On Wednesday last week I was privileged to be one of the very first people to see the much-awaited Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express as the iconic blue-and-gold train made its maiden voyage of the 2018 season, travelling between Venice and London.
Ever since General Manager Pascal Deyrolle rejoined Belmond, just over three years ago, it was his dream to revive a tradition from the golden age of travel, where travelling royalty enjoyed the luxury and privacy of their own carriage and staff, attached to the original Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train. However, under Pascal’s personal direction, Belmond have gone one better and not only created a dedicated carriage for the Grand Suites, but fitted it out to the highest standards of craftsmanship with modern-day luxuries including double beds, en-suite bathrooms with showers and ample storage for those who travel with regal amounts of luggage.
The three Grand Suites are situated in their own dedicated carriage, which will always be at the front or rear of the train (depending on engine position) allowing Grand Suite guests complete privacy, so no interruptions from regular train guest en route back from the Bar Cart. Carriage 3425 has been cleverly modified to create maximum space and height in each of the three Grand Suites, with a slimmer corridor giving way to the most spacious train cabins I have ever seen.
Each Grand Suite is charmingly named – Istanbul, Paris and of course, Venice – and each carriage takes its design from its city namesake. In Istanbul, Moorish elements abound – from the intricately carved wooden fretwork above the queen-size double bed, to the Turkish lantern in place of the main carriage light and the gleaming marquetry inspired by the turrets and towers of mysterious Istanbul itself. Subtle gold touches in the mirror glass give the kindest reflection so guests will truly feel like imperial royalty.
Romance oozes through every last blue touch in the Venice Grand Suite, with a Venetian silk wallpaper backdrop offsetting the regal blue headboard of the queen-size double bed. Delicately placed flowers bloom across the marquetry, while leaves and flowers are carved into the mirrors edging nearly every surface. As you’d expect, the blue Murano glass sink in the bathroom looks like a work-of-art (though sister Grand Suites – Paris and Istanbul – feature Murano glass sinks too).
Finally to the Paris Grand Suite where art-deco design steals the show. It’s hard not to fall in love with the 1920s wood-carved fan designs in the double-bed headboard, which in turn perfectly complement the charming fan cabin light and art-deco hand-woven wall covering. Tactile isn’t the word – you’ll want to run your hands over everything before settling down to enjoy the complimentary free-flowing champagne, which itself is followed by complimentary caviar on boarding.
All three Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express enjoy queen-size double beds – a first for the Venice Simplon-Orient Express – which can be converted into twin beds for guests who prefer to sleep separately. En-suite bathrooms complete with shower – another first for this legendary train – feature Murano glass bowl sinks, hand crafted marquetry, in-laid vanity units and, of course, a vintage-style loo with brass handles and wooden seat. What’s more, each Grand Suite bathroom has its own distinct marble mosaic floor, all hand laid, as well as heated flooring and walls – a nice surprise on a cold morning. There are also generous sofa beds in each suite, which at the touch of a hidden button, glide towards the cabin table, which in converts into a beautiful private in-cabin dining table for up to three guests (as the sofa bed can also become a 3-foot single bed for those travelling with a child).
If you can steal your eyes away from the raised ceilings, you’ll enjoy a private bar area filled with Venice Simplon-Orient-Express glassware just crying out for the complimentary Lauren Perrier champagne, or perhaps a Belmond Zest prepared by the private steward and shared between the three Grand Suites. The over-sized carriage windows, which run the length of one side of the carriage, flood the suites with light, even when it’s twinkling with swirling snowflakes outside, as it was when we stopped at the Italy-Austria border shortly before tea time. A moment truly evocative of the original Agatha Christie – Murder on the Orient Express.
When it’s time to change for dinner, the Grand Suites really come into their own. Guests will appreciate the full-length mirrors and full-height wardrobe tucked away in the room divider, and for those that have taken full advantage of the brass piped shower facilities and Lalique toiletries, there’s even a Dyson hair dryer in its own leather box, hidden away in one of the plentiful drawers. And, I nearly forgot to mention the Grand Suite dressing gowns – chic Italian (of course) art-deco designed wafflette in white, which are presented to Grand Suite guests on departure in their own travelling case as a souvenir memento. No more checking your main luggage through to your final destination either, as the double bed lifts up to reveal full-sized suitcase storage for two. As such, any last-minute change of mind between the Jimmy Choos and the Manolos, is easily remedied with a simple finger-push of call button; et volia – shoes a plenty!
It’s also worth noting that guests can request which suite they want to stay in at the time of booking, though for the 2018 season, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Suites are already booked to 70% occupancy, so you’ll need to book soon to secure your preferred suite. Or, look to the 2019 season –already on sale – for a wide range of departures.
And do I have a favourite Grand Suite? In a word, no. All three Grand Suites are stunningly beautiful, and I can’t imagine any Luxury Holiday Company clients being anything other than blown away by what is undoubtedly a new super-high standard in luxury rail travel, whichever of Istanbul, Paris or Venice they stay in. But, if I had to choose one it would be Venice – for me the deep blue Murano glass and the Venetian silk headboard are a luxury rail traveller’s come true.
Ps. If you happen to make friends with your neighbours during your journey, do adjourn to each others’ Grand Suites for a cocktail or three. Or, why not become the first guest to sleep in all three Grand Suites on separate journeys? I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have seen them all first hand.
To book your Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Suites experience, take a look at our dedicated itinerary, then call our team of specialists.