After a dreamy stay at Venice’s iconic Belmond Hotel Cipriani, we’re suitably decompressed from the whirlwind of our wedding and ready for the main event of our honeymoon.
Among the regular intercity trains at Venezia Santa Lucia, there’s one that stands quite distinct from the others - surely Europe’s most iconic - The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Its 1920s gleaming blue carriages adorned with gold lettering and insignia, stretch far down the platform and five of the train’s impeccably turned out head-staff line up warmly greeting passengers with huge smiles and handshakes - we’re overflowing with excitement. For the next 30 hours, the luxury train will wind its way through Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France, pulling into London’s Victoria tomorrow afternoon. We’re about to embark on one of the most extraordinary journeys of our lives.
Continuing up the platform, still completely awestruck, we can’t resist peering through the windows. First there’s some sleeping cars, then it’s the sumptuous-looking bar car, complete with a baby grand piano and opulent furnishings. Then, we pass by the three dining cars - each with its own unique decor and vibe, they look exquisite. We then find our Cabin Steward stood on the platform by the doors to carriage G. Dressed in his dashing blue outfit with gold buttons, gold trim and topped off with matching ornate black hat, he checks off our names and takes us aboard, guiding us to our private two berth cabin. Still pinching ourselves, the steward talks us through the features of our decadent double cabin and he concludes “I’ll be in my office at the end of the carriage should you need me - simply press this button anytime and I shall be at your assistance”.
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We gently pull out of Venice train station, and it’s time to pop the cork on the Tattinger and the journey, so we sit back, settle in and start taking in the magic of our surroundings. The cabin is exceptional - intricate woodwork with detailed veneers, ornate trellis metal work on the overhead storage racks, luxury upholstery and velvet-covered coat hangers.
There’s a knock at the door: “Which luncheon sitting would be your preference - midday or 2pm? And would you prefer to dine alone or with other guests?”. The train has three dining cars, therefore all guests wouldn’t be able to be seated at once, hence the two servings. It’s a lovely, neat touch that you can choose to meet other guests, or simply stick to yourselves. We opt for the 2pm and before we know it, it’s time to freshen up and head for lunch.
Taking our seat, we make introductions to the other couple we’re lunching with, and settle in for the most sumptuous, silver service, three-course lunch, freshly prepared of course by the onboard team of chefs. The other couple are celebrating a 50th birthday, and this seems to be the case for many on the train - including us - it’s an experience to take for a really special occasion, perhaps anniversary, retirement or engagement.
The journey continues in much the same vein - impeccable staff, afternoon tea served in our cabin, a quick snooze whilst watching the amazing Swiss Alps whizz by. We pop down to the bar car for a quick afternoon aperitivo, served with delicious nibbles. Then, it’s dinner at 9pm in another one of the dining cars - a different vibe altogether. Everyone is dressed in their finest gear - black tie, long dresses, jewels - and we’ve decided to dine alone this time.
The four-course dinner is exquisite, and the service is second to none, for example our water glasses are filled without fail each time before they have a chance to get anything less than half full. On the table behind us, a guest is tucking into a vintage bottle of Dom Perignon, and decides to share it with the guests on the opposite table. This encapsulates the extraordinary sense of camaraderie and shared sense of experience onboard. We all know this is truly unique, a world apart from the everyday, and something that is highly likely to be a once in a lifetime. Everyone is savoring each moment.
Returning to our cabin, it’s been transformed into a cosy bedroom by our steward - the bunks are all set and the beds turned down. We’re soon ready for bed, and although it’s possible to fit two in the bed, it would be a bit tight so I climb to the top bunk and soon get rocked to sleep by the gentle undulations as the train makes its way through Switzerland and on to France.
There’s nothing quite like waking up and coming round to a new day in a train cabin, tucked up comfortably in bed watching the world go by, still half asleep. We’re in the outskirts of Paris, it’s 7.30am, and we’ll be pulling into Paris shortly. There’s no shower of course, so after a quick refresh in the basin, we enjoy a short stroll on the platform, then we need to hop aboard (if you miss the train, there’s not a lot that can be done).
Time for breakfast - seated in the third and final restaurant car - and this is perhaps the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, broiled lobster followed by nougart ice cream, it is sensational, but pair this with these surroundings, the French countryside whizzing past, and my new wife sat opposite - this is something I shan't forget for the rest of my life.
Aafter a short hop onto a bus to cross the EuroTunnel, it’s back aboard the Belmond British Pullman for the final two hour leg from Folkestone into Victoria. It’s different experience onboard - in a good way mind you. There are no sleeping cars, and the carriages seem almost familiar, having lusted after them over the years with chance sightings on the tracks around Victoria. The exquisite carriages date from the 1920s to 1950s and include wonderful art deco marquetry woodwork, art nouveau lamps, polished brass fittings, mosaic floors.
We’re served tea, accompanied by a delectable glass of Gusbourne sparkling wine - as if we need it, we’ve indulged ever since we stepped on board yesterday, but it’s a perfect and refreshing way to complete this journey.
Savouring the last few precious moments, as we begin to see recognisable parts of London, we reflect on what an experience this has been. Every aspect has been impeccable - the train and physical surroundings are so refined and meticulously attired; the service so attentive and delivered with such elegance; no request too much. Is this what being royalty feels like? Alighting onto the platform at Victoria, we’re floating on air and inevitably start coming back down to earth - and remember we’re not royalty - as we fade into the commuter melee and hop in a cab home.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from Venice to London costs from £2,200 per person
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