About the Venice Simplon Orient Express
Arguably the world’s most famous luxury train, immortalised by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and countless films, TV shows and adverts, the Venice Simplon Orient Express is a world-class train journey, crossing from London to Venice overnight, via Paris and Austria and some stunning Alpine scenery, with exemplary food, drink and service on board two lovingly restored and sumptuously decorated Art Deco trains.
When & where does the Orient Express go?
The classic VSOE journey is actually split across two equally lavish trains. The journey starts at London’s Victoria station on a beautiful British Pullman train going as far as Folkestone, Kent, where you then board a luxury coach that takes you under the English Channel. (The trains obviously weren’t built with the Channel Tunnel in mind!)
At Calais you then board a French Wagon Lits train which stops in Paris before going on to Venice, via rural France, Austria and the Swiss Alps.
Other Orient Express destinations
This is just the tip of the iceberg though, as you can also go on a number of extended journeys on selected departures to central European cities such as Vienna, Prague, Budapest – or for the full Orient Express experience, recreating the historic journey Agatha Christie often made, all the way to Istanbul, via Bucharest, in 5 nights.
The train’s season starts in late March and runs through until early November, with several weekly departures leaving London Victoria at 10.45am, arriving in Venice just before 6pm the following day, with short 30-minute stops in Paris, Innsbruck and Verona en route.
How much does the Orient Express train cost?
The classic Venice Simplon Orient Express journey costs £1975 per person, including three delicious meals, some drinks and one night’s accommodation in an ornately decorated private double sleeper cabin, finished in opulently polished mahogany. If you really want to push the boat out, you can also buy a return ticket for £2960 per person.
Orient Express deals?
Being a luxury train journey that’s always in demand and popular with honeymooners and those celebrating landmark birthdays and anniversaries, you won’t find many discounted Orient Express tickets!
They do offer a special package early in the season with a few inclusive nights at luxury hotels in Venice to encourage early bookings, so it’s worth signing up to their e-newsletter and keeping an eye on their website early in the year, but that’s about it.
For a slightly more budget-friendly option though, you can go from London to Paris from £560 per person.
Alternatively, if you want to sample some VSOE style, service and cuisine while on British soil, check out their range of day trains and special offers to classic British cities, such as Bath, Brighton, York and Canterbury, including the British Pullman Northern Belle, from around £275 per person.
What’s the sleeper accommodation like?
The VSOE offers luxurious private cabins, with soft towels and crisp white bed linens, porcelain sinks, custom toiletries (we still have ours as souvenirs!) and en suite WCs. Cabin staff will make up your bed after dinner and convert it back into an equally comfortable day room after breakfast. Remember that it’s a vintage train which travels through the night, so don’t expect a perfect night’s sleep, but that’s usually the case with most night trains.
What’s the food, drink and service on board the Venice Simplon Orient Express like?
Food and drink on the VSOE train is consistently excellent and bounteous! No sooner than you take your seat on the Pullman train, the lavish silver service begins with a veritable onslaught of gourmet gastronomy, served at your seat. Brunch is a 3 course affair, with a freshly mixed peach Bellini, fruit salad, followed by smoked salmon, caviar and scramble eggs, topped off with pastries and coffee.
As you approach Paris in the early evening, the dinner services begin in one of three gorgeously decorated dining cars complete with Lalique glass panels on board the French Wagon Lits train. Choose from the Cote D’Azur designed by Rene Lalique, the English-built Etoile du Nord or the black-lauqered L’Oriental, a former Pullman dining car.
Dinner is an even more extravagant affair than brunch, spread over five courses including a huge cheese board so big it needs two staff to deliver it! It’s fine dining at its best, with beautifully presented dishes made from fresh local ingredients picked up at various stops along the line. It’s a set menu so you don’t have much choice about what to have, but since everything is so sublimely delicious, that shouldn’t be a problem. They can accommodate particular dietary requirements though, if you let them know well before you travel.
One of the VSOE’s best surprises is that the service on board is not at all stuffy. There is something pleasingly old fashioned about the way the waiters and cabin staff address each other as ‘sir’, while jostling about serving their guests at their seats. It’s friendly and attentive of course, but they somehow manage to avoid being obsequious or overly fussy.
What’s special about this journey?
Simply put, the Venice Simplon Orient Express is one of the world’s great luxury travel experiences. It delivers on all fronts of course, but comes with the added cachet of being a historic journey with high scoring travel bragging rights!
There’s also plenty of those little touches that just make this journey really stand out, such as the brass band reception you’ll get at Folkestone station, the little memento chocolates you get in their own ring boxes after dinner, the exclusive ambience of the Piano Bar Car and just the pervading atmosphere of excitement and celebration on the train.
And did we mention romance? Well, we liked it so much I popped the question just outside Paris and she said yes. 🙂
Is the Venice Simplon Orient Express worth it and what type of traveller would enjoy it?
Assuming you can afford it, then we would say absolutely, yes! Not only do you get to experience some of the best food and service on board a luxury train, which journeys through some highly picturesque rural and mountain scenery, but you get to experience some of the most intricately designed train interiors in the world. If you can only manage one luxury train trip in your lifetime, make it this one!
Is the VSOE THE original Orient Express?
You might not know it, but the VSOE isn’t actually ‘the original Orient Express’, which is more of a route than a train. An American shipping magnate and rail buff James Sherwood launched the Venice Simplon brand back in the early 1980s, as he set about buying up and restoring the vintage carriage stock at auctions. Just to confuse matters more, various services have called themselves Orient Express over the years, including an Austrian night train which continued to run as late as 2009.
Know before you go
Being an authentic 1920s train, the VSOE does not have any shower facilities on board. Not that much of an issue for the one night Venice journey perhaps, but worth knowing if you’re doing a longer trip across Europe. There is a fairly strict dress code for the public areas of this luxury train, but it’s not as stuffy as you might expect. See this post for more on how to dress for the Orient Express.
Although soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks are included, the obligatory bottle of champagne or cocktails in the fabulous bar car, complete with pianist, are not. Given the surroundings, these are reasonably priced and in line with prices you’d expect in most good 4 or 5 star hotels.
Book it Now
There’s always high demand for the Orient Express with limited departures throughout the year, so we advise that you book a trip on this peerless luxury train trip while you can.
Here’s our review of the London to Paris journey we took back in 2010: Venice Simplon Orient Express review.
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