Heralding a revival of golden era rail travel, Accor has unveiled images of its forthcoming Orient Express train, which will feature sumptuous sleeping cabins, a bar and restaurant. Jenny Southan reports
After the long-distance sleeper train Orient-Express, which ran from Paris to Istanbul, ceased operations in 1977, its 17 beautiful 1920s and 30s carriages found their way to a Polish rail yard, putting an end to its history of exotic transcontinental travel that began in 1883 .
But in 2015, Arthur Mettetal, a researcher specializing in industrial history, carried out a worldwide inventory of the Orient Express for SNCF. In the course of his research, he discovered that the famous cars were surprisingly well preserved.
The interiors retained the same Morrison and Nelson marquetry and Lalique panels emblematic of the Art Deco style. After two years of negotiations, the “Nostalgia Istanbul Orient Express” was sold to Orient Express. A Dantesque convoy brought the 17 cars – 12 sleepers, a restaurant, three lounges and a van – back to France.
Today, the Orient Express is being brought back to life by French architect Maxime d’Angeac – who has also carried out prestigious restoration and decoration projects for luxury houses such as Daum, Hermès and Guerlain – and by the Accor hotel group (which owns the Orient Express brand).A key feature of the new Orient Express train will be a ‘splendid’ Art Deco-style bar car, complete with green velvet upholstery and a glass counter designed in homage to French jeweler René Lalique. A clock chimes at each table for cocktails and dinner. A call button is reserved for the champagne service and another for the staff. Described as “spectacular and unexpected,” the dining car will feature a mirrored ceiling, as well as tables and wraparound chairs illuminated by classic lampshades. There will also be dividers showing a reinterpretation of a “rail” motif conceived by Suzanne Lalique-Haviland in the 1930s.The suites on board are designed to offer every comfort to overnight guests on their journey through Europe. They have partitions covered with precious wood and leather. Beds with headboards inlaid with wood, mother-of-pearl and bronze.
Other special features include Lalique’s “Blackbirds and Grapes” plaques from the original Orient Express train, displayed in “alcoves”. Each suite also has a sofa, a bathroom and a dressing room. D’Angeac says: “This is the reinterpretation of an iconic train, conceived as a new message of French luxury, sublimated by the know-how and talents of the best French craftsmen.”
It is also exciting that the train runs on the original route from Paris to Istanbul and therefore bears the name “Nostalgia Istanbul Orient Express”. It sounds so romantic and impressive. Sébastien Bazin, Accor Chairman and CEO, said: “We are proud to unveil the first images of the future Orient Express train. A story inspired by a dream, a timeless train that is the subject of all fantasies and becomes a reality.
“Maxime d’Angeac’s design awakens the myth with the revelation of luxury, modernity and French elegance. Tomorrow, the Orient Express will shine again, proud of its 140-year history and looking to the future. The legend goes on.”
Accor will also operate six Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains with 14 routes across Italy from 2023. The Venice Simplon-Orient Express train is operated by luxury hotel brand Belmond and will feature eight new luxury suites starting next year.
Interestingly, Accor is also launching a range of Orient Express hotels. In 2024 the Orient Express La Minerva will open in Rome, in 2024 the Orient Express Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice and the Orient Express Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
Further proof that “nostalgia” will be a driving force behind travel for years to come is luxury adventure travel company Black Tomato, which has teamed up with Agatha Christie Limited to unveil a three-part Grand Tour inspired by its own ten-month adventure of the author Africa, australia and new zealand, and North America. Will “Murder on the Orient Express” be added?