VSOE Venice Simplon Orient-Express overnight from Venice to London | Luxury Trains | My journey across Western Europe continued, after lovely visits to the Amalfi Coast and a brief stay at Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy. This time, moving onwards to London, England, aboard the overnight luxury train VSOE Venice Simplon Orient-Express, with stops in Innsbruk, Paris, Calais and Folkestone. Step aboard and experience truly elegant travel, wrapped in timeless romance through the spectacular scenery of the Dolomite Mountains, Brenner Pass, Swiss Alps and Alberg Pass. If you follow my blog, you might know by now, that I love traveling by train, specially when they offer luxurious experiences like the VSOE. Other recent experiences you might enjoy reading about had been: The Royal Scotsman across Scotland, or the Day Luxury Train Hiram Bingham in Peru, and my absolute favorite, the Eastern-Oriental-Express from Thailand to Singapore. This is an exceptional train: a time capsule, a dream. A chance to dress up, socialize and relive the golden age of travel.
After a lovely morning at Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice, it was time to say goodbye and head to Venice Mestre Train Station, to board at 10:45AM sharply, the iconic VSOE train and enter a world of romance and adventure, across Italy, Austria, France, the English Channel and England, to arrive to London Victoria Station. Two hostesses were awaiting for us at Belmond Hotel Cipriani, to take us on a water taxi along the Grand Canal, to the train station, to get us ready to board.
As I boarded the train, escorted by my two personal butlers, I was blissfully taken to my Cabin Suites, to get settled as I enjoyed the lovely chilled bottle of Champagne, that was awaiting from me at the Suite. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express luxury train is quite unlike anything you will ever experience. From the 1920s to the ‘30s the carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train played a significant role in the golden age of travel. Today, every carriage has been lovingly restored to its former glory, recreating one of the finest luxury experiences the world has ever known. Aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, travel has been refined to an elegant art. Relax in an opulent cabin while a dedicated steward attends to your every need. Cabin Suite consists of two interconnecting Twin Cabins. By day, stretch out and relax with two lounges, while at night a choice of bed configurations are available. Inside your cabin, draw back the oak panels to reveal a washbasin. Luxury, mosaic-tiled lavatories are available at each end of the carriage. Unlike other Belmond Luxury Trains, VSOE does not offer showers – but given that the journey was just overnight – I did not find any issues, and the two basins available in private at my Suite, were more than sufficient. As I settle, the Maitre d’Hotel visits your cabin to take your lunch and dinner reservations.
After crossing the Venetian Lagoon, I was ready for my first gourment to experience one of the world’s most unique dining experiences and indulge in a sensational feast aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train. Exceptional European cuisine is freshly prepared in the train’s kitchen by Chef Christian Bodiguel and his skilled team. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express menu features fresh ingredients taken on board at stops along the route. Look out the window and you may spot the chef inspecting lobsters from Brittany, tomatoes from Provence or saltmarsh lamb from Mont St Michel. Discover the unique history of each of their three stunning 1920s restaurant cars. L’Oriental, Etoile du Nord and Côte d’Azur.
My first gourmet experience was a three-course lunch at the L’Oriental Dinning Car. “L’Oriental” was originally a Pullman kitchen car. Built in Birmingham in 1927 in the Etoile du Nord style, it ran a luxurious service between Paris and Amsterdam. It later joined the Lusitania Express. When purchased for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the car was updated and refitted with black lacquer panels.
After lunch and as the train heads north through Italy’s South Tyrol region towards the Dolomites, I moved to car 3674, to enjoy a lovely cup of tea, while looking at the lovely scenery of this UNESCO-listed range, boasting 18 peaks, rising to over 3,000 meters, forming one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The 3674 Bar Car, named after the original number given to the carriage, celebrates the history of this storied train.
After my three-course gourmet lunch, and with the swinging of the train, I was ready to get back to my Suite and enjoy the breeze as I took a one hour nap. Spend the afternoon relaxing in the comfort of your cabin gazing at the beautiful passing scenery.
I woke up, right on time for afternoon Tea – which was server in the privacy of my cabin – as it began to snow over the Brenner Pass, through the Alps along the border between Italy and Austria. Breathtaking view as we were approached our first stop, Insbruk.
A short stop in Innsbruk, allowed us to get of the train, stretch the legs, and enjoy the marvelous views of the VSEO Train and the mountains. The weather had drastically changed, from the warm and sunny Venice, to the cold and snowy Innsbruk in Austria.
