Elite Traveler Winter 2021

etr li at ve eler WINTER 2021/22 143

There are glamorous dining cars on board

All aboard the Orient Express

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The name alone suggests luxury, adventure, intrigue. And, for the literary minded, occasional murder! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a reason: It’s appeared in so many films, posters and novels that its name has become almost mythical, almost legendary. Even before the pandemic hit, we were all rediscovering the luxury of slow travel — what it means to travel less and choose our journeys more carefully, so they mean more to us and, ultimately, help preserve the planet. Travel at its heart has always been about culture and adventure, about escapism into a world far away from ours… It’s everything the great big train to somewhere is all about. I have always loved the rhythmic sway of a train. Lost in thought, gazing out those huge windows framing the ever-changing view. But most of all, train journeys are the nexus of nostalgia and old-world glamour, a place for reflection and intrigue. They take us back to a time of easy, slow living, where maximalist grandeur and the art of enjoying yourself at a sedate pace reign supreme. Every story has a beginning, and my jaunt along the

tracks begins with a toast to the glory days of the past for a night of total Hollywoodesque glamour at the Hotel

Cipriani, A Belmond Hotel. Discreet, prim and proper, the celebrity haunt still retains its status as one of Venice’s best. Sweeping pool views, Murano-trimmed interiors complete with doty antiques and stylish artworks, Michelin-starred dining and glitzy suites oozing perfection. Though not in the city’s labyrinthine center, it offers the best of both worlds from its exclusive spot at the eastern end of Giudecca Island. Think breezy views over St Mark’s Square from terraces that take privacy and exclusivity to another level. Plus, dancing the night away in a Bellini-induced haze before setting off the next morning for Paris makes for an even more Gatsby- esque experience. Having escaped the dregs of a possibly mighty hangover, the next morning we get up and head for a boat that whisks us off to Santa Lucia station to board the iconic train. As we step on, the grace of the 1920s cabins instantly feels ridiculously special. As we enter our cabin for the night, the mood is immediately set with rich shades from a royal palette — dark

mahogany, naval blues, loud reds, summer-ready greens; the kaleidoscope of details is endless. From all corners, beautifully polished wood, intricate marquetry, plush fabrics and Art Deco antiques wow, along with a plump window-facing sofa, ready for those famous panoramas. But it’s the new grand suites that impress the most. Unapologetic opulence best sums them up, with all three taking up an entire carriage each. Inspired by the cities they are named after (Paris, Venice, Istanbul), the details are obvious. Spacious en suites are headlined by Wimberly Interiors to “reflect the spirit of each city whilst staying true to the original 1920s Art Deco design,” the GM gleefully explains. Yes, it’s all lovely, we agree, especially the private bathrooms with showers, swanky double beds and blousy living area complete with underfloor heating; yet, it’s the free-flowing champagne on tap that really gets the party going — served by the suite’s small army of blue-and-gold- draped carriage masters, of course. As expected, service is old school: bowing heads, formal (but friendly) and reserved greetings, and an ‘anything goes, anything you want’ sort of mantra. Once we settle in, the train eventually rolls out of Venezia and we begin our journey towards Paris, with a quick stop in Verona. As the landscape changed from cities to small towns, then lakes and finally our first glimpse of the mighty Dolomites, the world of the Orient Express starts to take center stage. Mammoth plains begin to branch out into the glacier-topped, alpine-flecked mountains of avalanche country; crystal-clear rivers snake their way up into the mouths of turquoise and emerald- green lakes; snow-topped mountain fortresses crown the moody clouds; and, if you know where to look, powerful waterfalls plunge into merciless pluming cascades. It’s all visually too delicious. Taking in all that scenery works up a serious appetite. Lunch and dinner on board are served in dining cars (Côte d’Azur with its stunning Lalique glass and the beautifully romantic L’Oriental), the lovely little spaces where you’ll spend most of your day outside your cabin. Dressing in your finest is non-negotiable (I mixed Huntsman with a bit of Armani and Tom Ford) and mandatory, so it’s best to go all out when you are packing. Cuisine is posh and grand. The menu, designed by executive chef Igor Maccagnan, features an array of fresh and seasonal ingredients from across the continent, from rich fish to caviar and tender meats. It’s modern European meets Asia meets the camp, buzzing flavors of Italy (if we have to mash it all up in one sentence). Varied, let’s say, but palate-pleasing to a T.

Left and above The Venice Simplon- Orient-Express; one of the new grand suites

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