There is train travel, and there is train travel by Belmond. The two have very little in common apart from the wheels and track. Back in 1976, Belmond took over the Cipriani in Venice, and soon began collecting the 18 carriages that would make up the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a painstakingly restored Art Deco train. Now, happily, it will take them all around Europe in the highest possible style. (This is probably the moment to mention that Belmond was acquired by LVMH in 2019.) The train is a descendant of sorts of the one that first began whisking travelers between Paris and Istanbul back in 1883, and was the setting for the Agatha Christie thriller Murder on the Orient Express.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is something of a hothouse flower; it graces us with its presence only from spring through November. Coronavirus protocols are firmly in place: the trains will operate at a greatly reduced capacity of 96 passengers each, allowing space between cabins, and mealtimes will occur in two seatings, to allow for space between tables. Each carriage has a dedicated cabin steward as well. And this season, service has expanded to include boarding points in Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Geneva. There are all sorts of itineraries, ranging from a one-night, intercity jaunt to weeklong trips punctuated by extended stays at Belmond’s hotels, such as Castello di Casole, in Tuscany, and Villa San Michele, in Florence.
But there is very little reason to stand on solid ground, given the luxuries that await in the train’s three new Grand Suites. Each one—Vienna, Prague, and Budapest—is designed to Art Deco perfection by Wimberly Interiors, and they all include private bathrooms, double beds, and living areas with radiant floor heating. Four-course dinners are served in the restaurant cars, and evenings are often finished in the bar car, where a pianist provides even more atmosphere. The only downside to the experience? Arriving at one’s final destination. It’s O.K. to pray for a little bit of a delay.
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for AIR MAIL