THE ORIENT EXPRESS
The Orient Express was an expression of luxury and opulence well beyond its era, particularly at a time when travelling was still considered rough and treacherous. If you're curious whether the art of discovery and voyaging is still alive, it most certainly is ...
Taking a step back in time to the roaring twenties, into the golden age of travel, a time when the world eyes were first cast upon the Orient Express. The Orient Express was an expression of luxury and opulence well beyond its era, particularly at a time when travelling was still considered rough and treacherous. If you're curious whether the art of discovery and voyaging is still alive, it most certainly is. It simply required a re-invention and a delicate restoration of some of the world's most infamous train-carriages; these carriages have welcomed the likes of Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth.
Just as each carriage holds a mirage of delicate history and sacred relevance; they too held a perilous past. In 1891 five passengers were kidnapped and held at ransom, while four decades later Hungarian terrorists derailed the train, costing the lives of 20 passengers; cabaret singer Josephine Baker helped tend to the injured. Pensioned-off sleeping cars have been re-used as gazebos, racing pigeon transporters and even a Limoges brothel. However, perhaps its true level of notoriety was reached when Agatha Christie published the fiction novel 'Murder on the Orient Express.'
Our journey began in Venice, with morning tea at the covert Belmond Cipriani; better known as the crowning jewel of Venice. Don't be fooled, morning tea in Italy essentially just spaghetti with a side of espresso. The Cipriani is the kind of authentic Italian experience you read about in novels; encased amongst the winding canals of Venice and stretched across a Giardino Casanova. Not quite ready to leave, but certain we didn't want to miss our train, we jumped aboard the gondola. We travelled through the canals until we reached the station, with high anticipation; we were about to board the Orient Express.
Travelling in the 20's felt luxurious and regal, just as it did when we stepped aboard. The train itself is in antique condition, with each carriage immaculately restored to its original state; these restorations were not done by machine, but rather each diminutive process completed by hand (every single screw aboard the train sits horizontally flush). Wooden parquetry adorns the doors of the sleeping compartments, while original brass fittings still remain intact. The process of restoring parquetry to its original grandeur, down to the last Art Deco flower, is as complex as it is intricate. Costing close to £20m, which was vastly and irrelevantly over budget.
Our first night on the train was truly spectacular. We rushed to our cabin to get dressed (there is a general rule of black-tie); we were then escorted by our steward to the Bar Car. It is here you can mingle with fellow travellers whilst listening to the resident pianist tickling the ivories of the baby grand piano. We ordered a glass of the 'Guilty 12,' an Agatha Christie-inspired cocktail; which is created over 12 secret ingredients (only the resident bartender holds the recipe.)
As we made our way to be seated for dinner, we noted the four elaborate dining cars, each, posing their own unique design. From the Côte d'Azur with its faint blue opaque glass, to the Etoile Du Nord showcasing intricate wooden marquetry, to the L'Oriental with its refitted black lacquer panels and finally the '3764' celebrating its golden interior and vibrant blue marquetry. As we took our seats in 'Côte d'Azur' we were greeted by our waiter, who topped our champagne glasses until they bubbled-over, nearly touching the warm breadbasket. The cuisine is Modern European, which is freshly prepared on board by Executive Chef Christian Bodiguel and his skilled team. Think veal tenderloin, served with a sweet pepper fondue.
Adventure and style are all intimately bound in journeys that crisscross Europe, so diving through sublime scenery to some of the continent's most alluring cities is just what we did. The landscape changed dramatically as we crossed the Austrian boarder into the Czech Republic, from green pastures to architecturally profound buildings. The train came to a halt in Prague, letting us off to recoup for the night, before embarking the final leg of our journey. We spent the next morning travelling through the German countryside, sitting against the window, gazing at the rolling green hills falling into the distance. As we travelled along the tracks we watched as cheery locals arose from their front patios to wave us on, seeing us off as we swirled along the tracks, all the way to Paris.
The legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is one of the world's most famous luxury trains, a work of art in itself and a true Art Deco icon. Step aboard and experience truly elegant travel, wrapped in timeless romance.