Paul on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train
Posted: 17 November 2015
“I am travelling on the Orient-Express”. Just uttering these words at a dinner party and you see people’s eyes glaze over as they imagine a voyage of sophistication and service from a bygone era. Just as mine did when a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express went to the top of my own wish list.
Travelling back from Venice recently on this iconic train was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and trip I had been longing to do. And often, when expectations are so high, the reality doesn’t quite live up to them. In this case, I needn’t have worried. The journey from end to end was a sublime blend of stunning surroundings, impeccable service and sensational cuisine. My one reservation was that the journey would be stuffy, a little rigid. However, despite the strict dress code (no jeans allowed here), the staff comprised unique, friendly characters and my fellow passengers were as excited as me and wanted to share their reason for travelling, so in reality, it was a very relaxed and fun experience.
I travelled from Venice to London, the route very often overlooked. However, having done it, I would recommend northbound every time for one simple reason. At the start of any Elegant Resorts holiday, you're so excited that this gets you through the airport and flight. But on the way home, it is quite a different story! As I stood outside Belmond Hotel Cipriani with my fellow passengers to be, there was a real buzz about what was to come. Going home had never been so highly anticipated – to some, the holiday in Venice was purely the appetiser.
Climbing the steps into the carriage of the luxurious train, stretching nearly a quarter of a mile in length, you can see that they have been lovingly restored to provide sleeper accommodation, three individual Dining Cars and, of course, the Piano Bar. The accommodation comes in three sizes: single, double or deluxe. The first is for a solo traveller and offers a single seat-come-bed, whilst the double has bunk beds at night time. Both are compact, but a triumph of form and function – bijou, but offering in-cabin sinks and luggage space (hand luggage only is allowed on the train, hold luggage is kept elsewhere for the journey), a Champagne flute and a large window, perfect for enjoying the ever-changing scenery. But for those wanting something more spacious, two cabins interconnect cleverly and offer two seats that convert to beds (in other words, no bunks and more floor space). I spent my time relaxing in my cabin watching the stunning scenery roll by, reading and enjoying a day without wi-fi-induced interruptions, delighting at the first Afternoon Tea and enjoying breakfast in bed.
Dining is a major component of the Orient-Express experience, and the three meals you enjoy on board are sensational and even more incredible after I popped my head into one of the two galley kitchens to see the dishes being prepared. To think of the delights that are created in such a small space is nothing less than mind blowing, with my personal highlight being the smoked salmon and scrambled egg, followed by lobster. It would have been criminal not to wash it down with a glass of Champagne! As darkness fell and we rolled on through the Alps, I got dressed up in black-tie and emerged from my cabin for dinner. The advice, “You can never be too overdressed for the Orient-Express” was spot on. My personal favourite was the Japanese lady in her full Kimono, but everyone made an effort. After dinner you must not miss heading to the Piano Bar, where the Steinway ivories harmonise with the excited babble of fellow passengers. Over a cocktail or two, people were sharing their experiences with loved ones or new-found friends, before retiring to their cabins, which had been magically transformed into bedrooms.
The following day we carried on through the rolling countryside of France to Calais, where we bade a fond farewell to the train. A luxury coach took us through the Channel Tunnel and, after a couple of hours we were back in Blighty, stood at a station as the British Pullman drew up for our final leg. On board, a mouthwatering Afternoon Tea was served as we headed lazily into London. During, approximately, the past thirty hours, we had been transported back in time to the Golden Age of Travel: from the busy waterways of Venice, to the hubbub of modern London. So, should the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express be on your wish list? Absolutely! A once-in-a-lifetime journey? Well, you need to decide for yourself. However, I will certainly be back on board one day.