History of an Opulent Enterprise

The Orient-Express, a luxury train conceived by a Belgian banker, Georges Nagelmackers, and an American entrepreneur, George Mortimer Pullman, during the late 19th Century, has come a long way since its first run from Paris to Istanbul in October, 1883.

The concept of one train with opulent coaches carrying royalty, the very rich and international spies to exotic destinations fragmented under the strain of war, political chaos and the popularity of air travel. Many of the original carriages, as well as privately owned railway cars borrowed from other famous trains, were destroyed during World War II, and others fell into disuse and decay. It was a faint shadow of the legendary train described in film and fiction when the original Orient-Express service was discontinued in 1977.

Now there are at least three European trains that claim the title “Orient Express,” but only the privately owned Venice Simplon-Orient-Express retains the image of opulence. The present VSOE owners sought out 35 of the discarded carriages, Pullmans, sleepers and restaurant cars, that have been restored in workshops in England, Belgium and Germany.

In May, 1982, the renovated 1920s carriages made their inaugural run from London to Venice via Milan. Now the VSOE runs regularly scheduled service from Paris to Venice from late February to mid-November, service between London and Vienna during July, August, October and November. Service from London to Budapest will be inaugurated in June.

The Pullman cars used for the day-trips out of London are the carriages that carry Vienna-bound passengers on the first leg of their journey to the ferry at Folkestone. The passengers then take the ferry to Boulogne, where they board the European VSOE for the rest of the journey.