The Orient Express—the Most Luxurious Train in the World—Is Returning
Slow travel your way across Europe.
The Orient Express was a train of legendary status. Like a foggy art-deco dream, the luxury cabins so popular in the 1920s and '30s flowed with champagne, crystal glasses clinked on a mahogany bar, passengers ate fine dining while seated on plush leather chairs, and silk sheets awaited in private sleeping quarters. We can only imagine all the fur and pearls there must have been to make even Anna Karenina jealous. Not only would passengers fall asleep in one city to wake up in the next while the world whipped by, they would do it in style: the journey was part of the fun.
The train line was immortalized by both James Bond’s fictional character and Agatha Christie, whose novel Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted into a movie a few times—though we don’t know of any actual who-dunnit scenarios onboard IRL. We do know that famous (and real) passengers like Lawrence of Arabia, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, actress Marlene Dietrich, and Leo Tolstoy favored the ride. But like the smoke from cigars, the so-called “King of Trains and Train of Kings” all but disappeared into myth.
With the rise of air travel, people flocked to the hottest new thing, eschewing the old ways. Since planes are faster (never mind carbon emissions), masses essentially opted to rush to destinations and forget all about the experience—and excitement—of the journey. Slow travel became a thing of the past, and such a luxurious train has been practically unseen since then.
Now, for the first time in decades, the classic Paris to Istanbul Orient Express is coming back, complete with the original and newly restored carriages. After finding some of the legendary carriages in 2015 that made up the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express, the historic train is getting back on track just in time for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Crisscrossing from capital to capital, it links the West and the East in about five days.
It’s high past time for train travel to up its game. Slow travel has been returning since the start of the pandemic, as people are spending longer amounts of time exploring a destination. It’s also worth pointing out that trains are more environmentally friendly, emitting around half the C02 as planes. But how to make a long trip enjoyable? The Orient Express had the right idea: supply passengers with booze, a beautiful interior, and the most comfortable experience.
The renovated train will feature 17 of the original Orient Express cars that date back to the 1920s and '30s. That includes 12 sleeping cars, one restaurant, three lounges, and one van. Parisian architect Maxime d’Angeac (whose work includes the Maison Guerlain renovation on the Champs-Elysées) is working together with French artisans on the restoration, so the train will still have an Old World glamor but with more contemporary touches to “blur the line between past and future.”
There’ll be three types of suites (complete with private bathrooms) on board. The top-tier presidential suite will take up an entire car to itself. And the salon, inspired by winter gardens, will host performances and events. As for the restaurant, cuisine will nod to old Orient Express menus (the chef is still TBD).
If you’re eager to be one of the first to get the experience, part of the Orient Express track will be open in Italy starting in 2023. The La Dolce Vita line will feature six trains running across eight countries throughout 14 different regions. But for the full Orient Express experience from Paris to Istanbul, you’ll have to wait till the next year.