Heralding a revival of golden-era rail journeys, Accor has unveiled images of its forthcoming Orient Express train that will feature sumptuous sleeper suites, a bar and a restaurant. Jenny Southan reports
After the long-distance Orient Express sleeper train that ran from Paris to Istanbul ceased operations in 1977, its 17 beautiful 1920s and 30s carriages found their way to a Polish railyard, putting an end to its storied history of exotic trans-continental journeys that first began in 1883.
However, in 2015, Arthur Mettetal, a researcher specialising in industrial history, conducted a worldwide inventory of the Orient Express for the SNCF. In the course of his research, he discovered the famous cars surprisingly well-preserved.
The interiors maintained the same Morrison and Nelson marquetry and Lalique panels, emblematic of Art Deco style. After two years of negotiations, the “Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express” was sold to Orient Express. A Dantesque convoy brought the 17 cars – 12 sleeping cars, one restaurant, three lounges and one van – back to France.
Today, the Orient Express is being brought back to life by French architect Maxime d’Angeac – who has also undertaken prestigious restoration and decoration projects for luxury houses such as Daum, Hermès and Guerlain – and put back in service by hotel group Accor (which owns the Orient Express brand).A central feature of the new Orient Express train will be a “sumptuous” Art Deco-style Bar Car, complete with green velvet upholstery and a glass counter designed as a tribute to French jeweler René Lalique. At each table, a clock will rings for cocktails and dinner times. A call button will be reserved for the champagne service and another for staff. Described as “spectacular and unexpected”, the Dining Car will have a mirrored ceiling, as well as tables and wrap-around armchairs lit by classic lampshades. There will also be partitions that showcase a reinterpretation of a “rail” motif that Suzanne Lalique-Haviland conceived in the 1930s.Designed to offer every comfort for overnight guests as they chundle across Europe, the onboard suites have partitions covered in precious wood and leather; beds with headboards inlaid with with wood, mother of pearl and bronze.
Other special features will include Lalique’s “Blackbirds and Grapes” panels from the original Orient Express train, which are displayed in “niches”. Each suite will also have a sofa, bathroom and dressing room. D’Angeac says: “This is the reinterpretation of a legendary train, conceived as a new embassy of French luxury, sublimated by the know-how and talents of the best French craftsmen.”
What’s also exciting is that the train will travel the original route from Paris to Istanbul, with the service thus dubbed the “Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express”. It sounds so romantic and evocative. Sébastien Bazin, chairmain and CEO of Accor, says: “We are proud to reveal the first images of the future Orient Express train. A story inspired by a dream, a timeless train, the object of all fantasies and which becomes a reality.
“Maxime d’Angeac’s design awakens the myth with the revelation of its luxury, modernity, and French elegance. Tomorrow, the Orient Express will shine again, proud of its 140 years of history and looking to the future. The legend continues.”
Accor will also operating six Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains, with 14 routes around Italy starting from 2023. Meanwhile, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train is operated by luxury hotel brand Belmond and will have eight new luxury suites from next year.
Interestingly, Accor is also launching a series of Orient Express hotels. Opening in 2024, there will be the Orient Express La Minerva in Rome, the Orient Express Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice in 2024 and the Orient Express Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
Further evidence of “nostalgia” being a driving force behind travel in the coming years, luxury adventure travel company Black Tomato has partnered with Agatha Christie Limited to unveil a three-part grand tour inspired by the author’s own ten-month adventure around Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and North America. Will “Murder on the Orient Express” be added too?