In the world of luxury travel, few brands carry an aura of luxury and exclusivity as effortlessly as Orient Express, a name synonymous with the romance of a bygone era of slow travel. That’s thanks to its Belgian founder, Georges Nagelmackers, who in 1876 founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (The International Sleeping Car Company). In October 1883, his first train left Paris for Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and the legend of the Orient Express was born. But a century later the brand’s appeal had begun to wane, as the allure of slow travel was overtaken by the glamour of the jet age.
In 2018, that began to change when French hospitality group Accor – also custodians of Raffles and Banyan Tree – purchased the brand. With a new appreciation from savvy consumers for curated luxury experiences and growing interest in low-carbon train travel across Europe, there are bold new plans in place for reimagining one of the most storied brands in luxury travel.
The first new offering, launching in 2024, is the Orient Express La Dolce Vita: a striking sleeper-train experience that combines contemporary design with all the glamour, passion, and joie de vivre of Italy in the 1960s. The new trains are the work of Milan-based Dimorestudio, who have beautifully married traditional Italian craftsmanship with a contemporary vision of luxury train travel. Each train will offer 12 deluxe cabins, 18 suites and one opulent ‘La Dolce Vita’ suite, along with a dedicated restaurant and elegant bar car. On board, guests can expect plush interiors layered with heritage detailing, while the menu will feature a rolling celebration of Italian culinary traditions and regional ingredients.
“It is thrilling to be bringing the refined nomadic spirit of Orient Express back to life for a new generation of travellers,” said Stephen Alden, CEO of Raffles and Orient Express. “As artisans of travel, we wish to revive this old-world, awe-inspiring ‘journey to elsewhere’ and reconcile certain paradoxes: a journey and a destination, astonishment and inspiration, movement, and contemplation.”
Journeys will begin at the dedicated Orient Express lounge within Rome’s Termini station, with six train sets embarking on a range of iconic itineraries, traversing 14 regions of Italy, as well as three international routes linking Rome with Paris, Istanbul and Split, Croatia. Bespoke off-train excursions will offer a cultural immersion into the varied regions of Italy, whether it’s truffle hunting in Piedmont or an evening at the opera in Milan.
And La Dolce Vita is just the beginning.
While plans are afoot to restore the original Orient Express carriages and (in 2025) relaunch the Paris-Istanbul journey, 2024 will see the opening of the first in a string of new Orient Express hotels. Orient Express La Minerva in Rome and Orient Express Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice will welcome passengers before and after their journeys. Just as Nagelmackers once intended.
But what the founder of Orient Express perhaps wouldn’t have foreseen is the remarkable Orient Express Silenseas. Due to launch in 2026, the first-ever Orient Express ship will be amongst the largest sail-powered vessels at sea. Measuring 220 metres from bow to stern, Silenseas will offer 54 spacious suites – each averaging 70 square metres – alongside a vast 1,215 square-metre Presidential Suite. Drawing inspiration in décor and design from the glamour of the French Riviera, Orient Express Silenseas will also boast a pair of swimming pools, two restaurants and bespoke cocktail experiences.
“We are beginning a new chapter in our history, taking the experience and excellence of luxury travel and transposing it onto the world’s most beautiful seas,” commented Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor. “It is a boat designed to make dreams a reality, a showcase for the best of French savoir-faire.”
While exact itineraries are still to be confirmed, Silenseas is expected to sail the western Mediterranean in the European summer, before crossing the Atlantic to offer Caribbean itineraries during winter.