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Throughout its history, the Orient-Express has been favoured by celebrities, politicians and royalty alike: former French president Paul Deschanel allegedly fell from a carriage in the middle of the night and spies used it to discreetly hop around the continent.
An auspicious beginning
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Georges Nagelmackers envisioned Europe’s first transcontinental express train from as early as 1865; the train took its maiden journey on 4 October 1883. The famed Paris to Constantinople route began in 1889.
End of an era
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After this Orient-Express service (there were and are several with similar names) completed its final run in 1977, the carriages were sold off via auction. They were purchased by American millionaire James B. Sherwood.
A new Orient Express
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A new incarnation of the iconic train, the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, launched in 1982. Each carriage was carefully restored to evoke the glamour of the Golden Age of train travel, including polished wood, velvet drapes and detailed brocade upholstery.
Begin on the British Pullman
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These days, you can begin your Orient-Express journey by joining the Belmond British Pullman train in London to cross the channel, before boarding the Venice Simplon–Orient-Express in Paris.
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The City of Light is the starting point for many of the locomotive’s journeys. Passengers board at Gare de l’Est for overnight trips to Venice or Verona.
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When you’ve taken your snaps of the Charles Bridge and indulged in multiple bowls of potato soup, head to the Smichov station to board the train heading to Paris or London. The one-night journeys include afternoon tea, a four-course dinner and continental breakfast served in your cabin.
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This watery city is a key departure point for many of the Orient-Express’s routes. As well as direct services to cities including Budapest, Vienna and Paris, passengers can also embark on longer voyages that include two nights off the train in a hotel in Budapest or Vienna.
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If only Romeo has access to a speedy train service when racing back to Verona. This medieval, balcony-strewn city is the starting point for several overnight journeys across the continent.
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The Venice to Vienna voyage departs from Santa Lucia station at 2pm (plenty of time to take a gondola ride beforehand) and arrives in the operatic Austrian city just after 9.30am the next morning.
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As the train glides between the German capital and Paris, it pays to keep your eyes on the countryside rolling by: you’ll pass the imposing Cologne Cathedral, the Rhine river gorge and island-bound Pfalzgrafen Castle.
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The Orient’s original trek from Paris to Istanbul is only just once a year by the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The five-night journey includes some evenings spent being put to sleep by the rocking of the train and others at hotels in stopover cities Budapest and Bucharest.
New Grand Suites
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Three new Grand Suites are available on the train from March, named Paris, Istanbul and Venice in recognition of the three iconic stops. Decorated with updated Art Deco glamour, including hand-carved timber panels, embossed leather furniture and Venetian glass lamps. These suites feature a full-size double bed, separate living area and ensuites with showers (the only ones on the train) and come with a personal cabin steward and never-ending champagne.
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The devil is in the detail in the cabin suites: a robe that matches the Art Deco styling, glossy wooden tables just the right size for a book and a chilled bucket of bubbles and twin soft-pink, scallop bell reading lamps.
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The cabin suites link two interconnecting cabins, each with its own sofa. These can be converted into different bedding configurations: one room can be converted into bunks or only the lower berths in each room can be switched to beds. The washbasin, with complimentary toiletries, is tucked in the corner behind curved doors.
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When you return to your restored twin cabin after dinner in the dining cart, you’ll find the comfy banquette lounge has disappeared and in its place is a set of cosy bunks. Each twin cabin has its own washbasin and comes with towels, bathrobes and slippers so you’re properly attired for a night reading by the warm light of the lamp. Five single cabins are also available.
The restaurant cars
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You should definitely dress for dinner – in fact, the train line recommends it. The three restaurant cars are as plush as the rest of the train, with beautifully upholstered chairs, heavy curtains and immaculately set tables. There’s also a separate champagne and piano bar should you need a glass of chilled Louis Roederer Cristal before dinner as you listen to the tinkling of the keys.
Fresh, seasonal food
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Local ingredients are sourced from cities along the way so meals regularly feature regional specialties. Choose from a set or an à la carte menu or, on southward journeys, executive chef Christian Bodiguel whips up a “celebration breakfast” featuring smoked salmon, eggs, truffles and caviar.
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Most journeys leave in the early afternoon so once you’re settled, a decadent high-tea spread is served in your cabin: cakes, croissants and scones, plus a welcome glass of sparkling wine.
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The entire train holds a maximum 177 passengers so you’re never going to feel tight for space (though crossing paths with a fellow traveller in the corridors may require a side step). If you really want to amp up the luxe factor, special arrangements can be made including musicians, magicians, tailored food and wine menus and – for the truly obsessed – murder mystery games.