It is 9:01 a.m. in Paris, the City of Lights, and on Platform 5, at the historic Gare de l’Est, the world’s most famous train has arrived from Zurich, Switzerland. Within minutes, a podium has been set up for your welcome by The Venice-Simplon Orient Express staff, and your personal steward, uniformed and wearing white gloves, awaits to escort you to your cabin.
For a quick, luxurious run, fly to Paris or London, then board the Orient Express. If time is on your side, however, board the train at Venice and savor the overnight journey to London through Austria and Switzerland. It is a fantasy on wheels that echoes another era. One might recall Hercules Poirot’s journey in Murder on the Orient Express or James Bond’s derring-do in From Russia With Love.
Its inaugural journey was between Paris and Istanbul in 1883. And its mythical carriages (17 in all) have given passage to European nobility and international spies alike. By 9:15 a.m. you should be ensconced in your own private cabin in one of the historic Wagon Lits coaches, like Number 3544. The sumptuous Art Deco railcar is one of the originals that was built in France in 1929. If only the walls could talk. During World War II, for example, the coach, outfitted with nine double compartments, served as a brothel in Limoges, France. But alas, in 1946 — 47, it was resurrected as the Dutch Royal Train.
By 9:44 a.m. the train rolls seamlessly from the station and begins its journey toward France’s northern coast. Breakfast is served: a pot of coffee, juice, assorted hot breads, and a copy of the International Herald Tribune. A faint trace of wood smoke wisps through the air. The steam-powered radiators that heat each cabin, and that heat the hot water that runs through the elegant and concealed vanity, are still fired by a wood stove.
Not long afterward, the maitre d’ knocks on the door and dispenses a coupon for brunch, which begins at 11:15 a.m.
The dining car further conjures the heyday of rail travel with fine linens, silver, crystal, and superb cuisine. The brunch courses consist of scrambled eggs prepared with cream and topped off with slivers of smoked Scotch salmon, followed by lobster in a light butter sauce with asparagus and potatoes, then, a baked pear for dessert — all served with a choice of beverages, including wine and champagne.
Following brunch, the club car beckons. The pianist plays tunes by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin on the grand piano. Coffee and drinks flow. In one corner, European businessmen huddle; in another, a small wedding party celebrates; mid-car, two couples, retirees, chat and laugh, and savor their leisure.
By 1:00 p.m. you return to your cabin and prepare to disembark at Calais, in the north of France, at 1:30 p.m. There you will board a bus for the 30-minute tunnel journey beneath the English Channel. Complimentary English newspapers and refreshments are provided on board.
At Folkstone, on the English Coast, you will board a luxury British Pullman