Belmond Orient Express: A Regal Train for the Ages

Mountain views fromthe Orient Express Rose Palmer
My Luxury Train Experience on the Belmond Orient Express

By Rose Palmer

The term “once in a lifetime” has become rather cliché, especially when referring to travel destinations. ButWaiting to board the Orient Express Rose Palmer sometimes, there are experiences that are truly exceptional. Experiences for which you set aside both money and time.

Experiences that are reserved to celebrate those special occasions that mark a major life milestone.

A train trip on the fabled Belmond Venice Simplon Orient Express is indeed such an experience.

Agatha Christie’s book “Murder on the Orient Express” and all the subsequent movie and television versions have kept this train route in the forefront of the romantic imagination, even though the original Orient Express train died a slow death more than 20 years ago.

Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express

The club car on the Orient Express Rose Palmer
The current version, the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express has taken all the best that the original offered in the heyday of cross-continental train travel, and packaged it into an ultra-luxurious offering in restored vintage train cars that draw sold out cabins despite the hefty price tag.

What better way to celebrate our 30 th wedding anniversary than with such a memorable journey, traveling from romantic Venice to equally romantic Paris?

Sure, we could fly from Venice to Paris in a few hours, or take an overnight high-speed train, but on the Orient Express, this experience really was all about the journey and not the destination.

The LOriental dining room reflected in the Oriental decorated wall Rose PalmerThis was an opportunity to dust off our dressiest outfits and show them off again. While we were not traveling with a ladies’ maid or valet to dress us, we did receive guidance before our departure on the expected dress code, especially for dinner.

Our pre-trip documentation stated, “You cannot be too overdressed on the Orient Express”.

Cocktail dresses for women and suits for men were required at a minimum, though gowns and tuxedos were highly recommended.

Boarding in Venice

After a lovely week exploring beautiful Venice, my husband and I prepared to board the historic train.

Not long after our 10 AM check-in at Venice’s Santa Lucia train station, we were comfortably ensconced in our cabins with glasses of bubbly. At 11 AM sharp, our train departed.

My husband and I had two connecting single cabins because that was all that was available when I booked. This worked out quite well since a single cabin was only a little smaller than a double cabin, so in essence, we ended up with twice the space.

The beautiful restored woodwork on the Orient Express train Rose PalmerOur cabins were not large but had everything we needed for a comfortable journey. There was a banquette seat that converted into a single bed at night.

A small table in the corner had a small built-in sink. But the best part of the cabin was the large picture window which was perfect for seeing the beautiful scenery roll by.

A public water closet was available at the end of the train car. There were no shower facilities on board which was fine for our one-night journey.

Each Car is Unique

In the Etoile du Nord dining room on the Orient Express Rose Palmer
Each unique car on the Orient Express has been beautifully restored and has its own historic tale. Our cabins were in a car that had been in service on the Original Orient Express from 1928 to 1939. It then traveled in Germany during World War II before continuing service in the Sud Express until 1971.

My favorite aspect of our cabin and of many of the restored rail cars was the gleaming woodwork and period fixtures. I was especially fascinated by the intricate art deco style inlay and marquetry.

Elaborate, Delicious Meals on Board 

Not long after the train started rolling, we were invited to take part in our first delicious meal on board. In keeping with the formal ambiance, meals were equally elaborate and probably worthy of at least one Michelin star.

Ingredients are locally sourced and as fresh as can be. This results in a menu that evolves in synchrony with the season which is always perfectly paired with the best wine for each dish.

The Venice Simplo Oreint Express train embelm Rose PalmerWith three different restored period dining cars, each multi-course meal was a unique event as we experienced the décor of all three dining venues during our two days of travel.

Lunch on our first day was in the Etoile du Nord dining car decorated with intricate marquetry.

Our second day’s brunch was in my favorite spot, the Cote d’Azur dining car which was decorated in elegant shades of grey and black highlighted by large Lalique glass sculptured panels.

Tea in the Cabin

While lunches and dinner were served in the dining cars, we chose to have a leisurely continental breakfast and afternoon tea served in our cabin, where we savored the delicacies as the scenic countryside rolled by.

Without a doubt, dinner was the highlight of the trip. This was when we unpacked our finery and dressed to impress. A sea of black ties and glittery gowns greeted us as we ventured into the club car for pre-dinner cocktails. On this evening, the heyday of Orient Express train travel was back.

The piano played softly in the background and we enjoyed a drink and some nibbles before heading into the beautiful L’Oriental dining car with its black lacquer and Eastern-inspired décor. Dinner was an elaborate 4-course haute cuisine menu that also included a cheese course, always my favorite.

Our two days on the Orient Express came with the personal attention of our own steward who managed to be both unobtrusive and attentive at the same time. Every need was easily addressed so all we had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.

Breakfast in our cabin on the Oreint Express Rose PalmerTransforming the Cabins

During dinner, our steward magically transformed each of our cabins into a comfortable bedroom complete with down pillows and a comforter encased in crispy white linens. I loved falling asleep to the rhythmic chug-chug of the train, enveloped in a cocoon of softness.

Our route took us from Venice to Verona and then north up through the Italian and French Alps, and finally to Paris. The weather was cold and rainy as we traveled through the mountains, so we did not get the expansive views I hoped for. Still, the scenery we did see was gorgeous and hinted at the high peaks hiding above the clouds.

Paris to Istanbul route of the Belmond Orient Express luxury train.
Paris to Istanbul route of the Belmond Orient Express luxury train.

Belmond offers a diverse selection of routes and destinations that covers the breadth of Europe. The majority of the journeys are 1-night trips but there is also a 4-night option from Paris to Istanbul that hearkens back to the original Orient Express route.

This Orient Express train trip was a dream come true. For a few brief days, we were pampered like the movie stars or royalty that traveled in such opulent style in the early part of the last century. Everyone should get to experience the ultimate royal treatment at least once in their life, and an Orient Express experience did just that.

Rosemarie Palmer

Rose Palmer Rose Palmer is a prolific traveler and an award-winning travel writer and photographer who believes that “life is a patchwork of experiences”. Her first trip was at the age of 9 with a one-way ticket when her family emigrated from Romania to Chicago. She currently lives in the
scenic Brandywine Valley region of Southeastern Pennsylvania/northern Delaware. Visit he website Quiltripping.com.

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