The Orient-Express

On the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the golden age of rail travel lives on.

   In the 1920s everything moved at a slower pace, and transportation was no exception. There were no supersonic jets, no bullet trains, and no speedboats. If you wanted to get from A to B, you packed a trunk and settled in for the long journey—preferably with a coupe of vintage Champagne in hand. 

   That feeling is all but lost in our era of fast-track travel. Thank goodness for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, quite possibly the lone reminder of what luxury travel once was.

   Since its debut in Europe in 1883, the Orient-Express has been synonymous with glamour, decadence and mystery (it was, after all, the setting for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express). That’s due partly to the crowd it has famously drawn—from royalty to statesmen to spies—and partly to the environment itself.

   Indeed, the train is a thing of beauty. Restored and relaunched in 1982 by the transportation mogul James Sherwood, its carriages, most of which were built in the ’20s, are shining examples of art deco and art nouveau decoration. If the wood-paneled walls could talk, they would have many a story to tell. There’s the sleeping car that was once used by King Carol of Romania for his romantic liaisons. And the Lalique Pullman, now a dining car, decorated in 1929 by René Lalique in the Côte d’Azur style. And the oldest of the sleeping cars, built in 1926, with its exquisite display of floral art deco marquetry by French decorator René Prou.

   The carriages are reminiscent of the ’20s in more ways than one. Though each wagon-lit is fitted with a vanity, toilets and showers are at the end of the hallway—and, alas, shared. No one seems to mind, though. It adds to the nostalgic ambience, and somehow the logistics work themselves out if one maintains a sense of humor.

   Besides, there are far more relevant matters at hand, such as taking in the scenery. The train undertakes a number of classic journeys, including the celebrated London to Venice route, or the more exotic Istanbul to Venice route. Be it the Swiss Alps or the Transylvanian forests, the Baroque buildings of Vienna or the Renaissance palaces of Venice, the panorama beyond the windows unfolds unhurriedly, compelling the observer to pause and savor the surroundings in a way that seems almost anachronistic.

   And herein lies the beauty of the Orient-Express. Not only is it a jewel of design and a paradigm of the good life with all its requisite comforts, it also offers, in a near-flawless package, the greatest luxury of all: slowing down long enough to let it all sink in. (800-524-2420)

The ultra-luxurious Dining Car is perfect for an intimate dinner for two.

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