Maybe it’s the line-up of uniformed, white-gloved staff who direct me to my Wagon-Lit, or the sight of the vintage train in all its glory at Prague station. Whatever the reason, I haven’t been this excited about travelling in a long time. Royal blue with brass insignia, it’s an Art Deco marvel. Once the pomp and ceremony of departure is over, I settle back in Cabin F6 of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
I love the original Rene Prou marquetry details, flowers, brass bell, burgundy lamp and complimentary stationery. There are no showers on board, and after inspecting the discreet mirrored vanity closet, I am impressed with the storage space, Temple Spa products, slippers and bathrobe. Overhead racks, an abundance of pegs (formerly used to hang pocket watches) and a small table, with several lighting options, make this a comfortable 24 hours.
With no Wi-Fi, it’s a challenge for some; I sit back and appreciate the ever-changing view. We’re heading towards Austria when the Maitre D’ comes by to let me know what table I’m at for dinner. These are in configurations of two or four with armchair seating (above). Dressing up is de rigueur as are drinks in the chic bar cart (try the Agatha Christie cocktail) with a pianist on a baby grand.
Later, Chef Christian Bodiguel serves up a four-course Michelin-style feast – variations are offered if you don’t like the sound of hot foie gras, slow roasted beef fillet or almond mousse with praline caramel sauce…. I find it all exquisite; especially the tinkling of crystal and the Lalique panels in the Cote D’Azur carriage.
The soiree continues with dancing in the L’Oriental black lacquered carriage; an alternative meaning of rock ‘n’ roll! By the time I go back to my cabin it’s been transformed into a cosy bedroom.
Be prepared for people waving when you stop at stations; it feels very regal especially over a leisurely continental breakfast, though do leave room for another delicious lunch. I particularly enjoy the scenery around Trento and the vineyards along the Adige before the unforgettable sight of the causeway approach to Venice with domes rising from the water. Alighting at Santa Lucia station on the Grand Canal, real time is sadly reasserted…
Other Iconic Train Journeys
The Blue Train in South Africa
A byword for luxury travel, the Blue Train’s route from Pretoria to Cape Town and vice versa has been augmented with a Big 5 ‘rail safari’ this year that takes in Greater Kruger and Sabi Sabi national parks. Expect deluxe suites on board, the Soweto String Quartet and the chance to win a diamond.
The Great South Pacific Express in Australia
Some would say it is the only way to see the eastern seaboard of Australia. Travelling from Sydney to Brisbane and onwards to Cairns, this is a hotel on rails. Taking in cultural and visual diversity, the informal two to four-night journeys are as fulfilling in taste as they are in every other sense.
Belmond Grand Hibernian
This is the Celtic sister of the Belmond Royal Scotsman launched in August. Comprising two to six-night tours of Ireland, expect fiddles, folklore and fresh contemporary design on these ‘land cruises’. There’s a Legends and Lough tour as well as the Realms of Giants. Great ‘craic’…
The Al Andalus Express in Spain
Vintage sherry, Flamenco dancing, bullfighting and performances by the Royal Spanish Riding School are enjoyed while on this exquisitely restored Belle Epoque gem. The so-called ‘palace on wheels’ takes its passengers on a seven-day journey through Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Alhambra is one of many high points…
– TEXT BY PENNY MCCORMICK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.