A handful of truly miraculous experiences still exist in the world that whisk you away to a magic place reserved usually for timeless movies and classic books. Among them are the great luxury trains crossing the continents pairing graceful transportation with matchless elegance, hospitality, and unforgettable views. Last month, we stepped aboard Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) and were transported not only from Venice to London, but also back to a bygone era on a glamorous set of carriages.
We approached the train in Venice’s Santa Lucia Station and I felt a thrill of excitement as I handed over my passport to board. I had been looking forward to this moment since I was 15, when I first read Agatha Christie’s famed novel “Murder on the Orient Express”. A timeless symbol of luxury and art-deco design, the VSOE Train is a the living museum for the golden age of travel. The inaugural Orient Express launched in October 1883, and while the routes have changed over the decades, today’s train still invites passengers to rest, dine and dance in original carriages from the 1920’s and 30s, amongst halls of marquetry polished to gleaming perfection with antique fixtures.
As we approached our assigned car, our cabin steward Rory popped his head out and greeted us, and walking us through what to expect for the journey and our evening schedule. He showed us into our cabin, and took a few minutes to explain the various thoughtful features that transform the cozy pullman-style cabin suite into a space with all the comforts of home. After helping a few other guests to their cabins, Rory returned with a bottle of champagne, and as the train horn sounded and the lug of the wheels starting to turn, we popped the bottle and toasted to the journey ahead.
LUNCH IN THE LALIQUE CAR
As Venice faded into the distance, we slipped into the Italian Dolomite region. Prior to the train ride, we had no idea the northern part of Italy was so rugged – and beautiful! We were torn between exploring the train’s many room and keeping our heads (and camera!) pointed out the window as one breathtaking vista after another passed by. We felt so grateful for beautiful weather, and clear views of the Italian alps tumbling down into yellow vineyards that flanked the train’s tracks.
Around noon, we took a break from writing postcards in our cabin as the master of dining operations stopped by to share how meals work about the train. We’d be enjoying each of our three meals in a different dining car to experience all of the beautifully decorated spaces aboard the train. For our first meal, we had lunch in the Lalique car. Designed by René Lalique in 1929 as a first-class dining car, it was created in the ”Côte d’Azur” style and depicts bacchanalian maidens dangling grapes from their fingertips in the pale blue glass. A fittingly decadent motif for the lunch we were about to enjoy that included a pumpkin soup with truffle caviar, roasted anglerfish tail in a Venetian clam sauce, and fig tiramisu.
“3674” – THE BAR CAR
As we wound through the Italian alps into Austria, we finished our lunch and headed to “3674”, the bar car done up in blue velvet and brass to relax and play a game of chess. For those of you following along, yes it’s the same marble & malachite chess set we purchased in Provence! David won this game before we retired to our cabin for an afternoon sipping tea and watching the mountains around Innsbruck, Austria parade across our window.
GETTING READY FOR DINNER
As the sun began to set, we got ready for dinner with the Austrian Alps whipping past our window. Though there is no shower on the train (you are after all, traveling in a museum piece from the 1920s) there is a beautiful toiletries kit in each room including the best “shower in a bottle” potion I’ve ever tried complete with gold-flakes as an anti-aging ingredient – if riding the train hasn’t already brought out the wide-eyed kid in you.
A FABULOUS 4-COURSE DINNER
In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, you can never be too overdressed for this trip and guests are encouraged to don their most fabulous finery, especially for dinner. In fact, a formal dress code is strictly enforced, and guests without appropriate attire are asked to take their dinner in their cabin. (If you had the chance to read my Venice post, you know that we had a close call shipping our black tie from the United States, and it barely cleared customs in time to make the train. Phewf!)
Dressed for dinner, we walked the corridors to the bar car for a gin and tonic before heading to the dining car for a delicious four-course meal. Everyone on board was dressed to the nines, and many of our fellow passengers were celebrating milestone anniversaries and major life achievements making the collective excitement and merriment palpable as our train swished from Germany into Switzerland.
If you haven’t already surmised, this journey is a feast for the senses and at meals each dish is carefully crafted by Executive Chef Chrisian Bodigal, who has perfected his craft aboard the train over the past three decades. Each menu is inspired by what is in season and locally available, drawing on the culinary traditions of the countries the train travels through.
TURNING IN FOR THE NIGHT
When we returned to our room we discovered Rory had transformed our cabin from a comfortable banquette sofa into twin bunks with crisp sheets and midnight snacks placed on our pillows. As we slipped into our pajamas and brushed our teeth, I reflected on the inspiring and efficient design aboard the VSOE Train. David and I are used to small living quarters from our time in NYC and SF but from the washbasins tucked behind beautiful marquetry doors to the fold-down bunk beds this train is an incredible example of how you don’t have to sacrifice style in a small space. We crawled into bed and as our train wound through Switzerland, the gentle rolling gate of the train rocked us to sleep.
BREAKFAST IN PARIS STATION
Overnight, we crossed all of Switzerland and much of France reaching Paris by 7:30am. We awoke in Paris, where the train stops for 40 minutes to let on additional passengers. We got out and stretched our legs, admiring the Parisian rooftops peaking out from above the train. Ducking back into our cabin we were greeted with a much needed coffee (and ample basket of scones, croissants and other French pastries) before getting ready for brunch. The route for today called for a journey to the edge of France, where we’d cross the English Channel and transfer to the Belmond British Pullman Train en route to London.
CHEF BODIGAL’S FAMOUS LOBSTER BRUNCH
We had heard the Venice to London route was the best since it included Chef Chrisian Bodigal’s signature lobster and champagne brunch – and wow! We enjoyed crustacean on the half shell as we raced through the French countryside. We were a part of the second lunch seating and Chef Bogigal came out to greet guests at the end of our meal. He noticed our camera and asked “Would you like a picture with me?” Of course I said “Yes!” and he turned and said “Well then, I’ll get my chef hat.”
AFTERNOON TEA ABOARD THE BELMOND BRITISH PULLMAN
After lunch we packed our bags and wrote a few more postcards to family back home, reveling in the last few minutes aboard the train before we said goodbye to Rory, and hopped into Belmond’s transfer coach, which would take us through the Chunnel to the United Kingdom. We boarded the Belmond British Pullman for afternoon tea and the final leg of our journey. Like the VSOE, the British Pullman has hosted many celebrities and even members of the royal family, and our steward informed me Kate Middleton enjoyed tea in my very seat a few weeks ago during a charity event.
Despite the non-stop meals aboard the VSOE, somehow, I still had room for the delicious finger sandwiches, yummy scones, and tray of petit fours and pots of tea. Polishing off every last bite as we were whisked through the English countryside and approached the end of our journey at London’s Victoria Station!
The Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was the trip of a lifetime in-and-of itself and our favorite event in a very exciting year!
This is Part II of our Journey from Venice to London with Belmond. You can Find Part I here. Be sure to follow along on with our daily adventures on Instagram here, and subscribe to my weekly newsletter here and never miss a post!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com.
Thank you to Belmond for inviting us on the journey of a lifetime and to you dear readers for coming along for the ride. While we were guests of Belmond all views and opinions are my own.