The curated luxury rail collection of Belmond, the people behind the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, takes in some of the Continent’s grandest locations in unmatched style. To help you decide which one’s right for you, rail specialist Alice Somerset picks out the finest offerings, having just returned from her trip on the legendary train. Of course, she’s featured the Orient Express icon, along with some exciting route variations and some unique offerings closer to home.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express remains the journey of a lifetime. Its rich heritage and wood-panelled interiors are enamoured the world over and its journeys can’t fail to capture the imagination. And, this route between London and Venice – also available in reverse – remains mine, and my clients’, favourite. Watch the Kent countryside rush past as you sip Bellini cocktails aboard the Belmond British Pullman before switching to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to tuck into multi-course dining inspired by the route. After sweeping through alpine Europe, you’ll then be greeted in Venice by one of the city’s iconic water taxis, which will see you to a stay in a luxury Venetian palace.
For something a little different, but no less luxurious, this trip takes in the rural and urban delights of Ireland aboard the country’s finest train – the Belmond Grand Hibernian. It’s old-world luxury at its best; expect dark-wood writing desks in your en-suite cabin, plush sofas and live music in the panoramic observation car, and Waterford crystal in the restaurant carriages. Throughout, you’ll be treated to an all-inclusive menu of gourmet dining, premium drinks and expert-led excursions, from loch boat rides and sheepdog displays to rare whiskey tastings and horse-and-carriage rides. That’s alongside visits to charming Galway and colourful Cork, all bookended by luxury stays among Dublin’s rich heritage.
Swapping Venice for Verona, this itinerary combines an overnight journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express with another of Italy’s city greats – Verona. It all begins with a stay in a converted Veronese palace, from where you’ll take in the city’s ancient wonders, Shakespearean inspirations and gastronomic delights. Highlights include the famous Juliet’s Balcony and the Verona Arena – one of the world’s great opera venues. It’s then time for the headline act. Crossing the Alps, you’ll step back to the opulence of the 1920s aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, pairing fine-dining experiences with some of Continental Europe’s most impressive scenery, finally rolling back into London Victoria aboard the armchair-bedecked Belmond British Pullman.
Sticking close to home, this luxury rail journey brings you right into the heart of the Scottish Highlands on century-old viaducts and river-side tracks. There's plenty of opportunity to take part in a variety of included off-train activities along the way, taking tea in historic castles, touring stately homes and exploring waterfall-troubled glens. Back on board, you’ll be treated to Michelin-standard dining and evening entertainment inspired by the region, washed down with open-bar drinks; there are no fewer than 30 fine whiskies on offer. It's all wrapped up in intricate marquetry and polished-wood detailing.5-day luxury rail journey
My final pick for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express begins with a two-night spa stay in Budapest, taking in its neoclassical beauty, medieval castles and ornate palaces in the company of an expert local guide. Of course, there’s also time for a soak in one of the city’s grand thermal baths before you board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, settling in with a glass of sparkling wine before your multi-course lunch and dinner, served among the fine lacquerware and glasswork of the restaurant carriage. Then, after enjoying a Continental breakfast in the comfort of your cabin, you’ll disembark for the Channel Tunnel and the Belmond British Pullman, bringing you to London in royal opulence.