Tickets on the Orient Express are sold by two companies

The “Orient Express” has been dubbed the “King of Trains” and the “Train of Kings”.

Royalty, writers, actors and spies have traveled the original route between Paris and Istanbul, which began in the late 19th century.

Author Agatha Christie described the Orient Express as “the train of my dreams”. She installed a best-selling crime novel on her cars, and the fictional spy James Bond rode it in the movie “From Russia With Love.”

Travelers might think of the Orient Express as just one luxury train, but there have been several over the years, with many routes and owners.

Soon people will be able to choose to take a ride on multiple trains using the moniker Orient Express, by two competing companies, the LVMHBelmond, a luxury travel agency owned by Belmond and the French multinational hotel company Accor.

Both have original cars that date back to the late 1800s. But they differ in how they’re designed, where they travel and how long they’ve been in service – one for decades and the other should be launched in 2024.

The History of the Orient Express

The original train was designed by a young Belgian engineer named Georges Nagelmackers, who was inspired by the Pullman night trains he rode on a trip to the United States in 1868.

Nagelmackers wanted to build something similar – but more luxurious – for high-end passengers in Europe. In 1883, the “Train Express d’Orient” made its first journey from Gare de Strasbourg in Paris (now Gare de l’Est) to Vienna.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will launch eight new suites in June 2023.

Belmond

A few years later, the train was renamed Orient Express and began traveling to Istanbul, then known as Constantinople. Travelers flocked to the train’s modern technology and its luxurious silver cutlery and silk linens.

Soon Nagelmackers’ company began building more upmarket trains for other European routes, including one that ran through the new Simplon tunnel, which links Switzerland to Italy, as well as the “Arlberg-Orient -Express”, operating between Calais, France and Budapest, Hungary.

By the 1970s, the original Orient Express trains had made their final journeys and the carriages had fallen into disrepair.

But in the 1980s, two businessmen undertook separate efforts to revive them.

James Sherwood, an American, spent $31 million to acquire and restore enough cars to form the “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express”, now owned by Belmond. (To add to the confusion, Sherwood also added hotels to its travel group, calling them Orient-Express Hotels. It renamed the company to Belmond in 2014.)

Swiss tour operator Albert Glatt has launched a service between Zurich and Istanbul, known as “Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express”, which is now owned by Accor.

The “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express”

The “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express” has been in service since 1982. The train is made up of restored original carriages that Gary Franklin, Belmond’s vice president of trains and cruises, called “works of art”.

“This train is steeped in so much history,” he said. “The cars are beautiful.”

Regarding Accor’s plans to launch a train also called Orient Express,” Franklin said, “We’ve been doing it for 40 years, and I think we take it as a huge compliment that people are… seeing how well we’re doing with it.”

An overnight trip on the “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express” starts from £2,920 ($3,292) per person.

Belmond

Belmond has a one-time licensing agreement to use the Orient Express name on its Venice Simplon train, Franklin confirmed, while Accor has the rights to the brand as a whole.

The “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express” will make winter trips for the first time in December, visiting Paris, Venice, Vienna and Florence, encouraging customers to visit the Christmas markets in these cities.

And next June, new suites are opening on the train, equipped with private bathrooms, a steward, kimonos and slippers.

An overnight trip will cost from £5,500 ($6,135) pp in the new suites, which are a step below the train’s most luxurious category – Grand Suites – which come with dining areas private, heated floors and “free-flowing” champagne. , according to the website.

A sequel to the “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express”.

Belmond

Tickets for about half of the new suites have already been purchased, and the Grand Suites (about $9,600 per night) are nearly sold out, Franklin said.

The ‘Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express’

A few years after Glatt had put his train back on the tracks, it was once again left abandoned.

Fast forward to 2015 and French rail company SNCF – which then owned the rights to the Orient Express name – commissioned researcher Arthur Mettetal to find the train.

“We had a nice brand, but no cars,” Guillaume de Saint Lager, now vice president of Orient Express at Accor, told CNBC. “We knew there was this full train, but we didn’t know where it was.”

Using Google Maps and Google 3D, Mettetal located 17 of the original cars at the Polish-Belarusian border.

Cars of the “Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express”, found abandoned on the Polish-Belarusian border, are being restored by the French hotel group Accor.

Maxime d’Angeac | Martin Darzacq | Accor

The “Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express” bar car will feature a bar with a glass counter, a tribute to French designer René Lalique.

Maxime d’Angeac | Martin Darzacq | Accor

Much of the interior — including the original marquetry or decorated wood — was intact, de Saint Lager said.

A detailed restoration is now underway, with architect Maxime d’Angeac hired to design the interiors. His mandate was “to have a sort of fantasy of what might be Art Deco,” d’Angeac told CNBC by phone. He said he had a large collection of original designs of the train.

Original Lalique glass lamps, in the shape of a flower, will illuminate the corridors of the train, while other original elements of the rediscovered train will also be integrated, such as luggage racks and door handles.

A hallway on the “Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express” features quirky Lalique glass flower lamps.

Maxime d’Angeac | Martin Darzacq | Accor

The bar car will feature call buttons for champagne and service, while the dining car will have a mirrored ceiling as well as a glass wall to the kitchen, so customers can see the chef.

Suites will feature leather walls, embroidered headboards and marble en-suite bathrooms. De Saint Lager described it as a “cruise train”, where customers can get off at lesser-known places (routes and prices have yet to be announced).

Passengers will also soon be able to stay at “Orient Express” hotels, the first of which will be launched in Rome in 2024, according to Accor’s website.

The Orient Express “La Dolce Vita”

Accor has other plans to use the Orient Express name. It is also developing six “La Dolce Vita” trains that will cross 14 regions of Italy as well as neighboring countries, with the aim of having 10 Orient Express hotels by 2030.

A rendering of the “Orient Express La Dolce Vita”, which will connect Rome to cities like Paris, Istanbul and Split.

Dimore studio | Accor

These trains will pay homage to a different era from the Venice Simplon or Nostalgia-Istanbul trains.

“La Dolce Vita” – which translates to “the sweet life” – references Federico Fellini’s 1960 film, as well as Italy’s sense of glamor and fun. The trains are designed to embody “the Italian art of living and all its beautiful traditions”, according to an online post by interiors firm Dimorestudio, which is working on the project.

The trains will have 18 suites, 12 luxury cabins and an “honor suite”. Most will depart from Rome’s Termini station, where passengers will have access to a pre-departure lounge, and travel around 16,000 kilometers (around 10,000 miles) of train lines, with stops at lesser-known Italian destinations.

A rendering of a bedroom on the “Orient Express La Dolce Vita”, showing the train’s 1960s-style decor.

Dimore studio | Accor

Besides the Orient Express La Minerva hotel in Rome, Accor will also open the Orient Express Venice hotel in 2024 in a restored palace. In addition, Accor plans to launch an Orient Express hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

These trains are also expected to launch in 2024, according to a company representative.

– CNBC’s Monica Pitrelli contributed to this report.

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