Our managing director, Katherine Gershon, casts an expert eye over the latest routes on the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
From the late 1800s into the early the 20th Century, the height of fashion was a Grand Tour of Europe by rail; and, of course, the train to take was the Orient Express. Ironically, over a century on, and with every technology at our fingertips, it’s a similar experience that still ticks many boxes, embracing the great traditions of overland travel coupled with luxury and nostalgia in abundance.
Since Belmond rescued the Orient Express’ former carriages and brought them back to life as the Venice Simplon-Orient Express in the 1980s, the choice of routes is somewhat smaller than the original network. And, despite regular services between London and Venice, a once-a-year journey between Paris and Istanbul and occasional trips to the likes of Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Verona and Paris, one recurring piece of client feedback remains – “what a pity there aren’t more routes to go back and enjoy”. Well now, in 2021, there are.
Perhaps surprisingly, Rome is the only destination to feature in the five new routes which was a stopping point for the original Orient Express, a fact that adds an extra slice of romanticism to this already wonderful itinerary. Of course, for those who love the glamour of European cities, a stay in Rome is hard to beat. And, now that it can be combined with a Venice Simplon-Orient Express train journey, as well as a stay in Paris if you wish, this might just be the most glamorous option of them all.
We’re certain that this is going to be one of the most popular new routes. It all begins with Florence’s fine wines, delicious food and wealth of Renaissance treasures – or indeed with a luxury stay amid the rolling countryside of Tuscany – before you board those famous blue-and-gold carriages for your journey to Paris and on to London. Of course, there’s also the chance to spend a few days in the French capital, soaking up those world-famous sights.
This option offers the chance to get right in among some Europe’s finest alpine scenery, with a on the edge of Lake Geneva followed by a luxury train journey across Switzerland and past Italian Dolomites, ending with a couple of nights in either Verona – famed for its Opera – or Venice, the train’s original home. Alternatively, why not combine two great rail journeys into one holiday with a Swiss glacier rail journey followed by a night in Geneva and then onwards, onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, to Verona or Venice?
It’s one of my favourite cities, so I was extremely excited to discover that it’s now possible to combine the myriad delights of Amsterdam – easily reachable by Eurostar from the UK –with our favourite luxury rail journey, with stops in Brussels and Paris, and then a few nights in Venice, either at the start or end of your holiday. What’s more, it departs in June – a perfect month for a European Grand Tour, with pleasant (but not too hot) weather found right across the Continent.
And finally, there’s Brussels. Start your holiday among Venice’s iconic waterways before boarding the train for a cross-Alpine jaunt, via Paris, to the home of moule et frites (mussels and triple-cooked Belgian fries) and of course the great and many varieties of Belgian beer. This holiday can also be enjoyed in reverse starting with a stay in the Belgian capital before taking the train south, again via Paris, for a couple of nights in Italy’s floating city.
If you’ve got 2020's as-yet-unspent holiday budget burning a hole in your pocket, there can be few better ways to spend it than by upgrading your Venice Simplon-Orient-Express journey to a Grand Suite experience.
Since the first three Grand Suites hit the rails in 2018 with their double beds, private lounge area and en-suite bathrooms (the rest of the train still having the old-fashioned hand basin in room and a shared toilet, albeit a posh one, at the end of each carriage) they have been well-booked up. The 2021 Grand Suite season looked largely sold out, with bumped bookings from 2020, however fortunately Belmond were about to launch a new Grand Suite carriage housing three lovely new suites – aptly named Vienna, Budapest and Prague, just when COVID struck – so the debut season of these new Grand Suites will be 2021.
Like their sister Grand Suites – Paris, Venice and Istanbul – each Grand Suite is exquisitely furnished and adorned with the very finest craftmanship from its city namesake. Expect the the likes of ornate marquetry, intricately carved woodwork and even Murano-glass sinks in the bathrooms. Sheer perfection!
Perhaps you’re celebrating a special occasion, or you have a unique tie to one of those evocative Grand Suite cities – for me, it’s my grandmother, who spent her childhood in Vienna – or maybe you just feel like splashing out. Whatever the reason, you won’t regret upgrading to a Grand Suite – did we mention the complimentary, free-flowing champagne and caviar? In short, call our specialists to make your 2021 holiday (or even 2022, which is now also on-sale) your very own Grand Tour of Europe.