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Where is the Orient Express going? The train has new European routes

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Before the dawn of private jets and business class flights, royalty and high society traveled across Europe on luxury trains.

Now anyone can do it, if they are ready and able to spend £ 1,700 ($ 2,300) on an overnight trip.

This is the starting fare to go from Florence to Paris aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a historic luxury train operated by the Belmond travel brand owned by LVMH. Other routes cost more – a lot more.

The prices, however, don’t seem to deter rail enthusiasts. Many trips sell every seat.

“2019 was a banner year for Venice Simplon-Orient-Express which saw our revenue increase by 70% compared to 2015,” said Gary Franklin, vice president of trains and cruises at Belmond.

When passenger travel resumed in June, travelers again booked some solid routes.

“We are certainly seeing a resumption of train travel after the pandemic,” Franklin told CNBC. “With more and more travelers discovering… slow travel, we expect this increase in demand and interest to continue.

Orient Express historical service

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express consists of 11 sleeping cars, three dining cars, one bar car and two staff cars, making it the longest passenger train in Europe, Franklin said.

But it’s not just an ordinary train. Each of the 17 coaches was once part of the iconic Orient Express of Europe, a rail service that connected Paris to Istanbul from 1883. The service then spread to cities in Europe, reaching its “peak” between World War I and II, Franklin said.

The oldest car on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express dates from 1926.

Courtesy of Belmond

Jet travel sidelined the famous railway line. Eventually the cars collapsed and services ceased.

In the 1970s, the American James Sherwood, founder of Belmond, bought many dilapidated cars at an auction. By 1982 he had located – and restored to their former grandeur – enough original cars to form the Venice Simplon-Orient Express which still operates today.

New routes across Europe

Due to the Covid pandemic, the VSOE, as it is known, has missed its entire 2020 travel season, which runs from March to November.

After an 18-month closure, the train was relaunched in June with new routes to some of Europe’s most popular cities. In addition to London, Paris and Venice, the luxury train now serves Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, Rome and Florence.

The new Amsterdam route is particularly popular, Franklin said, adding that timetables to the city are about to run out for 2022.

The name “Simplon” comes from the Simplon tunnel, a railway tunnel opened in 1906 that crosses the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Some Belmond roads still use the tunnel today.

Courtesy of Belmond

Belmond also added three new “grand suites” when the train closed. The suites, now six in total, can accommodate two passengers and feature bedrooms, living rooms and en-suite bathrooms in Italian marble and mouth-blown glass. Prices start at £ 5,300 ($ 7,200) per person for short trips.

Train suites are popular due to the growing demand for privacy and special occasion travel, Franklin said.

Why do people pay the price

History, mystique and opulence are the reasons why the Venice Simplon-Orient Express is on the wish lists of many travelers.

The same is true, Franklin said, that the holidays begin the moment the journey begins – a concept few would associate with commercial flights, especially in today’s controversial air travel climate..

We only have 120 people on a train, whereas an equivalent train can have 2,000 people.

Gary Franklin

Vice President, Belmond Trains and Cruises

Most trips last only one night. Others are longer, like the popular five-night trip that traces the historic route from Paris to Istanbul. The train runs this route once a year in August, and cabins typically sell out a year in advance, Franklin said.

Annual trip prices make overnight bookings seem like a bargain.

Twin cabins for the race in Istanbul cost £ 35,000 ($ 47,650) per trip, while large suites sell for £ 110,000 ($ 150,000). All six suites are booked for the August 2022 trip.

British writer Agatha Christie immortalized the Paris-Istanbul route in her book “Murder on the Orient Express”, which she wrote after Carriage 3309 – now home to the three new grand suites – got stuck in a snowdrift in 1929, said Franklin de Belmond.

Courtesy of Belmond

Franklin acknowledged that travel on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express isn’t cheap, but neither is restoration and car maintenance.

“Food and drink on the train… it’s not cheap; accessing the rail network is not cheap,” he said. “Also, we only have 120 people on a train, whereas an equivalent train can have 2,000 people.”

Multi-course meals and drinks, but alcohol not, are included in rates, and menus change based on destination and season.

Courtesy of Belmond

He compared the trips to “a private jet on wheels” and the horse-drawn carriages to “works of art”.

“As you drive through the countryside of northern France, you wake up in your bed with breakfast in bed. You lift the blinds, you have the Swiss Alps and Swiss lakes in front of your window,” he said. he declares. have lunch as you cross the lagoon to Venice. “

For this experience, “It’s great value for money,” he said.


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