Before the advent of private jets and business class flights, nobles and high society members traveled Europe aboard luxury trains.
Now anyone can do it – if they’re willing and able to spend £ 1,700 ($ 2,300) on a one night trip.
This is the starting price for the trip from Florence to Paris with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a historic luxury train from LVMH’s own travel brand Belmond. Other routes cost more – a lot more.
However, the prices don’t seem to put off rail enthusiasts. Many rides sell every seat.
“2019 was a record year for Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, with our sales up 70% compared to 2015,” said Gary Franklin, Vice President of Belmond’s Trains and Cruises.
When passenger traffic resumed in June, travelers booked some routes solidly again.
“We are certainly seeing a revival in rail traffic after the pandemic,” Franklin told CNBC. “As more travelers discover slow travel, we anticipate this surge in demand and interest to continue.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express consists of 11 sleeping cars, three dining cars, a bar car and two staff cars, making it the longest passenger train in Europe, said Franklin.
But it’s not just an ordinary move. Each of the 17 wagons was once part of Europe’s iconic Orient Express, a train service that linked Paris with Istanbul from 1883. The service later expanded to cities across Europe and reached its “heyday” between WWI and WWII, Franklin said.
The oldest carriage on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express dates from 1926.
Jet travel has sidelined the famous rail line. Eventually the wagons fell into disrepair and traffic ceased.
In the 1970s, the American James Sherwood, the founder of Belmond, bought several dilapidated carriages at auction. By 1982 he had found enough original wagons – and restored them to their former size – to form the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, which still operates today.
Because of the Covid pandemic, the so-called VSOE has missed its entire 2020 travel season, which runs from March to November.
After an 18-month shutdown, the train was reintroduced in June with new routes to some of Europe’s most popular cities. In addition to London, Paris and Venice, the luxury train now also runs Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, Rome and Florence.
The new Amsterdam route is particularly popular, Franklin said, adding that timetables to the city for 2022 are close to being sold out.
The name “Simplon” is derived from the Simplon Tunnel, a railway tunnel opened in 1906 that runs through the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Some Belmond lines still use the tunnel today.
Belmond also added three new “Grand Suites” during the train’s closure. The now six suites offer space for two passengers and have bedrooms, lounge areas and private bathrooms made of marble and hand-blown Italian glass. Prices start from £ 5,300 ($ 7,200) per person for short haul routes.
The train’s suites are popular due to the growing demand for privacy and special occasion travel, Franklin said.
The history, the mystique and the opulence explain why the Venice Simplon-Orient Express is on the wish list of many travelers.
That goes for the fact, Franklin says, that vacation begins the moment the journey begins – a concept few would associate with commercial flying, especially in today’s controversial air travel climate.
Most trips only last one night. Others are longer, like the popular five-night trip that retraces the historic route from Paris to Istanbul. The train runs this route once a year in August, and cabins usually sell out a year in advance, Franklin said.
Annual trip prices make one-night bookings seem like a bargain.
Double cabins for the trip to Istanbul cost £ 35,000 ($ 47,650) each way, while Grand Suites sell for a staggering £ 110,000 ($ 150,000). All six suites are booked for the trip in August 2022.
The British writer Agatha Christie immortalized the route from Paris to Istanbul in her book “Murder on the Orient Express”, which she wrote after the carriage 3309 – which now houses the three new Grand Suites – got stuck in a snowdrift in 1929, said Franklin of Belmond.
Franklin admitted that journeys on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express are not cheap, but so is the restoration and maintenance of the wagons.
“The food and drinks on board the train… it’s not cheap; access to the rail network is not cheap, ”he said. “Also, we only have 120 people on a train, while an equivalent train can have 2,000 people.”
Multi-course meals and drinks, but no alcohol, are included in the price and the menus change depending on the destination and season.
He compared the journeys with “a private jet on wheels” and the carriages with “works of art”.
“When you drive through the countryside in northern France, you wake up in bed with breakfast in bed. You pull the blinds, you have the Swiss Alps and the Swiss lakes in front of your window,” he said. I have lunch while you are drive across the lagoon to Venice. “
For the experience, “it’s fantastic value for money,” he said.