Upon departure, onwards to our next destination, and as the afternoon was welcoming the evening, I decided to spend the afternoon relaxing in the comfort of my cabin gazing – once again – at the beautiful passing scenery. This time, the equally dramatic Arlberg range, where the train must snake around the Arlberg Pass, hugging the mountainside and glide through the historic 10km-long Arlberg Tunnel.
Before getting ready for the evening, I took an little tour of the train, on my own. The legendary Venice Simplon Orient-Express, one of the world’s best loved trains. Each carriage has a glamorous history, dating from the early 20th century. The vintage details are delightful: for example, in some cabins special hooks to hang and protect pocket watches can still be seen, as can foldable brass candle holders. All the wooden panelling is between 50 and 90 years old-historic timber has been used to restore the carriages and ensure the vintage character of the train. You may also be intrigued to know that in the sleeping cars are coal boilers, and engines are changed at every border the train crosses. This is an exceptional train: a time capsule, a dream. A chance to dress up, socialist and relive the golden age of travel.
Back to my Cabin Suite, was time to get ready for an evening of sophistication aboard the VSOE Venice Simplon Orient-Express luxury train. Dress code ? well you are never overdressed aboard the VSOE. Unlike other Belmond luxury trains, there is no black tie mandatory dress code – which I think it is a shame. Many gentlemen choose to wear black tie, suit or tuxedo for dinner, with ladies opting for a stylish cocktail evening dress, which enhances the atmosphere for all passengers. At the very least, gentlemen are requested to wear a jacket for dinner. During the day, smart casual is the norm for all passengers, excluding jeans, shorts and trainers.
So dressed to the occasion, my evening, began of course, at no other than the 3674 Bar Car, invited by Walter – the Official Barman, to try his signature Dirty Vodka Martini, on a glass which had been air blown in Venice, specially for me ( which I now have at home back in New York). The “3674” Bar Car, in vibrant blue and gold interiors reflect the train’s marquetry, providing the perfect place to enjoy the selection of classic cocktails. Originally built in France in 1931, it ran as part of the Sud Express after the war. Routes included Paris to Irún on the Spanish border and from Paris to Toulouse in Le Capitole.
Dinner at Etoile du Nord Dinning Car. “Etoile du Nord” was built in 1926 in England, and showcases some of the most beautiful marquetry in the continental rake. It ran with the Etoile du Nord train from Paris and then switched to the Edelweiss based in Amsterdam. After running with the Lusitania Express from Lisbon to Madrid it finished service in the 1970s, travelling between Cadiz and Seville.
I called it a night, and decided retrieve back to the privacy my Cabin Suite, to find that my butter, had now been transformed into a cosy and comfortable bedroom.
Following morning, as we were approaching Paris, breakfast was served – upon my request and timing – at the comfort of my Cabin Suite. So in my robe, as I have my coffee and write a few postcards to friends and family, I see as the butler setup my breakfast on the other side of my Suite.
We arrived to Paris. The train pulls into Paris Gare de l’Est and halts for 40 minutes, some of the passengers end their journey in Paris, and for those like me continuing to London, was the opportunity to stretch your legs along the platform, as new provisions arrive, for our upcoming Brunch as we travel on towards Calais, in the French coast for the Channel crossing.
As we left Paris, towards the French Coast, of course, I had to pay homage to the French culture, and before Brunch, I had to stop by their new onboard Champagne Bar. A place where to sample the finest champagnes in an exclusive atmosphere. Art deco interiors and Lalique glassware conjure the romance and glamour of the Roaring Twenties. I mean, if not for the Champagne, who can resist this gorgeous Lalique Champagne Bucket. Vintages include Taittinger, Laurent Perrier Rosé and Louis Roederer Cristal, perfectly chilled and served in glimmering crystal.
Ready for Brunch at the Côte d’Azur Dinning Car. Decorated by René Lalique, “Côte d’Azur” was built in 1929 as a first-class Pullman. The faintly blue opaque glass shows classical figures with a matching frieze of smaller panels. The stylish carriage began in the Côte d’Azur Pullman Express before switching to the Deauville Express. It returned to the Côte d’Azur for winter journeys and ran from Paris to Calais for many years, meeting the passengers from the Golden Arrow. By 1961 it was in a reserve pool used for special services and was eventually stored at the Wagons-Lits works at Villeneuve. It was rescued from a cold and dreary siding in 1981 by Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and restored at Bremen.