Come with me into the extraordinary history of Venice Simplon Orient Express train

With the last week of March, the Venice Simplon Orient Express returns from Venice: traveling on this train is on the bucket list of a lot of people. It seems that the passing of the years does not detract from its charm but instead increases the number of people who want to have this experience.

Venice Simplon Orient Express

Many people are fascinated by it, but how many know its history? I only approached the train a couple of years ago, working for an agency in Venice that dealt with customer arrivals and departures. Because everything on this train is exceptional and also this service is not like the others.

Yesterday we had an operational meeting because of the next season: we received this book as a present. So I decided to immerse myself in this world: my list of things to do was turned upside down, but I’m happy because I learned a lot of things.

Sherley Scherwood “Venice Simplon Orient Express”

The author is Shiley Sherwoord, an eminent English botanist and wife of James Sherwood, the one who in the late 70s revived this train. Shirley Sherwoord has therefore followed closely the dream of seeing this luxury train departs again.

The train idea was born at the end of the 19th century: the plan was to combine good service on trains with the possibility of sleeping on them. It all started in the USA in 1864 with George Mortimer Pullman, who first imagined traveling on a luxury train. It was George Nagelmackers who brought this innovative idea to Europe after he made a trip to the United States and met Mortimer Pullman: he intended to change the concept of train travel in a fragmented Europe in different national companies.

In 1872 Nagelmackers built the first sleeping cars and founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. The history of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits was subsequently linked with the Pullman Limited Express that began operating in England in those years.

Nothing was easy: from convincing people to sleep on a train in tight spaces to serving many people at the tables giving a luxury service.

From that moment until 1977, almost a century of history passed. The trains covered many routes. If you look at the map referring to the 1930s, you will see that the train arrived till Lisbon.

Brochure 1934

During the two wars, many routes were interrupted. With the development of aviation, which drastically reduced travel times, the train gradually lost importance until the closure of the service in the mid-70s.

Poster of a Musical 

But in the same year of the last trip to Istanbul, James B Scherwood bought two carriages at an auction in Montecarlo and from there, he drove the dream until the inaugural voyage on May 25, 1982. The first trip was from Victoria Station to Venice. Gradually the various carriages were found and restored with an incredible effort from the artisan point of view. It was hard restoring these carriages, which in most cases date back to the 1920s and 1930s.

James Sherwood at Victoria Station on 1982

As for the journey in the English part, made with British Pullmans, the carriages have very evocative names, but the most famous is Audrey built in 1932 and used for many trips also by the royal family. On the continental section, the carriages are marked with numbers, and the oldest is the 3309 built in Belgium: this carriage has the two lions symbol of the king of Belgium appear on the logo.

An incredible marketing campaign was organized to promote the train revival: this campaign also touched the United States and Japan and that took the train across the lagoon to the Hotel Cipriani.

The train arrived to Venice on 1982

The train also inspired many books and movies such as the famous story of Agatha Christie “Murder on the Orient Express” brought several times to the cinema first by Sidney Lumet in 1974 and last by Kenneth Branagh in 2017. Impossible to enumerate all the characters who have traveled on the train for more than a century.

Vignetta “E’ come ai vecchi tempi, Signore. Abbiamo già avuto tre omicidi da quando siamo partiti da Folkestone”

Last year, to intercept a new clientele, the company decided to create the Grand Suites that offer greater comfort during the trip with great success in sales. But the surprises don’t end there.

Grand Suite

Do you want to book a trip? Book on the official Venice Simplon Orient Express website. Prices start at € 2500 and go up to the Grand Suites. The trip Venice – London or London – Venice lasts one day.

So good new ride, beloved old train.