Accor relaunches Orient Express between Paris and Vienna, a new chapter in a turbulent history

The hotel group wants to bring the legend back to life aboard 17 original Orient-Express cars from the 1920s and 1930s, which were scattered as far away as Poland. First departure in 2024.

Its name makes the eyes of the planet’s railway enthusiasts and those who are nostalgic for the luxury trains of the early 20th century shine. The French hotel group Accor has announced the relaunch of the Orient-Express between Paris and Vienna in 2024.

“Almost 140 years after the launch of the first Orient Express luxury trains, the legend continues. Orient-Express, a travel craftsman since 1883, announces the return of its legendary train in a new format,” we read in a press release.

Remember that the Accor group owns the “Orient-Express” brand together with SNCF. However, the mythical train has known several operators and owners over time, a long river that is anything but calm, which has led to the proliferation of very richly decorated cars.

1883, start of Orient-Express

A little reminder of this long trip. In 1883, Georges Nagelmackers launched the Orient-Express, the most luxurious train in the world after a trip to the United States. It connects the West (Paris) with the gates of the East in Istanbul, Turkey.

Orient Express cars
Orient Express cars © Xavier Antoinet

In 1977, the first stop of the mythical train was hit by the almighty car. In the early 1980s, however, two private entrepreneurs decided to revive the legend.

On the one hand, James Sherwood, the American owner of the Cipriani Hotel in Venice, puts the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express back on track. On the other, the Swiss Albert Glatt, inaugurates the Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient Express. This cruise, consisting of historic carriages from the Orient Express, ran between Zurich and Istanbul and was a resounding success.

Under the name Extrême-Orient-Express, the train made the longest journey ever connecting Paris with Tokyo. But a few years later, the adventure ends and the train disappears.

With the help of Google Maps

That’s actually the problem. By being driven by different owners, resold and then abandoned, the rolling stock is scattered and lost.

That was when Arthur Mettetal, a researcher specializing in industrial history, came on the scene in 2015, who was in the process of a global inventory of Orient-Express for SNCF.

Orient Express car found in Poland
An Orient Express car found in Poland © Xavier Antoinet

During his research, he discovers a provocative video of a train in full maneuver, posted by an anonymous person on Youtube. Then he goes up the track to Poland thanks in particular to Google Maps, which allows him to locate from the sky the roofs of 17 cars, which are actually those from Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express, called “Smooth Cars”.

Divine Surprise, on the way there, Arthur Mettetal discovers some cars that are still in good condition, especially the luxurious decorations consisting of Morrison and Nelson intarsia and Lalique panels, emblematic of the Art Deco style, which have remained intact.

Detail of the seats for the Orient Express
Detail of the Orient Express’ decorations © Xavier Antoinet

“After two years of negotiations, the owner of Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express sold his treasure to Orient-Express. The agreement was signed at the Bristol Hotel in Vienna in July 2018. A Danish convoy, in a truck, escorted by several police cars, they bring “17 cars – 12 sleeping cars, 1 restaurant, 3 lounges and 1 van – to France”, says Accor.

The return of luxury trains in Europe

Architect Maxime d’Angeac was then commissioned by Accor. He will be able to rely on this formidable preserved heritage to “bring the legend back to life by reinterpreting the decor of the Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express. In 2024, on the occasion of the Olympic Games in Paris, imagined the first cars will, in collaboration with the best French craftsmen, unveil the new charm of the Orient Express ”.

“Reinventing tomorrow’s Orient Express from historic cars from the golden age of the railroad, what a fabulous adventure!” Comments Guillaume de Saint-Lager, Vice President of Orient-Express. “It’s a treasure we’re rediscovered: the last Orient-Express, gone for 10 years and now saved. The talents and passion of Maxime d’Angeac and the best French craftsmen will in a few months reveal a new train whose appearance will remain true to memory and the art of traveling, according to Orient-Express. “

Currently, the group has not given details about the planned rates or about the frequencies and is giving an appointment until October next year for the presentation of the revisited cars.

Accor is not the only one betting on the luxury train in Europe. Puy du Fou has announced the launch of a train leaving Paris for a 6-day, 5-night trip in France. The offer is called “Le Grand Tour”.

It will not only be a matter of traveling in a Belle Epoque-style luxury train that is furiously reminiscent of the mythical Orient-Express, but also of participating in attractions.

There will be 15 cabins equipped with bathroom with shower and private toilets from 10 to 30m2 each. Tickets are sold from 4900 euros and the train will only carry 30 passengers per trip “because we want an immersive and tailored experience”, explains Nicolas De Villiers, head of the park. The company hopes to convince 600 travelers in the first year.

Olivier Chicheportiche Journalist BFM Business

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