The Venice Simplon-Orient Express (VSOE) is the world’s most authentic luxury train. Made famous in the Agatha Christie story, the train’s 1920s-vintage Art Deco cars, sparkling in their navy and gold livery and snowy white roof, take your breath away. The annual journeys between Paris and Istanbul are legendary — and perfect for special occasion celebrations.
The train’s mystique is such that its image is constantly in demand to portray elegance, beauty, sophistication and romance. Watch this video to see its stylized image, as seen through the eyes of French perfume and beauty product icon Chanel (wait for it; you may see another ad first).
The VSOE can accommodate up to 174 passengers, but on special journeys, the train’s capacity is reduced to roughly 100 guests.
In 2018, the train added purpose-built, luxurious Grand Suites to its consist, and they are truly spectacular.
Special Report: IRT’s Rachel Hardy was among the first to see the newly unveiled Grand Suites, and she was impressed. See her report on the Grand Suites here.
Twin Cabins 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. These cabins measure 30 square feet.
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.
Grand Suites add considerable comfort — at a hefty price. The train has six Grand Suites, each measuring approximately 115 square feet. Grand Suites have a double bed (can also be made into two twins), separate living area with table, chair and sofa, and an en-suite bathroom with shower, sink and toilet. The Grand Suites are named “Paris”, “Venice”, “Istanbul”, “Prague”, “Vienna”, and “Budapest”. Each has a unique decor, to emphasize the distinctive aspects of each destination.
In addition to the standard VSOE amenities, Grand Suite perks include preferential seating and guaranteed dining time for meals (or, if you prefer, private in-cabin dining with a complimentary “à la carte” menu), 24-hour butler service, caviar upon arrival, free-flowing Champagne, private transfers to/from railway stations, private guided excursions and complimentary designer Art Deco bathrobes.
The train does not have Single cabins; however, a few Twin cabins are offered without a supplement on most departures. After these are sold, a single supplement would apply for all cabins. Note that a single supplement will always apply for the Istanbul journeys.
There are no showers on the train, with the exception of the Grand Suites. Longer itineraries are designed to dodge this reality — train overnights are interspersed with stays at fabulous hotels — just like Agatha Christie used to do.
The VSOE’s cabins have towels, bathrobes and slippers, dual voltage plugs with 230/115 volts for electric razors and two, 220-volt continental sockets.
All cabins have discreet individually-controlled A/C units. Air conditioning has also been added in the public cars. This is a huge improvement for those traveling in the hotter months of July & August!
Venice Simplon-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.
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. This allows the staff to properly welcome and serve each diner.
Note: The “Côte d’Azur” dining car also includes a 20-seat champagne bar in one corner. Vintages include Taittinger, Laurent Perrier Rosé and Louis Roederer Cristal. And, if you’re traveling southbound, consider indulging in a VSOE Celebration Breakfast, which includes a tempting selection of fresh breads, smoked salmon, eggs, truffles and caviar. You can book on board.
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 either the Grand Suite or the Cabin Suite. This gives travelers much more room for spreading out. Double/twin cabins are small. Single travelers should book early to avoid a supplement on this train.
Dressing up is part of this experience, and tuxedos (at the least, dark suit and tie) 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.
For many, this is a special occasion train — to celebrate retirement, anniversaries and big birthdays. Read travel notes by Society owners Owen & Eleanor Hardy, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express journey from Venice-Paris-London
Final note: Even on a luxury train, space is tight. One plus: the VSOE includes a baggage car, where you can store extra luggage (although don’t count on having access to it while on board).