Part of the charm of travelling on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is that no two carriages on the train are identical. The original Orient Express was a service rather than a specific train and used different rolling stock throughout its lifetime from 1883. By the 1920s the Orient Express left Paris daily on a three-night journey to Istanbul, so there were at least six Orient Express trains in operation at any one time. By the 1930s the service expanded with a further five European routes in operation including services to Budapest, Bucharest, Athens, Zurich, Vienna and Brussels to name but a few.
When the train was lovingly brought back to life in the 1980s, from two original Orient Express carriages which the owner at the time, James Sherwood, had tracked down in an auction in 1977 – it took a further six years to find another 25 original cars and create the train we know as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express today.
Given the vintage of different carriages, each has a history of its own, which makes for a rather enjoyable meander down the train when you are en route to, or back from, the restaurant and bar cars. Every carriage displays a plaque with its history – from carriage 3309 believed to have been the original inspiration for Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ to carriage 3544 used as a brothel during World War II, and of course carriage 3674, otherwise known as the Bar Car. Each carriage has its own marquetry design, upholstery and fittings and finishings – many modelled on original vintage designs. Perhaps the most luxurious today is carriage 3425, which houses the three stunning new grand suites, which entered service in March 2018; these exclusive suites each come complete with their own en-suite shower room.
Officially it’s not possible to pre-select which carriage your cabin will be in, unless you’re travelling in one of the three grand suites – Venice, Paris and Istanbul – with a particular suite reserved in your name at time of booking. However, if you’re travelling for a special occasion and have your heart set on a particular carriage, please mention this to your Luxury Holiday Company specialist who will certainly ask for a note to be added your reservation (which should increase your chances of being in the carriage of your dreams, but there’s no firm guarantee). That said, there’s no such thing as a bad carriage on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
There are four cabin types on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, namely twin cabins, single cabins, cabin suites and of course the newest and the most luxurious of all – the grand suites.
The popular cabin choice is the twin cabin. When you board the train your twin cabin will be set as a daytime lounge, with a comfy banquette seat running the full length of your cabin with plenty of space for two with a small table and lamp next to the window. Both travellers can relax and enjoy the many and varied views whizzing by as the train wends its way across Europe. There’s a good sized wash basin and mirror concealed inside a vanity unit, complete with plug sockets (pack a European plug adaptor) and razor point. Every cabin comes with a complimentary leather amenity kit, packed full of Temple Spa goodies and this is yours to take away with you when your journey on board comes to an end as well as an endless supply of complimentary bottled water. There’s also a brass luggage rack and faded velvet hangers to pop your overnight bag on and hang your black tie and dress up on so any creases have hung out well ahead of dinner time.
With a twin cabin when you return after dinner and perhaps a night-cap in the Bar Car, your cabin will have been turned into upper and lower berth bunk beds, with a nifty wooden ladder for the upper berth occupant. Bedding is soft and luxurious, though with the cabins being heated by coal-fired radiators you may find little need for the VSOE monogrammed fluffy blanket. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express thoughtfully provides all guests with a fetching blue and white cotton kimono and matching blue slippers, so if you do need to pop to the loo at the end of each carriage in the middle of the night you’ll look suitably glamorous as you do. That said we do advise clients pack pyjamas for the modesty of your fellow travellers.
Like a twin cabin but for indulgent single use. As you board the train your cabin is made up into a daytime sitting room, with a velvet banquette running down one side of the carriage and no arguments about who gets the window seat. A vanity unit complete with sink, plug socket and razor points and all the amenities (kimono, slippers, amenity kit and bottled water) as twin cabin. At night time your single cabin converts into a single lower berth bed snuggly made up by your steward while you are enjoying dinner in one of the three dining cars.
If your budget doesn’t quite run to a grand suite, then a cabin suite is a luxurious upgrade you won’t regret. In essence a cabin suite is two twin cabins with a tasteful interconnecting door which your steward will leave open for you. Then the choice is yours – you can either have two seating areas with velvet banquette running down the side of the carriage or one seating and one sleeping area (made up with upper and lower berth bunk beds at night time) or two sleeping areas after dinner with both of you sleeping in lower berths – decisions, decisions! Two seating areas during the daytime isn’t as silly as it sounds – during your journey the train engine is changed every time the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express crosses the border into a different country, so sometimes one banquette is facing forwards and then ten minutes later post-engine change its facing backwards. Personally I felt quite comfortable facing direction of travel or with my back to it as the train isn’t moving particularly fast compared to modern high-speed trains. It can certainly be handy to have the two vanity units and washbasins when it comes to getting dressed for dinner and/or nice to have an area to change in and then sit down in your finest while your other half perfects his bowtie tying skills in the mirror.
Your steward will politely enquire about sleeping arrangements before you head down the train for dinner so either two tidy upper and lower berth bunk beds (complete will all-important wooden ladder for the upper berth occupant) will await your return or spread out in style and enjoy a lower berth single bunk in each half of the cabin suite and no need to argue about who turns out the light or wants to read on to find out who dunnit in the closing pages of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. If you fancy breakfast a deux, your steward can have the other half of the cabin suite back into daytime mode faster than you can return from the loo down the corridor. Though personally nothing beats breakfast in bed while you watch Europe rolling past your cabin window while dressed in your pyjamas.
If you are celebrating a big birthday or anniversary, a grand suite is the ultimate way to travel in style. Introduced in March 2018, when one of the original carriages was completely stripped down and redesigned to house just three grand suites. And grand they are indeed with double queen-sized bed, separate sitting area complete with private bar and an Orient Express first – en-suite shower room with brass piped shower, Murano glass sink and wooden seated toilet. It would be tempting to never leave your grand suite, with a private steward shared between the three suites at your beck and call. It’s also possible to private dine in your grand suite and every amenity has been provided – from the plush white waffle dressing gowns, exclusively designed for the grand suites and yours to keep as a souvenir as you disembark the train – through to Dyson hairdryers and Venice Simplon-Orient-Express branded cut-crystal glassware.
Each of the three grand suites takes its unique design from its name – Paris, Venice and Istanbul – so while identical in layout, furniture and amenities – each has a very different feel. In Venice Italian blues dominate from the headboard to the Murano glass sink. While in Istanbul, Moorish fretwork and lamps recreate the mystery of the Ottoman period and Paris echoes art-deco design in every feature from the fans carved into the wooden bedstead to the original 1930s Lalique lamps lovingly found and restored from a Parisian flea market.