A journey on the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is one of those things that every real luxury traveller wants to tick off the bucket list. What is it that makes it so special? I couldn’t refuse a chance of going on board and finding out for myself. Yes, I do have the answer now! Read on and you will too..
Times are relaxed but perfectly thought for maximizing the guests' enjoyment: food plays a central role, as you get invited to enjoy gastronomic cuisine, aperitifs, and afternoon tea throughout the journey (meal services change depending on the specific route). You can choose to have dinner at 7:30 or 9pm, and once you're fully satiated, you'll come back to find your cabin turned into a bedroom. I soon realized that it takes extreme precision and attention to detail to make a train journey such an enjoyable experience for any guest: you certainly don't get the same space and comforts of a hotel suite, and you somehow have to stick to the journey schedule. Still, you feel in such capable hands, cradled through sublime landscapes by the white-gloved Staff, that it's all too easy forget about any possible discomforts and just enjoy the timeless charm of VSOE.
In the restaurant coaches, crystal glasses and silverware tinkle in the background blending melodically with the passengers' voices. For me, these were the most enjoyable spaces: bright and roomy, with tables set on both sides of the corridor. I engaged in pleasant conversations with the fellow travellers sitting at my table while we were served champagne and lobster... The sun was falling as we rolled through the lush countryside. It was pure magic.
Cabins are thought as a living room with a table during the day, and they are then set as bedrooms (with upper and lower beds) in the evening. There's a small washbasin in every cabin and two common lavatories on every coach (no showers... yet, at least! Though projects are in the pipeline).
Shortly after the train left the station, we were invited for an aperitif at the bar. Ferrari champagne and caviar tickled and delighted the palate as we started to enjoy the train “cradling” us out of the city…
I had dinner at Etoile du Nord, one of the three restaurant coaches. The menu was decadent (yes, decadent! How else would you describe a 4-course menu including lobster and kobe beef?), exceptionally executed on this occasion by Davide Bisetto (Exectutive Chef at Belmond Hotel Cipriani, recently awarded the first Michelin star) together with Chef Christian Bodiguel (over 30 years of experience aboard VSOE!) No wonder the train is honorary member of Relais & Chateaux.
The train made its way back to Milan as I enjoyed one last drink at the bar. The coach got crowded as the pianist and the barman kept entertaining the guests with classic songs and fascinating stories…