Orient-Express, Royal Scotsman… these luxury trains at the center of a war between tourism giants
“We are not afraid of the competition. And for good reason: there is room for everyone…”, smiles Guillaume de Saint Lager, vice-president of Orient Express, within the Accor hotel group. He is responsible for reviving Orient Express from its ashes, operated by the Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits and the SNCF until 1977. In that year, the SNCF abandoned the operation of the mythical Paris-Istanbul line. The train was considered obsolete, obsolete and too slow. From now on , the airplane is in vogue. It must be said that the Orient Express of this era has little to do with the train that crossed the continent in 1883, or even the crime imagined by Agatha Christie in 1934.
In fact, the cars that made up the train were successively dressed in the Napoleon III style (1883-1922) then in the Art Deco style until the end of the 1960s. Considered obsolete, the marquetry and the brass were covered with Formica , material. considered more modern. “We are forgetting this latest development, which is not really interesting… What we will do is breathe new life into the train spirit of the great era, the Art Deco style brought by Lalique”, explained the architect Maxime d’ Angeac, Accor commissioned to dress this train with future profit from the past. “At a time when the plane is vilified because it is considered too polluting, the train is also a way of understanding the idea of travel. It allows you to meditate, dream and take time for yourself,” said Guillaume de Saint Lager.
Orient-Express: the revival of a legendary train
At the end of 1977, the SNCF still had about forty vehicles branded as Orient Express: sleeping cars, Pullmans (comfortable lounge cars), dining cars… Unless the national company decided to remove them . First, a Swiss businessman named Albert Glatt took 15 of the best preserved cars. He wanted to relaunch the historic line under the name Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express… But it was a failure. The train was thought to be scrapped. Except it will remain slowly rusting on the border between Poland and the Soviet Union, in present-day Belarus.
Its brass and woodwork will be patiently removed until 2015. In that year, Arthur Mettetal (researcher specializing in industrial history) was commissioned by the SNCF to find any last cars of the Orient Express. It recognizes them using Google Maps. Bought back by weight of scrap metal, they will be completely returned by the Accor group in anticipation of 2024. value”, continued Maxime d’Angeac, who was commissioned to build the future rolling palace. The idea is not to rebuild a train identical to the one that is now obsolete, but to use every original car and restore it to the appearance of a luxury hotel on the tracks.
“Everything will be done in accordance with the spirit of the Art Deco train, but updated to meet modern comfort requirements. We are in the process of identifying the best French craftsmen: glassmakers, cabinetmakers… Each cabin includes a sofa bed for two as well as a bathroom. It will no longer be a question of having a single toilet at the end of the car,” explains Maxime d’Angeac.
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Accor does not provide any figures, but it is rumored that the renovation of each car will be around 2 million euros, including the upgrade. If the train is inaugurated on the occasion of the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, the first tickets can be reserved from autumn 2023. However, the base price should be around 4,000 euros per night with full board.
At almost the same price, the Orient Express modernized by Accor will compete with the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) operated by the Belmond group since 1982. Logic: it’s always full! On almost every continent, this luxury tour operator markets historic train journeys. It all started in 1977 when the founder of the company, the American James Sherwood, bought the cars of the Orient Express from the SNCF.
Cleverly, he acquired the Hotel Cipriani, in Venice, and hoped to sell trips between the two most romantic cities in the world: Paris and Serenissima. Except that the SNCF sells him a train that needs more than four years of repair… His bet, however, ultimately proves to be a winner: the train is taken by storm by lovebirds from all over world.
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Today, it is usually necessary to book a year in advance for a trip from 2,920 to 4,120 euros per person for one night. Faced with success, Sherwood expanded the route to Calais, then London, acquiring the British Pullman London-Folkestone, a luxury daytime train. Like an ocean liner, VSOE sometimes changes its route for other destinations such as Paris-Rome, Prague-Paris, Paris-Budapest, and even once a year the historic Paris-Istanbul route within five days… Minimum trip price : 17,500 euros per passenger.
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But in the early 2000s Belmond envisioned new cruise lines. The company purchased the Royal Scotsman which, departing from Edinburgh, will make a loop in Scotland for a two-night cruise. The advantage of this journey in a small territory: an alternative to driving and stops for many excursions such as a visit to a whiskey distillery, a hike in the Highlands or a ball-trap session.
In 2017, Belmond, in collaboration with PeruRail, launched the Andean Explorer connecting the cities of Arequipa, Cuzco and Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, crossing the Andes plateau at over 4,800 meters above sea level. sea As for the Far East, it is not forgotten as the Eastern and Oriental Express departs from Bangkok, Thailand, to reach Singapore via Malaysia…
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