At the start of Agatha Christie’s 1934 Murder on the Orient Express, a certain M. Bouc, contemplating the train’s dining car and his fellow passengers, says to his tablemate, detective Hercule Poirot: “If I had but the pen of a Balzac! I would depict this scene…It lends itself to romance, my friend.” That romance of high-end European rail travel, mothballed for decades, is having a major comeback. The Orient Express Company (part of Accor) will be launching newly built La Dolce Vita trains in 2024 (and is already taking bookings for one- and two-night trips from Rome). Belmond, meantime, which owns 17 of the original Orient Express’s carriages from the 1920s and ’30s, is restoring them and adding itineraries. Here’s what to expect on their Venice Simplon-Orient-Express:
You’ll sleep in a deco dream.
The new suites are the handiwork of master French craftsmen, with fabrics, furnishings, and wood marquetry inspired by Art Deco designers like Majorelle, Dufrene, Leleu, and Lalique; the feel is entirely jewel box and one-of-a-kind. The marble bathrooms have mosaic floors (with underfloor heating) and hand-blown Murano sinks, and as in trains of yore, all the windows open: You’ll not only be watching meadows, mountains, and forests scroll by, but smelling them, too. (There are six new Grand Suites, and eight smaller Suites coming in June.)
You’ll be spoiled for choice.
The one-night Paris–Venice run is the signature trip. The once-yearly Paris–Istanbul five-nighter (starting August 25) is the extravaganza. And there are now routes that combine in various ways the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As of next December, you can also embark in Paris and disembark in Courchevel—it’s enough to make avant-ski a thing.
You’ll love the call button.
The cosseting begins before embarkation. If you’ve booked a Grand Suite, you’re picked up at your hotel and escorted through the station to your carriage, where your luggage awaits, as well as a cabin steward (aka butler). He or she will familiarize you with your compartment, including, crucially, the location of the call button. Stewards, one per car, are on call 24/7. Cocktails? Midnight snacks? Breakfast in bed? Done. (Christie’s Princess Dragomiroff demanded “chicken cooked without sauces…also some boiled fish.” Chacun à son goût.) Your job until dinner is just to settle in. Or, if you’re investigatively inclined, hang around Poirot-style in the corridor to see who else is boarding.
Yes, you will dress for dinner.
The motto of the train is “You can never be overdressed.” There are three dining cars and, on a one-night journey, two sit-down meals: a formal dinner the first night and a lunch the next day. (You can get suite service…but why? )
The menus are seasonal, prepared onboard, and designed by the French star chef Jean Imbert, who recently launched his second restaurant with Pharrell Williams and secured Dior as his next partner (it’s not all prewar nostalgia on this train). The bar car—for pre- and post-dinner—has inventive cocktails and live piano music.
While you’re there, your suite will have been transformed for the night, the blinds drawn. Tip: Pull them up at once on waking and call for champagne; few experiences in the traveling life rival lounging in bed with a glass of bubbly watching the sun rise over Italy. And knowing that by 5 p.m. you’ll be in Venice.
This story appears in the March 2023 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW