Journeys on this Train
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express (VSOE) is the world’s most authentic luxury train.
Its 1920s-vintage Art Deco cars, sparkling in their navy and gold livery and snowy white roof, take your breath away. True, authenticity comes at a price. The cars are coal-heated. There is no air conditioning (windows open to the fresh air). Toilets are down the hall. There are no showers.
But on board, we feel, these negatives melt away. "Those weren't problems at all," said Douglas Kopecky, a Society of IRT traveler who took the 2010 Paris to Istanbul journey. The high level of service, the five-star level of the food and wine and the thrill of traveling in a dazzling, rolling work of art envelop one in a giddy, joyful aura.
The train's mystique is such that its image is constantly in demand to portray elegance, beauty, sophistication and romance. Click here to see its stylized image, as seen through the eyes of French perfume and beauty product icon Chanel.
The VSOE can accommodate up to 190 passengers, but on special journeys the train's capacity is reduced to roughly 100 guests.
Special Report: Click here for travel notes by Society owners Owen & Eleanor Hardy, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on the Orient-Express Venice-Paris-London.
Sleeping compartments are called Double Cabins. They have Pullman-style beds (one up, one down) that fold into a comfortable sofa during the day. A sink in a lovely, closing vanity is fitted into the corner. All amenities are supplied, and then some.
A Cabin Suite is two adjoining Double Cabins connected by an interior, private door. Booking a Cabin Suite allows each person to have a lower bed, his/her own vanity as well as a window of one's own.
Orient-Express cabins have one major benefit not often mentioned: the windows can be opened, providing fresh air and unobstructed views. Plus, one can literally smell the countryside - a significant advantage over hermetically sealed vehicles.
Did we mention that there are no showers? Longer itineraries are designed to dodge this reality — train overnights are interspersed with stays at fabulous hotels — just like Agatha Christie used to do.
There are three gorgeous dining cars: one, "Étoile du Nord," mainly with marquetry; another, "L'Oriental," with Chinese lacquered walls with bright animals; and a third, "Côte d’Azur," with Lalique crystal insets. The management of the dining cars is superb. For starters, a maitre d’ visits you during the day before meals to reserve your table. He rotates travelers among the three diners; you can request dining for two or four at your preferred seating time. The dining experience is five-star both in food quality/variety and service. One of the reasons is that people are not all seated at the exact same time. Instead, seatings are staggered, and this allows the staff to properly welcome and serve each diner.
The lounge car is decorated in the Art Nouveau style. Fresh flowers adorn the tables, and a pianist entertains in the evening. It’s a perfect place to read Le Monde by day, enjoy cocktails before dinner and a nightcap after dinner; perhaps you’ll decide, like one traveler did on our trip to Istanbul, to dance the Charleston in her period dress. The lounge car can get very crowded, too, but the staggered dining helps with this issue.
For discriminating travelers, we recommend booking a cabin suite. This is two connected cabins and double the space. This way, both members of a couple get lower beds; each gets a vanity and sink. And obviously, there is twice the room for spreading out. Dressing up is part of this experience, and tuxedoes (at the least, dark suits and ties) and cocktail dresses are the norm for dinner.
There’s something about traveling on such historic cars. One of our favorites: Sleeping Car 3309 was part of the 1929 service which was stuck in a snow drift 60 miles outside Istanbul for 10 days. Passengers and staff survived only with the assistance of nearby Turkish villagers.