Here’s how it all begins. After a manic rush through London Victoria station to find Platform One, not an easy task when wearing wedges, carrying a large bag and charged with excitement, you are finally confronted with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express check in desk. Here, one is smoothly and effortlessly transported to a world of luxury, glamour and classic nostalgia (or so the saying goes).
And here’s how the thought process starts; “Now I’ve heard all about luxury travel, but surely this is too much…after all, we’re only going to Paris…” But thoughts are just thoughts. Quickly, my bags were taken from me (nothing like travelling light), to meet me upon arrival in Calais where the Venice-Simplon would start its journey proper. Before that, the Simplon’s sister train would carry me as far as the sea in ultimate luxury (that word again). Seated in vintage carriages, the idea that one is in a fairy tale novel springs to mind, the service flowing steadily as excited chatter whispers through the locomotive. It is outside, however, that the real spectacle lies; stunning countryside and Kent’s idyllic coastline fly past in technicolour as lunch is served, first the Prosecco and the coffee, then the fresh fruit, muffins, scrambled eggs, salmon, mushrooms and finally the caviar. The carriage in which we enjoyed this feast was once patronised by none other than the great Winston Churchill – a telling reminder of its fine history, we thought, as a very gourmet apricot tart was finished off with aplomb.
By the time your stomach is lined properly, and the memory of old Albion flits by in waves and sands and shadows, it’s time to step across the pond in readiness to board the world’s most romantic train. Stepping off The British Pullman, a brass band fired up, and we toasted the southerly journey to Calais with more drink and more fun. At Calais, the beauty of the art-deco locomotive was quite in sync with the costumed porters, and the finely attired guests who stepped on gave good indication of the finery we were expected to find en-route to Paris.
4080 hours are spent each year by the team ensuring cabins are kept in theme with the passing hours – night to day and day to night – equating to an incredible amount of service that is easily discerned on entering a room quite divine in its detail. And so, with all these facts and figures in mind, it wasn’t long before my bag was with me and my glass was filled with Prosecco. Looking around, I noted that the hidden miniature bathroom was well equipped, the sofa was perhaps the comfiest I’ve ever sat on, and the staff couldn’t help but create a sense of sleek perfection – as if they were playing guard to the very idea of luxury transport itself. The interior décor throughout, made up in authentic 1920’s style, has an air of mystery about it – the sort that forges folklore as charming guests meet and greet over champagne. I for one expected Hercule Poirot to appear at any second.
Indeed, it doesn’t take long to realise how incredible this legendary steam train is; seventeen carriages, three restaurants, one bar cart, and a variety of single and double cabins deliver a spatial passage that is just over a quarter mile long. It was certainly in need of exploring to find the Bar Car, the environs of which we would be sitting down in for the much awaited evening affair. Dressed in our gladrags (the Orient Express really does call to mind the myriad beads, feather boas and exotic gowns of this season’s 20s Great Gatsby-inspired trend), we made our way down to dine in “true style and glamour”. Prepared by the train’s highly skilled French chefs, and rolling through amorous countryside at twilight, dinner was dinner as never before; the finest ingredients were taken onboard during the journey, and each of our four courses was exquisite. It all began with Alaskan Crab with Soya Dressing, Avacado Tartare and Wasabi Mayonaise, followed by an outstanding Grilled Charolaise beef with sun dried tomato Béarnaise sauce, small belly peppers filled with Ratatouille, and fondant potato. Then came the finest cheese board imaginable (you wouldn’t expect less in France), before all us serious gourmands yelped with delight at the prospect of iced confit apricot soufflé flavoured with pistachios.
Before we reached the centre of Paris, there was some good drinking to be done. The Bar Car, stocked full of champagne (approximately 1,700 bottles are served in a season) and flavoursome cocktails, was the centre of conversation, which did flow with excitement and tales of what was still to come for some. As the horizon moved towards the windows and the streetlights made their salute, we knew it was time to pick up our bags and lose ourselves in the depths of Paris’ arondissements, leaving the Venice-Simplon dream firmly behind.
It is enough of a testament to this beautifully moving journey that I didn’t for one moment want the day to come to an end, even after our perfectly stylish arrival in the City of Light.
Disclaimer: This review was offered to my by their lovely PR team, and therefore I did not pay for this tri..