EliteVoyage travel designer Matous Grund just travelled on the Christmas-time Orient Express from Paris to Vienna.
Matty takes us on board the legendary luxury train, tells us what to expect and how to maximise your experience.
All Aboard the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express
We took the early morning flight from Prague to Paris and departed from Paris Gare de l’Est, on a train with ten coaches and 52 guests.
What beautiful cabins! We had an entry-level historic cabin and it’s the original from the 1920s, like from an Agatha Christie book. Just with heating, electricity and everything working.
But the historic cabins are really small, just a few metres squared. It’s hard to even get dressed when you’re both in the room. And these historic cabins don’t have bathrooms. Just a wash basin and seating for two people, which is converted to bunk beds at night.
There’s one toilet per carriage which is shared by the ten cabins. But no shower in this cabin category. For me it was fine for a day, but I wouldn’t want to do it any longer. Interconnecting cabins are an option if you want a little more space.
I’d recommend the suite. It has a sofa, queen size bed, private marble en-suite bathroom with toilet and shower. There are only three suites per carriage, so it’s more than triple the space, and it’s available as either a double or twin.
The highest category is the Grand Suite, which has larger living quarters and 24-hour butler service. Unfortunately it was booked up for my journey so I didn’t have the opportunity to peak inside. It seems ideal if you want a very private journey, but most of the train fun doesn’t happen in your sleeping quarters.
Amazing Entertainment, Gastronomy & Atmosphere
Firstly, the drinks. They serve Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and we drank it by the bottle. There’s really a fantastic choice of included drinks.
We hung out in the bar carriage called 3674, where there’s a grand piano and four musicians playing. It’s all in the vintage 1920s style and they only closed the bar at 3am.
There are two restaurant carriages, L’Oriental and Cote D’Azur, so choose one for lunch and one for dinner. Both offer two sittings, lunch at midday or 2pm, then dinner at 7pm or 9:30pm. Parisian Michelin-starred chef Jean Imbert did the seasonal menus and everything is prepared freshly on the train
Lunch was a very extravagant three courses and dinner was even more elaborate. The service, gastronomy and overall atmosphere were all phenomenal, a reason to travel on this train.
Dinner is strictly black tie or white tie and they’re very strict about it. I can understand this, because there’s a unique feeling when everybody is dressed up like this. If you don’t wear it they will serve you dinner in your cabin. Even during the day you can’t wear a t-shirt or jeans, you need to wear at least a collar in the restaurants and bar.
My Recommendations for an Orient Express Experience
I didn’t appreciate the importance of the timings before I travelled. I focused solely on the routing and there are many different one-night routings for 2023, like Amsterdam to Venice, Paris to Prague, Rome to Paris and Prague to London. There’s also a five-night trip from Paris to Istanbul in August.
I think the Paris to Vienna routing was perfect because we really maximised the experience on board.
We departed at 11:30, had lunch at midday, some time to rest then afternoon tea at 5pm. Get dressed up for dinner at 7pm, stay in the bar, sleep and an 8am breakfast before arriving in Vienna. What an experience!
Compare this to Prague to Paris when you depart in the evening instead. So you have dinner, go to the bar, sleep, breakfast and arrive in Paris. If most of the time is at night and you’re sleeping, get a hotel room instead.
If you don’t care about the destination, choose a route that gives you the full day on the train first, rather than the night.
I was surprised at how young everybody was on the train, it was the first winter route from Paris to Vienna and the oldest guest was 50. My colleague David Eder did the Paris to Venice route and it was mostly older people on board, maybe because it’s more famous and from the book.
Smokers be warned! Smoking is not permitted on board, not even electronic cigarettes. But there are times when the train stops. Five hours after leaving Paris we stopped in Basel and could go out and smoke.
Taking the Orient Express was so much fun. Everything on board is such high quality and it was really an awesome experience for one night.
When you check into the train they are doing an upsell and upgrading people to interconnecting cabins or suites. It’s better to be prepared for the space before you travel and book a cabin or suite that will satisfy your needs. Plus, with EliteVoyage there are Belmond Bellini Club benefits to enjoy when you book.
Will You Travel on the Orient Express?
The Belmond Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express can be up to 17 coaches, accommodating 120 guests. They’re now offering a huge range of summer and winter departures. It’s worthy of inclusion on any travel bucket list and I’m so glad I did it.
Are you interested in the Orient Express? Then speak to me, I’ll give you some personal tips and help to arrange your experience.