You’ve taken your significant other on a honeymoon excursion aboard the most luxurious European train in service today: the Venice-Simplon Orient Express (VSOE). For more than a century, the Orient Express lines have hosted royalty, politicians, and celebrities in grand style. Now you are thrilled to board this enchanting train, adding your own page to its extensive history.
Starting from the City of Love, Paris, the train sets off into the mountains, taking you and your partner on a classic, one-night journey through the Alps before arrival in Venice, Italy. It’s April, and the Alpine ranges still gleam bright with snow as you traverse lush, green pastures. For all that has changed in Europe since the beginnings of luxury rail travel, the beautiful scenery around this passage remains the same.
It’s the late 1880s, and as the great European powers slowly brood towards an even greater conflict, Robert Baden Powell is sent by the British crown to gather intelligence on the Empire’s biggest rivals: Germany and Austria-Hungary. Powell and many of his contemporary spies rely on the Orient Express for discreet, yet luxurious, travel as they uncover prized information. Under his cover as a butterfly expert, Powell inconspicuously traverses the Bavarian Alps. This journey on the Orient Express places him right at the footsteps of Britain’s future enemies in Central Europe.
While you absorb the majestic sight of the Alps, it is time to enjoy fresh European cuisine and select wines from a princely dining car, the Côte d’Azur. The bright twinkle of lalique glass helps welcome each taste as you gaze across the fine white table cloth and into your partner’s eyes. Yet, as you discover this line’s history, you find not every dining reception along the old Orient Express was this warm.
In 1918, near the Compiègne Forest in northern France, the Allied and Central Powers sign an Armistice. In a hurried manner, the negotiators meet aboard a luxury dining carriage, to conclude the war to end all wars. The train is owned by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which began operating the Orient Express line in the 1880s. After the close of hostilities, the French retire the famous dining car to a museum as a symbol of victory over Germany. After the rise of Nazi Germany in 1940, French defeat is signed again in the same dining car.
You’ve had a full, satisfying day, indulging in the luxuries aboard the VSOE. You spent time in the Bar Car, chatting with fellow passengers as the pianist played soft tones. You ate an exquisite four-course meal in the Côte d’Azur Restaurant Car. The two of you decided to slip away for a more intimate moment, toasting to each other at the Champagne Bar. On the way to dinner, you spoke with your carriage’s steward who told you about the train’s history. Your partner’s favorite story was about the French President who rode the Orient Express.
It’s 1920, Paul Deschanel, who has only been the President of France since earlier that year, is an eccentric man. He readies for bed in his green, silk pajamas, and takes a few sleeping pills to make the transition to sleep easier. However, instead of finding himself in a deep slumber, he topples out of the train and onto the side of the tracks. Disoriented, he crawls around the tracks and eventually comes to a signalman.
“I am the President of France!” Deschanel exclaims.
“And I am Napoleon Bonaparte,” the man says, not believing the man in silk pajamas on the ground in front of him.
You retreat to your private cabin ready for a full night’s rest. The warm lamplight welcomes you, softly illuminating the space now turned into a warm and inviting bedroom for the night. Amid the ornate details and rich wood paneling, you notice a brass candlestick. While not used for its original function, it is a nod to the history of this famed train. Settling into your bed and cracking open Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, you picture a famous fictional detective solving a murder—a story you know well. Hercule Poirot, too, is wrapped up in the romance and intrigue of the the Orient Express.
The light from the brass candlestick sheds a soft glow on Hercule Poirot’s cabin. Earlier that day, a fellow passenger named Mr. Ratchett asked the detective to investigate threats against his life. Poirot denied this man’s offer—rejecting a large sum of money—and is now tucked in his cabin for the evening. After extinguishing the flame, he climbs into bed and drifts off to sleep.
Just before one in the morning, a scream pierces through the walls of the cabins and Poirot wakes with a start. The conductor is already present and knocking on the door. The response from inside the cabin rings out in French:
“Ce n’est rien. Je me suis trompé.”
“It’s nothing. I was mistaken,” you recall. Murder on the Orient Express was an early introduction to the rich stories associated with the Orient Express trains and travels. The whirlwind of romance and luxury never left the train, and now, you revel in the chance to experience it firsthand. It’s getting late, so the two of you decide to switch the lamp off and retire for the night.
Your time on board may not have been as eventful as that of President Deschanel or Mr. Ratchett, but it was a truly timeless and unforgettable experience. For more information about journeys on the Venice Simplon Orient Express and to book your tour, visit Palace Tours’ website, and follow us around social media for more updates.