• How Luxury Trains Are Transporting Travelers to a Bygone Era of Old-World Opulence

  • Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.
Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.

Moderators: Komachi, David Benton

  by Jeff Smith
https://robbreport.com/travel/hotels/lu ... 28847/amp/
To celebrate her 25th birthday in December, Natalie Belden decided a trip to Paris with her boyfriend was the only way to go. But after booking the voyage, the Washington, D.C.—based pharmaceutical sales representative happened to check tickets for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE)—a luxury train service on her travel bucket list. “Somehow there was an opening for the day after my birthday for two people,” she says. “It was a one-night from Vienna to Paris. We weren’t even planning on going to Vienna.” But she rearranged her itinerary anyway. “That’s how badly I needed to go on this trip. I have been wanting to go on this train for years and years and years.”
To be sure, in the U.S., train travel is often the option of last resort. Most of us would rather drive or fly than trundle around in a quaint metal box that costs more and takes longer. In Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, however, a growing number of affluent American visitors are choosing rail for exactly those reasons: the slow pace, old-world ambience, and luxurious appointments that put it on a par with other elite experiences. In the world of ultra-luxury rail cruises, one night in a 100-year-old sleeper car can set you back more than $15,000—and, increasingly, the cars sell out months in advance.

Old-school train travel has no intention of trying to compete with the efficiency of jet-setting. Speed’s not the goal. Rather, the rail alternatives that have been springing up worldwide are focused on making five-star (stationary) hotel suites seem passé by one-upping them with ever-more lavish experiences. Leading the expansion in Europe are Belmond, the luxury travel operator owned by LVMH, and Accor, the French hotel group—both of which, confusingly, use the Orient Express brand name.
To meet demand, Belmond is adding new cabins to its VSOE train, which has dominated Europe’s luxury train market for 40 years. In 1982, James Sherwood, a shipping-container magnate and owner of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, decided to resurrect the Orient Express to ferry customers from Paris to the Italian city. The original service had been established in 1883 by Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian entrepreneur who brought the American Pullman–sleeping car concept to Europe. But it was disbanded in the 1970s, a victim of cheap air travel.