Glitter and Gold
The excitement of boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient Express for a two-day/one-night journey from Venice to London (from £2,210, S$3,866 per person) begins long before the guard’s whistle signals the legendary train’s departure from Santa Lucia Station. It starts as stewards show passengers to their sleeping cars, where guests will marvel at their elegant cabins, decorated with 50- to 90-year-old wooden panelling.
Certainly, travelling on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express is unmistakably old school: in each cabin, there are washbasin cabinets in place of showers, while others even feature foldable brass candleholders and hooks for pocket watches.
Each of the train’s carriages – a total of 17 at its maximum length – has its own colourful history. Fans of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express might want to book Sleeping Car 3309, in which the writer found inspiration for the plot while marooned in a snowdrift in 1929. King Carol of Romania often held romantic trysts in Sleeping Car 3425, while the bacchanalian glass panels in Dining Car 4141 were crafted by Rene Lalique. Perhaps what the modern luxury traveller needs more than ever is a digital detox, turning a lack of Wi-Fi on board into a notable advantage. Besides, the voluptuous rise and fall of the Dolomites, the dramatic Arlberg Pass and the serene meadows of Liechtenstein and Switzerland are so astoundingly beautiful that it feels like a crime not to look at them.
Of course, there are distractions aplenty when required: Walter Nisi, the train’s ebullient head barman, can be found mixing his classic cocktails in the recently refurbished Bar Car 3674. The three 1920s restaurant cars – Cote d’Azur, Etoile du Nord and L’Oriental – bring the thrill of dining at 70km/hr to life. Passengers are treated to stellar table d’hote creations by chef de cuisine, Christian Bodiguel. His team of chefs produces multiple courses from narrow galleys, collecting cheeses from Switzerland or Brittany blue lobsters during a brief stop in Paris. After spending the night on board or partying it up in the bar car, the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain awaits. Travellers transfer to the Belmond British Pullman – the sister train of Venice Simplon-Orient Express – for their onward journey to London’s Victoria Station over a sumptuous English afternoon tea.
With Belmond looking to add new routes across Europe – such as from Berlin to London this year – and the addition of air conditioning in the cabins (to make it more comfortable during summer), there’s a bright future ahead for this antique treasure.