In early 1929, an unfortunate blizzard resulted in an Orient Express passenger train — the long-distance service between Europe and Turkey that launched in 1883 — getting stuck in the snow for a few days. Though she wasn’t on board, the incident inspired Agatha Christie’s renowned work of railway-bound detective fiction Murder on the Orient Express, a novel that forever enshrined the train in our shared cultural imagination as a mysterious method of travel, gleaming with grandeur. Today, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE), a decidedly more luxurious spiritual successor to the original service, is serious about respecting that legacy — so much so that one of the original carriages of that Christie-era snowbound train can be found among its rolling stock, a little piece of literary history transplanted into the modern day lineup.
Though renovated and tweaked for contemporary needs, the entire ethos of the VSOE train is grounded in loyalty to its history: the cars are dressed elegantly in opulent Art Deco flairs, bursting with Roaring Twenties lavishness. This holds true even for the train’s latest additions, eight suites that launched this summer as part of a new class of rooms in-between their famed Grand Suites and the cozier historic cabins. Added as a response to modern desires for privacy — amenities include ensuite bathrooms and dressing tables — the suites remain richly nostalgic. Constructed according to the aesthetics and craftsmanship of the golden era of travel, they are located in original Orient Express carriages, restored by French artisans and designers in a historically respectful way.
The eight suites are all comfortably self-contained, each including either twin beds or a double bed that can be converted into a sofa during the day, an ensuite marble bathroom, a removable table that hangs beneath the windows, and a dressing table to assist you in selecting the most elegant outfit for dinner (the gourmet meal is always a formal affair). Dressing elegantly is a must; as general manager Pascal Deyrolle says: “Travelling in these suites is a dream for a lot of people, and when you come aboard you enter that dream. While we have a great stage and great decor, the guests have to play their part in the dream.”
The modularity of the room means it can be effortlessly modified to suit the guest’s needs: during the day it becomes a lounge, with ample seating places for gazing at the European scenery through the giant windows, while at nighttime it’s transformed into a snug sleeping space.
Whilst all of the new suites have the same amenities and glossy golden-brown walls, there are four distinct designs at play: La Campagne (the countryside), Les Montagnes (the mountains), Les Lacs (the lakes), and La Forêt (the forest). Each is creatively inspired by a different type of landscape that VSOE trains snake through on their routes. La Campagne references the pastures and vineyards seen across Northern Italy and the French Riviera; the suites are lush and verdant, their walls emblazoned with delicate drawings of yellow and red flowers, the furniture upholstered in lush green fabric. Les Montagnes nods at Austria’s mountainous Arlberg region; the wall at the head of the bed is carved with a sketch of an angular, powerful peak inlaid with mother of pearl at its snowy tip, while the furniture and floor are draped in frosty shades of white. Les Lacs alludes to the various lakes along the routes with a fluid motif displayed on walls of a shimmering turquoise, and a deep blue floor marked with wisps of black and gold. La Forêt suggests southwestern Germany’s Black Forest with its deep reds, auburns and golds, conjuring up a decidedly autumnal atmosphere. Every detail has been meticulously chosen: even the light fixtures that hang overhead are expertly etched with intricate designs to match the room’s theme.
It would be an understatement to say that travel, and our expectations for it, has evolved greatly over the last century. Today, the expeditious private jet may be most people’s idea of luxury travel. The VSOE trains, however, with their unapologetic slowness, aren’t trying to compete with our modern transportation methods. Instead, they scratch a different itch: disconnection.
“When you enter the train you walk into a time capsule, and your everyday life becomes secondary,” says Deyrolle. “You automatically start to walk at a slower pace. In today’s world, the biggest luxury we have is time and how we dedicate it to the people and activities we love.”
But true luxury isn’t entirely about comfort, despite its importance. It’s also about savouring the moment and having the privilege to take things slowly. As our modern lives get faster and faster, our desire to disconnect from them only grows. And the VSOE, resolutely occupying its own space just outside of contemporary reality, is on hand to help.
This winter, the VSOE season will be extended into December, when it will whisk passengers into the heart of Vienna’s festival season as well as connect them to the myriad ski resorts of the French Alps. And with the train’s modern safety standards and contemporary technologies, the chances of guests experiencing another Agatha Christie-style snow-in aren’t very likely. Although, given their level of luxury, getting stuck in one of those new suites for a few extra days doesn’t sound so bad.