Orient-Express, a train named … desire!

The door opens and you enter the bar trolley. James Bond sips his Martini (with a shaker, not a spoon), deep in conversation with Howard Hughes. In the background, Ernest Hemingway chews his cigar while torturing his typewriter; at the table next door, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald quarrel under the disillusioned gaze of Lauren Bacall; Tolstoy has fallen asleep on Coco Chanel’s shoulder, who examines Marlene Dietrich and Jean Gabin, very much in love … Tighten your variegated silk kimono like a plumage, ask the bartender to serve you an old-fashioned cocktail, and let yourself be lulled by the train’s gentle pitching . You close your eyes and immerse yourself in the legend of Orient-Express.

On October 4, 1883, the most luxurious convoy in the world left Gare de l’Est. He gathers Paris to Constantinople in less than 76 hours. A technical company. A veritably undulating palace, the Express d’Orient, its original name, reveals above all magnificent in its decorations, noble marquetry, rare fabrics and fine leather. Writers and journalists, divas and spies, greats in this world … The list of passengers will soon resemble the Social Directory.

Thirty years later, decorator René Prous and master glassmaker René Lalique’s intervention will push the marker for sophistication even further. The elite of the time met in the Art Deco dining car of the new Orient-Express to enjoy exceptional food and wine. It is even said that some passengers go on board for two or three hours, just to enjoy the party.

But during the Cold War, the commercial speed (55 km / h) and the endless customs stops in the communist countries that are crossed will not resist in the light of the democratization of air travel. In 1977, Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-lits (CIWL) abdicated. It counts without the stories of great travelers, Agatha Christie’s intrigues or poems by Guillaume Apollinaire who has woven a true legend. Orient-Expressen cannot die. He just dozes off. Phoenix will be reborn, keep following its journey …

The battle for the rails

You should know that the Orient-Express brand, inherited from CIWL, remained for almost forty years in a closet at SNCF. In the late 1970s, the French railway company contented itself with granting a license to the British James Sherwood, then owner of the Cipriani Hotel in Venice. A stroke of genius! The hotel owner has just bought two carriages from the former luxury train at auction to transport his customers to his Venetian establishment. But he was captured by the game and continued his railway investment by restoring Le Train bleu, La Flèche d’or and L’Étoile du Nord.

In 1982, the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express, consisting of 17 original cars, lavishly renovated, was launched on the rails. The group of hotels, cruises, safaris and trains also circulating in England, Scotland and Asia will, of course, take the name Orient-Express Hotels before being replaced in 2014 by the name Belmond. LVMH, the world number one in luxury, enters the scene in 2019 by winning the Belmond group, hotels and trains, for $ 3.2 billion.

Cause and effect relationship? The name change for Belmond coincides with the moment when SNCF, the owner of the Orient-Express name, becomes aware of the treasure that sleeps in its files, wakes up and launches a luxury train project: a modern version of Orient-Express. But train enthusiasts will wait in vain for this IT train: the French railways have other fish to fry, and their project will never see the light of day. It’s time for a new fairy godmother to appear on stage.

This will be Sébastien Bazin, President of Accor, a group in full mutation since 2013. The sixth hotel operator in the world and the first in Europe, Accor redirected its strategy by selling the walls of most of its hotels and chose to strengthen its presence in it very high-end by turning to “adventurous” luxury and “augmented” hospitality. What is better than luxury trains in this strategy?

Orient Express a train named desire - the good life

Orient-Express, expansion of the luxury sector

In 2017, Sébastien Bazin acquired 51% of the Orient-Express brand (49% remaining of SNCF). This visionary, who knew how to show audacity and agility to help the hotel operator get through the recent tourism crises, is not unaware that train travel has record-high occupancy rates.

At a time when we see the hypersonic plane that will fly from Paris to Tokyo in two and a half hours, the historic trains speeding at 70 km / h are still the substance of dreams. Probably because they revive the lost art of traveling. They bring us back to a time when, instead of collapsing in your airplane seat without talking to your neighbor, you put on your tuxedo to socialize in the smoking car.

Orient-Express is a brand that really moves me, says Sébastien Bazin. She is unique, she does not identify with any nationality, she is stateless. It belongs to everyone. It’s not a product, it’s a feeling. The adventure began with a new Italian partner, Arsenale, whom we met around the restoration project of the sublime Grand Hôtel de la Minerve in Rome. We are no longer talking about a single hotel, but about several, and the new partners crown it all with a collection of trains called La Dolce Vita.

Orient Express a train named desire - the good life

The president of the Arsenal, Paolo Barletta, puts more than 100 million euros on the table (Accor will only manage trains and hotels). “ Today, luxury is more than ever a state of mind “, Emphasizes Stephen Alden, whom Sébastien Bazin has chosen to appoint the head of Orient Express. Born in Malta, living in Milan, this seraglio man has luxury hotels as his homeland: “ Orient-Express is a sexy brand. Say his name and people start dreaming. We have an obligation to preserve this heritage, to preserve its legitimacy and, above all, to preserve its timeless character. Determined to cultivate the train’s glamor, which is a destination in itself, Stephen Alden intends to bring modern comfort while respecting its identity and remaining in a world of elegant Italian simplicity, while offering a very luxurious service.

A delicate balance that should not bother the one who is also the chairman and CEO of Raffles, the hotels for tiger hunters and writer-travelers, a group that has known how to take the turn of modernity.

The Orient-Express saga continues

Six La Dolce Vita trains, each consisting of eleven carriages, all of which are under renovation, will therefore soon run in 2023. Mainly in Italy, with breakaways connecting Rome with Paris, Split and Istanbul. The cars, which were bought in Italy four years ago, will show a style that combines vintage and contemporary, for it is impossible to switch to nostalgia. ” La dolce vita celebrates the golden age of Italian design, says Guillaume de Saint Lager, vice president of Orient-Express. This is the period, in the 60s and 70s, when Italy revealed itself to the world in many areas, such as cinema or design. His choice for the resurrection of cars fell spontaneously on the talented Milanese designers Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci from Dimore Studio.

A collection of travel items

Other high-flying designers and craftsmen have been entrusted with the creation of a collection of travel items, from luggage to sunglasses, including tableware and candles, essential accessories for the traveling dandy. This collection, dubbed Steam Dream, was already the subject of an exhibition last summer at La Samaritaine.

Orient Express a train named desire - the good life

While the Grand Hôtel de la Minerve, the first of an Orient-Express line, opens in Rome in 2024, the first train will start its lucky passengers in 2023. Imagine a series of routes crossing Italy, from north to south, from the lakes of the Dolomites, from the hills of Umbria to the Tuscan vineyards, to the Sicilian coast, along the Palermo-Trapani line …

In the barbeque, redesigned in a long colorful wave, you will enjoy a Martini (with a shaker, not a spoon) while the landscapes roll by in slow motion. Is not the train with its tunnels and switches a metaphor for life? Oh! James…


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