The coat of arms of a restored car from an Orient-Express train, on display in May 2019 at the Gare de l’Est (AFP / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT)
A bar with spectacular green banquettes under glass domes, a living room that transforms into a comfortable bedroom… The Accor hotel group wants to reinvent the Orient-Express, which it plans to run on European rails in early 2025.
The first images of the train evoke a cocoon on rails, in which a maximum of 64 wealthy people can travel. Marble, rosewood, mother-of-pearl and bronze beads, deep armchairs, an impressive witch’s mirror above a bed worthy of an African luxury lodge, pillows that we guess are soft and a car very art deco restaurant.
Orient Express, the subsidiary responsible for promoting the legacy of the famous train that inspired Agatha Christie, wants to “be one with the myth”, its vice-president Guillaume de Saint Lager explains to AFP. And “reinvent the myth” with a luxury hotel that moves from one capital to another.
The new train will of course take the historic route of the Orient Express, which connected Paris to Constantinople/Istanbul from 1883 to 1977 (with interruptions during the two world wars). But not only. “We’re going for a walk,” says the young manager somewhat mysteriously.
“We never talk about price,” he says. It will probably be necessary to have several tens of thousands of euros in front of you, given the prices of luxury trains.
An Orient Express cabin displayed at an exhibition in Singapore on December 12, 2020 (AFP / Roslan RAHMAN)
Everything in its time. The marketing plan, perfectly oiled, provides for successive “revelations”. The pictures of the presidential suite – promised with a bathtub – will be revealed in December in Miami and the pictures of the “winter garden” next year. “This car is extraordinary, it is the most anticipated,” laughs Mr. de Saint Lager.
More specifically, the first three converted cars, including the bar and restaurant, will be exhibited in Paris during the 2024 Olympic Games.
– Art Deco revival –
The team apparently has a lot of money at its disposal to convert 17 vintage cars from the “real” Orient-Express from the 1920s, 13 of which were found, abandoned, on the Belarusian border.
They were in good enough condition to excite railway archeology enthusiasts, but “unable to withstand the slightest technical control”, notes Maxime d’Angeac, the architect responsible for transforming them.
While their bodies undergo a makeover, he puts the finishing touches on the design with his nose in the original plans of the venerable International Sleeping Car Company.
“This is the third version of the Orient-Express, after the first generation – the end of the century – from 1880 and the second – art deco – from 1920”, he explains. With a decor that pays homage to its elders while being “extremely modern” and all modern conveniences.
The famous Orient Express train was displayed at an exhibition in Singapore on December 12, 2020 (AFP / Roslan RAHMAN)
“We have recovered everything, crumb by crumb”, from the Art Deco elements of the transformed cars, assures Mr. d’Angeac: “The Lalique flowers (lampshades, ed. note), the Lalique glass plates, marquetry … Everything , what we could keep, we recycled it!”
Almost everything will be transformed: “Ten cabins with toilets at the end of the corridor, it was strictly impossible to reuse”, notes the architect. The Orient Express is now talking about suites: there will be only 32 on the train.
The small private dining car lounge is original.
All work on the restoration and development of the train must be left to luxury houses and French craftsmen, assures Guillaume de Saint Lager.
Accor, the sixth largest hotel group in the world, is now solely responsible for Orient Express since SNCF sold its shares to it in the spring.
The subsidiary is to launch the “Orient Express La Dolce Vita”, another luxury train which will run around Italy from 2024. This will use 1970s Trenitalia cars which have apparently been converted into luxury hotels.
Two very beautiful hotels are also set to reopen under the Orient Express brand, in Rome and Venice, before establishing themselves in the Ryad.
Well before then, the new design of the Orient-Express will be presented, confronted with archival documents, in an exhibition from October 17 to 21 at the Domus Maubourg in Paris.