For those seeking the ideal gift for someone special or pondering on how to celebrate in style, I experienced the ultimate in luxurious rail travel, thought to be lost to a bygone era, and it is absolutely unforgettable. Yearning for a touch of glamour and romance, I embarked on the Venice Simplon Orient Express.
Following in the footsteps of royalty, aristocrats and high profile personalities this is a journey like no other. From the moment passengers arrive on the platform and the elegant train pulls slowly into the station, all eyes are focused on the beauty of the Wagon-Lit carriages.
Standing on the platform in Budapest and more than a little excited as I undertook my overnight journey to London, I was swept away in the romance of the nostalgic atmosphere, smart uniformed porters whisked away my luggage and my charming cabin steward escorted me to a sumptuously furnished private cabin with banquette seating, which converts to a comfortable sleeping berth with luxurious bedding.
The authentic vintage carriages reflect the opulence of rail travel in the 1920’s and 1930’s and feature a rich decor of exquisite mahogany panelling inlaid with individual marquetry patterns of Art Deco floral and leaf, flower garland, flower basket, trapeze and tiger lily. Each cabin offers comfortable seating with plump headrests and an original wash basin with hot and cold water. As I relaxed in the most enchanting surroundings, I gazed upon the passing scenery from my private window whilst sipping on a perfectly chilled glass of champagne; this thrilling experience is simply delightful and made to be shared.
Leaving my cabin, I set off to explore my surroundings and came upon the captivating on-board bar where I was easily persuaded to enjoy a cocktail with my fellow passengers and as we chatted we were serenaded by the gentle strains of the baby grand piano, expertly played by the resident pianist.
Conversations turned to our thoughts of the passengers of the past, the intrigue which still prevails today. We imagined perceived situations of long ago with spies plotting schemes in every corner and we were all transported to another era.
Back to the present day and I made my way to the elegant dining car where a five star luncheon, prepared by highly skilled French chefs, was presented. Crisp white linens, twinkling crystal glassware, fine china crockery and of course, the first class service, which easily meets the demands of the most discerning guest. The perfectly presented three-course lunch menu included the most succulent cod dish, flavoured with pistachio and I have to confess that I indulged in the most unforgettable chocolate dessert. Each tempting course deserves to be savoured at leisure and of course, is accompanied by the finest wines.
After dining I took a leisurely stroll along the corridor of fascinating carriages and visited Agatha Christie’s cabin, which still features a holder for a gentleman’s fob watch on the wall. Agatha Christie became a regular passenger on the train, and was often accompanied by her typewriter.
It is said that she was inspired to write Murder on the Orient Express as a result of an incident in 1931 when her journey aboard was delayed for two days due to a thunder storm and the tracks were flooded. On another occasion she was on the platform at Calais when she slipped on ice and fell underneath the train. She was swiftly rescued by a porter and her love for the train never diminished.
I returned to my cabin and succumbed to a comfortable snooze, soothed by the gentle sway of the train and the soft clickety-clack of the train tracks. It was soon time to dress for dinner and I followed a group of ladies in flowing gowns and gentlemen in resplendent attire making their way to the dining car.
Another extravagant dining experience awaited the guests. The four course dinner, which included the finest fillet of beef and accompanied by the ideal red wine, selected by the expert sommelier, was absolutely perfect.
On returning to my cabin I discovered that it had been transformed into a bedroom and following my deep slumber I awoke with the larks and the most delicious breakfast was presented to me by my attentive cabin steward and included hot croissants, piping hot coffee, chilled orange juice and a fine selection of pastries and I confess that I indulged willingly.
All too soon I was disembarking but the adventure continued as the second part of my journey included the most lavish afternoon tea experience on board the British Pullman from Folkestone to London Victoria. The cream and umber coloured Pullman carriages are elegantly furnished and rich in history. Ibis, the oldest carriage, was built in 1925 and features exquisite marquetry medallions and Liberty print upholstery and it was once part of the Cunard boat train transporting passengers to Southampton. Audrey, built in 1932, was used regularly by our late members of the Royal Family, including the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Cygnus, with its original Australian walnut panels, mirrors and old prints featured in the film Agatha and Perseus, the carriage which once carried Russian leaders Bulganin and Khrushchev during a state visit to Britain in 1965, once formed part of Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train.
The Venice Simplon Orient Express and the British Pullman offers passengers an unforgettable journey, the opportunity to experience the very best service, and the finest dining experiences in the most elegant of settings.
As my journey came to an end, I reflected on the words of Agatha Christie ‘All my life I had wanted to go on the Orient Express. When I had travelled to France or Spain or Italy, the Orient Express had often been standing at Calais and I had longed to climb up into it’
Feature by Rebecca Underwood