(AFP) – “The dream comes true!” Back on track after being found on the Belarusian border, the opulent art deco carriages of the Orient-Express are to be completely refurbished before resuming luxury train journeys across Europe in 2025.
It is now the Accor hotel group that is responsible. He has just taken full control of the Orient Express, the company responsible for building on the legacy of the mythical luxury train that took wealthy travelers to Constantinople (Istanbul) during the Belle Epoque.
“The legend is back,” enthused company vice president Guillaume de Saint Lager.
He first wants to restore “17 historic cars from the Orient-Express, in a totally fantasized version of what this train was, both modern and art deco”.
A little history: when the historic Orient-Express (Paris-Istanbul) disappeared in 1977, Swiss tour operator Albert Glatt wanted to continue the adventure with a Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express, which sank while trying to go to Tokyo at the Trans-Siberian Railway.
This train had fallen into oblivion until the historian Arthur Mettetal found it in 2015 in Poland, on the Belarusian border.
His 13 art deco cars were in surprisingly good condition. “No marks, very little damage. There have been copper thefts, but the Lalique glass panels, which can be easily removed, were intact,” Mettetal told AFP in 2019.
SNCF was then the owner of Orient Express, whose brand it had bought from Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits in 1977. After long negotiations, it ended up buying the “Glatt train”.
Meanwhile, the company had sold 50% of Orient Express to Accor in 2017. And it has just sold the rest to itself.
“A logical transfer at a time when SNCF Voyageurs must free up resources to deal with the consequences of the health crisis”, explains a spokesman for the public group. But the activity of the Orient Express is more hotel and tourist than railway.
The “Glatt train” has been completed with other authentic cars from the interwar period, which will allow Mr. de Saint Lager to line up 12 “suite cars” – including a presidential suite with bath -, a dining car, a bar car, a “conservatory car” and 2 service cars.
Voting by Lalique and wifi
Now is the time to fix them. And more than that, as he wants to “create an interior that is impossible to date, completely at the confluence of art deco and contemporary”.
A project entrusted to the architect Maxime d’Angeac, who will unite Lalique and wifi. “The passenger has to wonder when boarding whether it was done in 1930 or today,” he insists. “All the technology will be hidden, you won’t have a television screen in your room!”
The first cars entrusted to French craftsmen will be unveiled on the sidelines of the 2024 Olympic Games, he said, preferring not to talk about money.
As for the commercial launch, Mr de Saint Lager envisions it “early in 2025”.
“What is certain is that the start will be in Paris. And Istanbul will be part of the journey!”
Meanwhile, he plans to launch the “Orient Express La Dolce Vita”, another luxury train to tour Italy from “early 2024”, with Trenitalia cars from the 1970s, renewed by the design studio Dimorestudio. And two very beautiful hotels are to reopen with the Orient Express brand, in Rome and Venice.
In the same niche, Le Puy du Fou wants to launch “Le Grand Tour” in the summer of 2023, a train bought from Deutsche Bahn and converted into a Belle Epoque rolling hotel, which will travel around France.
And of course there is the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express, another heir – without owning the brand – of the famous train. It is run by the Belmond group (LVMH) and is now multiplying escapades in Europe. To go from Paris to Istanbul in five days, it takes 35,000 pounds (41,600 euros) for a double cabin, departing on August 25 at 15.53.