We'd kill to go on this trip
Seemingly since its inception, the Orient Express has been surrounded by a certain mystique. Within the confines of its luxurious train cars, there was enough mystery and intrigue to inspire Agatha Christie's famous novel – from which several film adaptations have spawned.
First establishing its famous route in 1883, travel between Paris and Istanbul – combined with the luxury and opulence that have become synonymous with "Orient Express"– made it an instant success. It wasn't long before the train was being frequented by royalty and heads of state – and especially spies. Hopping from continent to continent had never been easier or more comfortable. In fact, it was often referred to as the "Spies' Express," so it's no wonder that the train was rife with fodder for a mystery novel.
It's also worth nothing that the train we often think of as the Orient Express was actually the Simplon Orient Express, which ran from Paris to Istanbul daily, and is the setting for Christie's story.
In 1962, the Simplon Orient Express was replaced by the Direct Orient Express. And by 1977, the train was withdrawn completely, bringing a lackluster conclusion to the end of such an extravagant era.
These days, the Orient Express of our collective memory has become known as the Venice-Simplon Orient Express (confusing, we know), a private train established in 1982, consisting of restored cars from the 1920s and '30s. It runs routes for London-Paris-Venice and London-Paris-Verona, but once a year, it brings back the most special route: Paris-Istanbul.
For this nostalgic journey, the trip takes six days and five nights, three of which are spent in the luxurious sleeper cars. In total, you'll cross seven countries.
The first day is spent getting acquainted with your private cabin, enjoying afternoon tea and on-board dinner before retiring for the night.
You'll arrive in Budapest on day two, with a chance to explore the city via private tour on day three. And on day four, you'll find yourself in Romania with the opportunity to see both Sinaia and Bucharest, separated only by a 90-minute train ride. There, you'll follow in the footsteps of past Orient Express passengers as you visit Peles Castle in the Carpathian Mountains.
On day five, you'll cross the Danube and make a stop in rural Bulgaria for the afternoon. And on day six, the final day of your voyage, you'll arrive in Istanbul during late afternoon.
In 2018, this train departs on August 24th and you could be on it for £6,660, placing you in a double cabin where you'll enjoy two Pullman-style beds and a scenic view. If you prefer a bit more privacy, spring for a cabin suite, which is two connected double cabins, at £10,656.
But if you want to experience the ultimate in luxury – as close to the grandeur as it gets – you can book a grand suite for £15,500. New for 2018, these cabins offer a sitting area, double bed and an en-suite bathroom (all other train passengers share water closets).
Grand suite guests also receive preferential seating for meals, bottomless champagne and private transport to and from train stations making this well worth the splurge.
All guests are welcome to enjoy the Champagne Bar and three different, beautifully-decorated dining cars. Each meal you're lucky to enjoy on-board is prepared by an expert chef using seasonal, local ingredients sourced from the location of each train stop.
Touting an experience on its line as a throwback to the Golden Age of travel, a journey on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express might offer more kitsch than authenticity. After all, this is not the original Orient Express, but it doesn't need to be.
VSOE certainly doesn't play down the pop culture references either, ensuring their travelers a safe passage with a 0% chance of murder. However, the ambiance is set and the luxury stands up to scrutiny, with impeccable service and plush surroundings.
Sure, it's not the Orient Express in its heyday, but this is as close as it comes.