silvia
Silvia Pisci
VENICE SIMPLON-ORIENT-EXPRESS
Milan
23rd May 2016

 

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.. 

 

Service
Belmond aficionados should expect no less. Or better. In fact, this is where the pillars of Belmond service were set, back towards the end of the 1800's. And I could feel it all right from the beginning, when a smiley steward got off the train in a blue & gold old-style uniform to welcome guests on board. A fairy tale beginning to say the least ! Immediately afterwards, as I got on the train, a liveried waiter offered us a glass of champagne or orange juice. Basically, expect to be pampered from the moment the whistle blows and the engines start. There's always a member of the Staff around (there are 50 in total, for 170 guests...not a bad ratio) and they're clearly used to working on a moving train because they walk so elegantly and straight through the narrow corridors and are able to masterfully pour drinks without spilling a single drop...

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.
Facilities
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has been an indisputable icon of elegance and style for more than a century now. The train really is a living legend, and it's absolutely impressive how every single piece of furniture is still there, perfectly functioning and immaculately maintained. Lacquered wood and rich fabrics are the dominant features of the plush interiors, complemented by shiny brass furnishings.

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).
Journey
The journey I embarked on wasn’t any of the typical routes of VSOE. For the first time in its' history, the train stopped in Milan central station to bring aboard a small group of (very lucky) travel & food professionals and took us through the Lombardy countryside. It was slightly shorter than a regular journey (the shortest route is London-Paris, leaving at 8:30am and arriving at 5:30pm), but definitely enough to get into the magic of it.

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…
Perceived Value
A journey on the VSOE certainly doesn’t come cheap, that’s for sure: we’re talking about 650GBP per person on the shortest route (London-Paris, 9 hours without overnight), including meals. That’s just how it is: some things in life are priceless, and this is exactly that. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is a once-in-a-life experience, rest assured that there's not a single element about the experience which will disappoint.
Verdict
There is a reason that the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has made history in luxury travel. The quality of its service has set the standard for some of the best hotels worldwide, and its charm has been unrivaled for over a century. In addition to that you must add the “new luxury” of disconnecting completely and enjoying the authentic pleasure of travel, which lays in the journey rather than the destination.