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VSOE Grand Suites Are Grand Indeed!

By Owen C. Hardy

There’s only one problem with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ new Grand Suites: they’re stunning, amazingly comfortable and utterly unique in the luxury rail travel world.

So what’s the problem?

There’s simply not enough time to enjoy all their delights on the standard 2-day, one-night VSOE itinerary.

More about this “problem” in a moment.


Eleanor and Owen Hardy with their very accomplished cabin steward, Rory.

The VSOE Grand Suites – three to an entire railroad car — are rolling works of art.

Eleanor and I recently completed a VSOE trip from Venice to Paris and Amsterdam in the Grand Suite Vienna. We were on the April run of the luxury train’s new Venice-Paris-Amsterdam & v.v. itinerary. What a way to celebrate our 40th anniversary!

We entered our cabin to celebrate our arrival with, as Belmond describes it, free-flowing champagne, caviar and blinis, which we hungrily consumed.

A silver basket of exotic fruit greets us as we enter our Grand Suite “Vienna.”

Next, we inspected our quarters.

Noting the luxurious Guerlain shower/bathroom products, we admired the generous lavatory.

Murano glass basin

“It’s the most beautiful bathroom you’ll ever enjoy, on land or sea,” claims Eleanor Hardy, my wife and president of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

“The Murano glass sink, the intricately designed mosaic tiles on the floors in the showers and bathroom are breathtaking,” she said. “And we really appreciated the heating rack for our towels.”

An intricately tiled floor graces our Grand Suite bathroom.

Plus, as IRT VP Rachel Hardy wrote earlier after an introductory trip for journalists and travel agents, “The private bathroom with underfloor heating, rain shower, sink, and toilet answers the prayers of those” who have declined to travel on the VSOE because of the lack of en suite facilities.”

A fast passenger train overtakes the VSOE as Eleanor gazes from her Grand Suite window.

Grand Suites also include a large double bed that can convert into twin beds, and a separate living area with couch, table, stool & chair.

The design is gorgeous and almost defies description. The entire suite contains varnished wood inlay throughout, including the bedstead.

The suite boasts five large windows, offering panoramic views of the changing scenery. (Agatha Christie, by comparison, had to “make do” with a standard Orient Express cabin with one window, a diminutive table, bunkbeds and a bathroom down the hall.)

Our huge Grand Suite double bed, by comparison, included bedside tables, and the entire suite was opened up by a large number of mirrors.

We also appreciated the gigantic storage space.

Our five bags (two carry-ons, two full-sized bags, one behemoth as well as two backpacks) fit snugly – and comfortably – under our bed.

Another view of the Grand Suite Vienna double bed. Just pull the handle below the window, and you can enjoy fresh air.

Meanwhile, we loved the incredibly thick, plush terry robes, that we were invited to – and did – take home.

We also appreciated the huge bedside window, which we could crank open. There’s nothing like reclining on superb linens while drinking in the Swiss Alps drifting past.

Eleanor gazes out her window as the VSOE chugs through Switzerland.

Best of all was a full-sized, truly double bed.

Which in turn brings up another Grand Suite advantage: absolute privacy.

You don’t have to see anyone else on the entire trip but your steward, if you want. Nobody walks past your cabin but him or her. (Our Grand Suite was in a prime spot, coupled next to the engine.)

Incredible wood marquetry adorns the VSOE.

And therein lies the “problem.” Despite some 36 hours of travel, we didn’t have time to enjoy all the amenities the VSOE has to offer. For example, the VSOE’s three dining cars are gorgeous mobile museum pieces.

But what to do? Enjoy an exquisite meal in our Grand Suite? Or venture out to dine in one of our favorite dining cars, the “Lalique,” with its crystal nudes adorning the walls. And that still leaves the “problem” of two other VSOE dining cars to enjoy.

What a dilemma!

A hillside Swiss church greets the VSOE as our luxury train slowly glides past.

To be sure, because of our Grand Suite status, when we did choose to eat in one of the diners, we selected whatever table, in whatever dining car, at whatever time, we wanted.

We also had a jolly time in the bar car, singing along with the pianist into the night “Waltzing Matilda,” “Finiculi, Finicula” and (especially fitting for this 1920s-era rolling museum piece) George Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm.”

But we loved our private and beautiful meals served in our cabin: a fabulous breakfast and an elegant afternoon tea.

(Important note: As Belmond is fond of saying, “No one can be overdressed on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.) Our ample Grand Suite storage areas made it easy for us to bring our formal wear along. )

Tea time on the VSOE in our Grand Suite Vienna.

Plus we dropped by the gift shop for a few souvenirs and presents.

Two great Grand Suite amenities were complimentary transfers from the hotel in Venice to the train, and from the train to hotel in Amsterdam. This is especially great because there are no porters at either station.

Last but not least, the new Venice-Paris-Amsterdam route, which premiered last year, is a real winner, both for the spectacular sights along the way as well as for the gorgeous cities at either end.

(We have several top hotel picks and experiences at either end which we will discuss later. Our top hotel picks, by the way, include the tiny family-owned Relais La Corte Dei Papi in Tuscany and the elegant Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam. Contact us for details.)

Rory, our cabin steward, serves Owen afternoon coffee and cakes.

And one more word about Rory, our steward: he was an incredible host, with just the right amount of friendliness, precision and restraint. Thank you, Rory.

And thank you, Belmond, for “inventing” the Grand Suites and the VSOE. We hear there are more to come, and we can’t wait to inspect those, too.

As they used to say about the original Orient-Express: it’s the “Train of Kings, the King of Trains!

If you have a milestone celebration coming up, call us for a great journey on the VSOE, email us at, or call us at (800) 478-4881, or +1 (502) 897-1725 if outside the US/Canada.