gorgeous glory by Wimberly Interiors.

For epicures and gastronomes alike, the culinary offerings aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express are nothing short of extraordinary. Throughout the journey, we were treated to simple, but classically prepared flavours, inspired by the diverse cuisines of Europe. Each dish – or canape, or afternoon tea, or midnight ‘brunch’, even – is a masterpiece, meticulously prepared by the train’s talented chefs under the watchful eye of chef Jean Imbert. It’s not easy to cook on the world’s most famous train (both figuratively and literally) but our expectations are exceeded, as Jean blends in his passion for fresh, seasonal produce (picking up on relationships with local farmers and producers along the route in France and Italy) with the train’s foodie-heritage.

Beyond the food itself, Jean has also had a heavy hand in designing the ambience of the three 1920s opulent restaurant cars, L’Oriental, Etoile Du Nord, and Côte d’Azur. Collaborating with some of the world’s most renowned interior designers, he has created a charming atmosphere of elegance in the confines of the train carriages, and the artisanal presentation of each meal, from the colourful menus to the gleaming silverware, crystal glasses and art-adorned French porcelain dinnerware is masterful.

In the elegant Bar Car ‘3674’ – the social heart of the train – guests mingle over cocktails and travel tales, forging friendships that transcend borders, cultures and generations. Bon vivants will share an evening of cocktails and conviviality while the pianist plays raucously into the night until the last person retires to bed, often in the wee hours of the morning. Not that it matters, as onboard there are few schedules to keep or deadlines to meet, only the promise of adventure. And when the time finally comes to retire, the train’s rhythmic cadence turns into a sultry, soothing lullaby as the train meanders through the night.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is more than just a mode of transportation – it is a journey beyond time itself. For those like us fortunate enough to embark on one of its varied odysseys, the memories forged along the way become treasures to be cherished for a lifetime. As the train pulled into its final destination, we disembarked not as mere passengers, but as custodians of a legacy; one of heritage, elegance, sophistication, and the enduring allure of the rails.

www.belmond.com

Photography courtesy of Belmond




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