More than a century after launching the first luxury trains, Orient Express has unveiled the world’s largest sailing ship – Orient Express Silenseas – for golden-era voyages in the 21st century. Jenny Southan reports

Forecast to set sail in 2026, the futuristic yacht will be 220 metres long and house 54 suites measuring an average of 70 sqm each. There will also be an 885 sqm sqm Presidential suite that comes with its own 530 sqm private terrace, as well as two onboard swimming pools, two restaurants and a speakeasy-style bar.

Described as “revolution in maritime history”, Orient Express Silenseas is the result of a partnership between French hospitality company Accor (of which Orient Express is part) and Chantiers de l’Atlantique, a leading shipbuilding company.

The launch is an interesting example of how a rising number of top hotel brands are branching out into sailing – for example, both Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton are unveiling their own branded yachts. Aman also has its own yachts with a new one coming in 2025.

Accor is also launching a series of Orient Express hotels. Opening in 2024, there will be the Orient Express La Minerva in Rome and the Orient Express Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice, and the Orient Express Riyadh in Saudi Arabia in 2025.

Heralding a return to hedonism, Silensea guests will be able to watch performances at the Orient Express Silenseas Amphitheatre-Cabaret, use a private recording studio, book spa treatments and meditation session, and take time to explore on land when the yacht is in port.

Designed to embody the “quintessence of luxury, absolute comfort and dreams”, in a similar way to the opulent nostalgia of Orient Express trains, the Orient Express Silenseas seeks to reincarnate a golden age of travel when writers, artists, painters, princesses and movie stars spent time flitting between Monte-Carlo, the beaches of Saint-Tropez, Cap d’Antibes and Cannes, says Accor.

Apparently, in 1867, civil engineer Georges Nagelmackers (the man behind the original Orient Express trains) boarded a transatlantic ship connecting Europe to America and set off on a journey of discovery to the United States. The voyage later inspired the 1883 launch of his Orient Express train. Now the company is building its own yachts.

Renowned architect Maxime d’Angeac will design the interior layout and decor and Nantes-based design company Stirling Design International will handle the exterior architecture.

Complete with three rigid sails, each with a surface area of 1,500 meters, the Orient Express Silenseas will employ a “revolutionary technological design” known as “SolidSail”. The sails will be attached to a balestron rig with three tilting masts reaching more than 100 meters high, meaning the yacht can be completely powered by the wind.

A “hybrid propulsion formula” will also allow for power to be supplied by a state-of-the-art engine running on liquefied natural gas – there are also plans to use green hydrogen once the technology is approved for ocean passenger ships. Laurent Castaing, Managing Director, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, says that the ship will become a “reference in terms of environmentally-friendly operation and design”.

Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor says: “With Orient Express Silenseas, we are beginning a new chapter in our history, taking the experience and excellence of luxury travel and transposing it onto the world’s most beautiful seas. This exceptional sailing yacht, with roots in Orient Express’ history, will offer unparalleled service and refined design spaces, reminiscent of the golden age of mythical cruises.

“Innovation is at the heart of this ultra-modern ship that will revolutionise the maritime world with new technology to meet today’s sustainability challenges. It is a boat designed to make dreams a reality, a showcase for the best of French savoir-faire.”

Laurent Castaing, Managing Director, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, says: “With a signed ‘letter of intent’ to order two ships, Chantiers de l’Atlantique is proud to herald a new era in the shipbuilding industry with Silenseas. This concept, born in our design offices in 2018, is the quintessence of our savoir-faire in the fields of naval architecture, the construction of sophisticated hulls, as well as the design of luxurious space.”