In the age of modern high-speed transport, it is easy to forget what travelling by train used to be like. In previous generations, a train journey was considered a luxury and adventure. While there are many famous train journeys across the globe (most are still operational today), none hold the same esteem and legend as the Orient Express.
The idea for the Orient Express came from a Belgian called Georges Nagelmackers, who was inspired by America’s vast rail network. He planned to create a similar service that stretched across Europe. The famous train departed for its first official journey from Paris to Vienna in 1883. The Orient Express was compared to Europe’s finest hotels and became one of the main modes of transport for royalty. The full journey from Paris to Istanbul was an 80-hour trip. Since that inaugural trip the train and routes have changed, and in 1962 the original service was stopped and replaced with a service called the Direct Orient Express. Today the service is owned by Belmod, and travellers can continue to get a taste of the original Orient Express (now called the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE)).
People Magazine editor Samantha Miller reveals that her ride on the VSOE was every bit memorable: “If you’re a travel buff up for a splurge, riding the Venice Simplon-Orient Express is a whole lot more memorable than a first-class airline trip. Travelling in a work of art is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it doesn’t come cheap.” Miller noted that every part of the train projects luxury and style. From the “perfectly designed” sleeping cabins, to the “sleek and scenic” staff. In the famous dining cart she compared the food to “a fancy hotel restaurant”.
One of the reasons that the Orient Express continues to be popular to this day (the majority of the trips for this year are already sold out) is its role in popular culture. The train has been featured in literature, film, music and games. Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express is the most famous story to feature the train. The book captured the imagination of the public, and added to the mystery and mystique around the famed train. This aura of mystique around the Orient Express can be found in nearly every form of media. The Slingo slot game Orient Express embraces the wealth and glamour that was described in Christie’s novel, and the game’s design will be instantly recognisable to fans of both the train and book. The latest adaption of Murder on the Orient Express was the 2017 Kenneth Branagh film that featured an all-star cast including Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, and Judi Dench.
The film sparked a renewed interest in the famous train. Travel and Leisure describe how the present day service continues to honour the train’s illustrious history. Passengers still dress in a black tie for evening cocktails, and it is expected for guests to mingle rather than be confined to their quarters. It is clear that even after all this time, the Orient Express continues to be the world’s most famous train journey.