When, in 2015, French historian Arthur Mettetal was tasked with documenting the remaining original cars of the legendary Orient Express for France’s national train service, SNCF, he came across an anonymous video of a train on YouTube. After some research and analysis, Mettetal discovered that 17 of the original Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express carriages were lined up at a remote train station between the border of Belarus and Poland. It took a few more years for the then-owner to agree to sell them to the Orient Express brand, which is currently co-owned by Accor, but, finally, in 2018, the train cars were returned to France. And recently, the company announced that the cars are set to welcome back travellers in 2024 after a meticulous renovation. By Dobrina Zhekova
More about the original Oriental Express carriages
The original carriages, which include 12 sleeping cars, a restaurant car, three lounge cars, and a van, were in surprisingly good shape and still had their Morrison and Nelson marquetry, Lalique glass panels, and art deco motifs, according to Guillaume de Saint Lager, vice president of Orient Express, who spoke exclusively to Travel + Leisure. He explained that the renovation started a year ago, and in December 2021, French architect Maxime d’Angeac was tasked with restoring the legendary train to its former glory by interpreting Gilded Age décor for the modern traveller. The interiors of the first nine cars are set to be unveiled in December. They will include six sleeping carriages, a restaurant, a bar, and an “experiential salon.” The remaining eight cars will be unveiled gradually by 2024.
While authenticity is a factor in the project, Saint Lager explained that reinterpreting the décor in a contemporary way is key.
“The brief to the designer was really to find this perfect balance between past, present, and future,” he said. “Some guests will think that [the train] has been built in the 1930s. Others will see that it’s a modern interpretation, but we like to play with the notion of time and to really blur the line between past and future.”
The train will have three types of suites, including a Presidential suite will which take up an entire car. Each suite will have its own bathroom. While a chef has not been named for the culinary experiences, Saint Lager explained that the team is looking into old Orient Express menus for inspiration. The last public car, the salon, will host performances and events, and its décor will be inspired by dreamy winter gardens.
“This will be the magical car that will even break — in terms of style — with the other parts of the train. We want it to tell a story in itself,” Saint Lager told T+L.
While the itinerary has not been finalised yet, but he added that the train would run between Istanbul and Paris.
“The rebirth of the Orient Express is a technological challenge, meeting scientific, artistic and technical criteria, where the entire project has been conceived as a work of art,” Maxime D’Angeac, an avid book collector of many authors, including Agatha Christie novels, said in a press release.
“From the nuts and bolts stamped with Orient Express’ signature to the innovative concept of the suites, an exact science of detail will allow travellers to rediscover the great splendour of the Orient Express,” D’Angeac said. “Entrusted to the best artisans and decorators specialising in their unique fields, this embassy of French luxury will unveil a setting of absolute refinement, faithful to the art of tailoring. It will be an incomparable train travel experience, imagined through a contemporary vision of comfort and extreme luxury.”
This classic set of cars made its inaugural trip in the 1980s and ran between Zurich and Istanbul. Before stopping service several years later, the train also travelled from Paris to Tokyo, its longest journey. The remodelled cars’ first trip in this century will coincide with the 2024 Paris Olympics. It will also launch one year after a different Orient Express experience (by the same Accor-owned company), Orient Express La Dolce Vita, which is being designed by Dimorestudio and celebrates Italian style from the ’60s and ’70s.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Xavier Antoinet/Courtesy Orient Express