In October 1883, the world’s most luxurious train set off from Paris for Istanbul. By 2015, the famed carriages of the Orient Express had been lying unused for close to a decade until they were discovered by a historian on YouTube and acquired by the Accor hotel group’s Orient Express brand in 2018. Now the train is getting ready to depart from Paris once again in 2024, just in time for the Olympic Games in the French capital.
Although Orient Express has not yet confirmed any routes, it is thought that the revamped service will follow a similar journey to its predecessor, running between Paris and Istanbul. Here’s everything we know so far about the return of the legendary train.
The origins of an icon
The first Orient Express was developed by Belgian engineer Georges Nagelmackers, who was inspired to create his network of luxury trains after traveling across America by rail. Nagelmackers’s experience on the country’s earliest sleeper cars left much to be desired. On returning to Europe, he began formulating plans for a new service with comfort and glamour at its core.
He designed several upscale European trains before launching the Orient Express, which carried 40 passengers from Paris to then-Constantinople on its inaugural 13-day trip. The service continued to run until 1977, by which time the boom in fast, inexpensive air travel had eliminated the demand for grand rail journeys.
The Orient Express was subsequently disbanded and its vehicles auctioned off, only to be revived in the 1980s by a pair of entrepreneurs. James Sherwood, the American owner of the Cipriani Hotel, ran routes between London and Venice, while Swiss tour operator Albert Glatt launched the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express, with services from Zurich to Istanbul. But by 2009, the train had ceased to operate once again.
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The train carriages have been preserved like museum pieces © Xavier Antoinet
The mystery of the missing trains
It wasn’t until 2015 that the original Orient Express carriages were rediscovered when Arthur Mettetal, a researcher in industrial history, noticed a parked train in the corner of a YouTube video while conducting an inventory for France’s state rail company SNCF.
Recognizing the distinctive midnight blue shade of the Orient Express, he made out the name of a Polish rail station, Malaszewicze, in the background and used Google Maps 3D view to pinpoint the exact location on the border between Belarus and Poland. A few months later, Mettetal and his team found the vehicles in surprisingly good condition.
Two years of negotiations followed, and in 2018, the owner of the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient Express sold the 13-carriage train, along with four additional carriages from the service recovered from Germany and Switzerland to Accor’s Orient Express group.
Traveling in style
Today, the museum-piece carriages are being renovated by Parisian architect Maxime d’Angeac, in collaboration with a team of French artisans. D’Angeac started his career creating theatrical scenery for fashion house Hermes and crystal manufacturer Daum before founding his own agency.
Over the past two decades, he has worked on castles, apartments, private villas and the restoration of Maison Guerlain, the iconic perfumer’s flagship boutique on the Champs-Élysées. D’Angeac is also a collector of old books, including a selection of novels by Agatha Christie, who famously wrote Murder on the Orient Express in 1934.
During this period, D’Angeac is tasked with reimagining Orient Express by putting a modern polish on the romance and elegance of the 1920s and 30s design. The 17 historic carriages date back to this era and maintain stunning Lalique glass panels engraved with motifs of blackbirds and grapes, along with marquetry by Morrison & Nelson, emblematic of art deco style. D’Angeac has promised the appearance will be faithful to the memory of the Orient Express while also being attuned to contemporary visions of comfort.
The new Orient Express will have 14 sleeping carriages © Xavier Antoinet
What to expect on board
The new Orient Express will offer 14 sleeping carriages, a restaurant, a bar and what is being described as an experiential salon. The salon is expected to host a variety of performances and events, with decor markedly different from the rest of the train, inspired by winter gardens.
There will be three varieties of suites available, including a presidential suite that will take up an entire carriage. Each suite will have its own bathroom.
Although a chef is yet to be announced, the team is reportedly seeking ideas for the restaurant from old Orient Express menus.
How to book
Orient Express will release pricing and booking information for the service, as well as official itineraries and routes, at a later stage, but the first of the refurbished carriages is due to be unveiled in October.
The 17 historic carriages date back to the 1920s and 30s © Xavier Antoinet
A glamorous Italian sister
That’s not the only Orient Express journey on the horizon: starting in 2023, a luxury rail service from the same company will debut in Italy, taking passengers to 14 national destinations, as well as three international routes from Rome to Paris, Istanbul, and Split.
Dubbed the Orient Express La Dolce Vita, it will consist of six trains, and its carriages will boast midcentury interiors by Milan-based firm Dimorestudio, reminiscent of the golden age of Italian design. Trips will cost an average of €2000 per person per night.
Accor’s Orient Express services are a separate venture from the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which is owned by hospitality group Belmond and runs between London and Venice, with other journeys available to Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, and other cities.
The next chapter
Accor is also set to take the Orient Express brand off the tracks in 2024 and open its own dedicated hotels, including the Orient Express La Minerva in Rome and Orient Express Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice, with plans for a hotel in Riyadh to follow.
The Article: Everything we know about the return of the original Orient Express was first published on LONELY PLANET