The ‘Orient Express’ is a real train — and taking a ride is not cheap


Before the daybreak of personal jets and enterprise class flights, royalty and excessive society members traveled by means of Europe onboard luxurious trains.

Now anybody can do it — if they’re keen and capable of spend £1,700 ($2,300) for a one-night journey.

That’s the beginning fee to go from Florence to Paris aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a historic luxurious train operated by the LVMH-owned Belmond journey model. Other routes price extra — rather more.

The costs, nevertheless, do not appear to discourage rail fanatics. Many journeys promote each seat.

“2019 was a record year for Venice Simplon-Orient-Express that saw our revenue increase by 70% compared to those in 2015,” stated Gary Franklin, vice chairman of Belmond’s trains and cruises.

When passenger journeys restarted in June, vacationers once more booked some routes strong.

“We are certainly seeing a revival of rail travel post-pandemic,” Franklin informed CNBC. “With more and more travelers discovering … slow travel, we anticipate that this rise in demand and interest will continue.

The historic Orient Express service

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

But it’s not just an ordinary train. Each of the 17 carriages was once part of Europe’s iconic Orient Express, a train service that connected Paris to Istanbul beginning in 1883. The service later expanded to cities across Europe, reaching its “heyday” between World War I and World War II, stated Franklin.

The oldest carriage on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express dates to 1926.

Courtesy of Belmond

Jet travel sidelined the famous rail line. Eventually the carriages fell into disrepair, and services ceased.

In the 1970s, American James Sherwood, Belmond’s founder, bought several dilapidated carriages at an auction. By 1982, he had located — and restored to their former grandeur — enough original carriages to form the Venice Simplon-Orient Express that still operates today.

New routes across Europe

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

Following an 18-month closure, the train 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 goes to Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, Rome and Florence.

The new Amsterdam route is particularly popular, said Franklin, adding that schedules to the city are close to selling out for 2022.

The identify “Simplon” is from the Simplon Tunnel, a railway tunnel opened in 1906 that goes through the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Some Belmond routes still use the tunnel today.

Courtesy of Belmond

Belmond also added three new “grand suites” during the train’s closure. The suites, now six in total, fit two passengers and have bedrooms, lounge areas and private bathrooms made of marble and hand-blown Italian glass. Prices start at £5,300 ($7,200) per person for short journeys.

The train’s suites are popular due to growing demand for privacy and special-occasion travel, Franklin said.

Why people pay the price

We only have 120 people on a train, where an equivalent train may have 2,000 people.

Gary Franklin

vice president, Belmond trains and cruises

Most trips only last one night. Others are longer, such as the popular five-night journey that retraces the historic route from Paris to Istanbul. The train travels this route once a year in August, and cabins usually sell out a year in advance, said Franklin.

Prices for the annual trip make one-night bookings seem like a steal.

Twin cabins for the run to Istanbul are £35,000 ($47,650) per journey, while grand suites sell for an eye-popping £110,000 ($150,000). All six suites are booked for the August 2022 trip.

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

Courtesy of Belmond

Franklin acknowledged that trips on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express aren’t cheap, but neither is restoring and maintaining the carriages.

“The meals and beverage onboard the train … it is not cheap; accessing the railway community is not cheap,” he said. “Also, we solely have 120 folks on a train, the place an equal train might have 2,000 folks.”

Multi-course meals and beverages, but not alcohol, are included in the rates, and menus change depending on the destinations and season.

Courtesy of Belmond

He likened the trips to “a non-public jet on wheels” and the carriages to “artwork items.”

“As you are going by means of the countryside in northern France, you get up in your mattress with breakfast in mattress. You pull up the blinds, you’ve got bought the Swiss Alps and the Swiss lakes outdoors your window,” he said “You’re having lunch, as you go throughout the lagoon to Venice.”

For that experience, “It’s improbable worth for cash,” he stated.



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