Seventeen blue carriages crossing Europe for more than 30 weeks a year: travelling immersed in the atmosphere of the 1920s is still possible, thanks to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. This luxury train has revived the splendour of the famous Orient Express, which was inaugurated in 1883 and travelled along the line joining Paris, Vienna and Constantinople, now known as Istanbul.
The Italian section of the line – the Orient-Express Italia - came into service in 1919 following the 1906 opening of the Sempione Tunnel for trains. By connecting Italy with Switzerland, it allowed trains to travel among the continent’s major cities like Paris, Athens and Istanbul, passing through Monaco, Vienna, Milan, Venice, Trieste, Budapest and Bucharest. This is how the Venice-Simplon-Express begins its journeys, with an alternative route compared to the original one, passing through the new Sempione tunnel, to finish in Venice.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the twin and heir of the more famous predecessor, was equipped with 11 sleeping carriages built between 1926 and 1931. They were kept in perfect conditions, in period style, elegant but comfortable at the same time, all different and identifiable through a number. These vintage carriages were acquired by the founder of this new service, James Sherwood, from the late 1970s, all of them characterized by hand-crafted furnishings and decorations.
Even the cabins - reminiscent of Victorian parlours - have a sophisticated appearance, with inlaid woods, polished tables and comfortable seating.
The suites, furnished with bunk beds and refurbished bathrooms, have hot water provided by small stoves. And the service is guaranteed 24 hours a day by stewards whose task is to transform the journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express into a unique experience.
The subsequent restructuring of the various parts of the train demanded an investment of about $16 million. But it contributed to maintaining the charm of the past, with the added value of a qualified staff, capable of speaking correctly from two to four languages, including Italian.
Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits eventually restored the train following the official interruption of the service on the Orient Express on May 19, 1977. It took charge of the restoration of the train cabins and carriages, in order to bring the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express back to life. Since 1982, it connects London, Paris and Venice. In 2001, the Paris-Vienna section of the line was put into operation. After years of suspension of service due to the two world wars - between 1914 and 1921, and between 1939 and 1945 - the Venice Simplon resumed its full run since 2009.
Orient Express: When the story began...
The legendary Orient Express began offering luxurious travel through Europe on Oct. 4, 1883. It travelled between Paris and Constantinople, passing through Strasbourg, Monaco, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest.
But to whom do we owe the idea of creating a luxury train that - for the first time - made it possible to connect Western and Eastern Europe, crossing almost the Old Continent, along a route traced by the Danube?
It was the Belgian-born banker Georges Nagelmackers who, inspired by the welcoming service offered by U.S. railway carriages introduced by Pullman - the Pullman Sleepers - actually conceived the idea of the marvellous convoy.
The Orient Express became a symbol of the Belle Époque. Its passengers were mostly people from the upper middle class or fallen nobles who liked to travel in luxury and extreme comfort.
The connection with Italy dates back to 1919, following the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. So the Simplon-Orient-Express connected Paris to Istanbul and Athens via Lausanne, Milan, Verona, Venice, Trieste, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia and Thessaloniki, the same route of the famous Agatha Christie Novel "Murder on the Orient Express".
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Prices
For a dream trip on this luxury train, you must respect the dress code. Men must wear a jacket and tie, and a dinner jacket for dinner. Women are required to dress in a sober and formal way.
For the Paris-Venice trip, the cost exceeds €2,000 per person. About €4,000 for the Venice-London route. Prices rise further if you decide to go from Venice to Istanbul: the journey costs more than €8,000.
The new routes
The new Venice Simplon-Orient-Express route consists of 12 routes. The most popular is certainly the Paris-London which has a daily frequency. The Venice-Paris train makes several intermediate stops, arriving at cities such as Innsbruck, Prague, Krakow and Dresden.
On board, it is also possible to discover alternative routes to the original one that involve destinations such as Budapest, Istanbul, Vienna and Stockholm.
Other routes that involve Italy are the Venice-Vienna and the Venice-Budapest. There is also an entirely Italian Venice-Rome route.