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Venice Simplon Orient Express Review, London to Paris (part 1)


July 19, 2010 by Jools Stone

Venice Simplon Orient Express Review


The Orient Express is surely a landmark journey by anyone’s standards needing little introduction.  It’s the ultimate in deluxe train travel in Europe, perhaps the world.  Boarding this train lets you step back in time to the glitz and glamour of a bygone age, the golden age of rail travel between the wars.

But considering the sums of money involved there seems to be precious little objective information about it, as I discovered when I was planning my own trip on it earlier this year.  There are  a few varying reports on tripadvisor, and of course an excellent first hand account by rail trip guru the Man in Seat 61, who inspired me to take the plunge myself and cook up an elaborate proposal trip.  Obviously there is the OE’s own site and their numerous online partners, who effectively re-package the same information, but that’s about the size of it.

Orient Express staff line up

Back in January to beat the midwinter blues I decided to book a surprise trip with the pretext to pop the question to my equally rail-crazed girlfriend. It wasn’t a step I took lightly, (the train I mean) being the most expensive journey of my short and sheltered life, but readers I’m pleased to say that it did not disappoint.  So what can you expect for your money and how does it all work?  Can it possibly live up to all the hype of a thousand Poirot re-runs?  Well, my friends fret not, sit back, buckle in and do not adjust your sets, I’ve done all the arduous spadework so you don’t have to and with this two part trip report, I am about to fill you in.

Isn’t it ridiculously expensive?

Granted, this is not budget travel by any stretch of the imagination.  The standard journey – from London overnight to Venice – currently sets you back almost £1600 per person per leg.  And no, they don’t do off-peak returns!  But there are a few options which cut the cost dramatically.  You can go (as we did) as far as Paris for less than a third of the full Venice fare.  And if you do the journey in reverse, departing from Paris to Blighty, you can shave a further £20 off.  Personally I think it’s worth the additional small splurge.  To emerge from all that luxe travel blinking into the grubby, grey daylight of Victoria Station seems the very definition of anti-climactic to me.  Also, if you’re in Central Europe you can take advantage of similar deals for trips between Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Krakow and Istanbul, while Rome- Venice also makes for a short dash in the same price bracket.  Some of these routes run sporadically, take a peek at for full route information and the latest prices.  Of course the most budget friendly option involves a  journey on humble British soil (various routes from Edinburgh to Kent via London or York exist) from around £170 per person with dinner included, but that’s not really getting into the true spirit of it in my book.

Before you go

Once you’ve booked you’ll get sent  your rather plush travel documents in the post, all in plain cover if you request it. This comprises a nice blue and gold zip up ‘leather-look’ ticket wallet with matching luggage tags, a well detailed city map (Paris or Venice), the tickets themselves and a small FAQ style booklet.  Their friendly and helpful UK-based customer service staff will field any additional questions you may have by ‘phone.

Orient Express interior

Example of the stunning marquetry throughout the train

On the day

You’re advised to arrive at Victoria at least an hour before the 10.45am departure and while this may not be strictly necessary it’s a good idea as you can then avoid the queues and bag a seat in the smallish departure lounge.  This is stocked with copious posters, teddies and other souvenirs if you like that sort of thing, but there are opportunities to buy most of these on board or online after the event. All of the day’s menus, itinerary and branded toiletries (soap, toothbrush and paste etc) can be happily stashed in your case and taken home with you as souvenirs at no extra cost.

Reception staff take care of your bags loading them into the hold until the French leg of the journey, so make sure that you have anything you need to lay your hands on in your hand luggage, but they will remind you of this anyway.  You then take your seat in one of six individually designed day cars on the British Pullman.  These cars are beautifully decked out with gorgeously upholstered and commodious sedan chairs which are grouped around tables of four or two depending on how many is in your party.  (For the full blarney concerning the cars’ history, provenance, art deco marquetry and such, please see the OE’s site or check out some photos on flick’r) After twenty minutes or so – and much excited chattering among your travel companions – it’s chocks away and the silver service begins.  Few memories will outlast mine of supping on a deliciously fresh Bellini (peach juice with champagne) while exchanging merry waves with the suburban families tending their gardens as I glided through Dulwhich and into Kent.  It’s all too surreal for words.

Orient Express brunch

A Bellini at 11 o’clock? Don’t mind if I do

Let the eating commence

Without much shilly-shallying the serious business of your first of two five course meals is upon you. While this is actually served closer to most people’s breakfast time to lunch, the OE brunch is well worth forsaking your regular boiled egg and Marmite soldiers for.  The menu changes regularly, but on our trip we enjoyed a fantastically fresh melon ball fruit cocktail for starters, followed by smoked salmon, caviar with scrambled eggs on toast.  Extra room was then miraculously found for the traditional English ‘fry up’ course (if you can possibly tar it with that brush) and a wonderfully light and moist pear and frangipane tart, finished off with filter coffee and souvenir chocs.

This is all served up with an unfailingly polite, but easygoing, unfussy manner by an ever-revolving team of old fashioned cockney gent waiters, who announce each individually dispensed foodstuff as they plonk them down onto your plate.  (For some reason this brought the classic Two Ronnies sketch to my mind. )  Their service standards are so ingrained that they even habitually refer to each other as ‘sir’, as they jostle past themselves in and out of the Tardis-like kitchen to bring you the gourmet goodies.


Good golly, a thousand words already and we’re not even out of Kent yet!  I’ll leave it there for now, but be sure to check back for part two of this great rail adventure, coming soon.

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  2. […] The Venice Simplon Orient Express: Because we're worth it! (part 1) | Trains on the Brain […]

  3. This is so cool. What a wonderful place to pop the question–romantic and classy! Really sounds like it was worth it!

  4. Boomergirl says:

    I hope your favourite gal said “yes” when you popped the question!!! What a great read, Jools! Definitely on my bucket list to do. But my, my, I do need to get a better grasp of European geography. The one night from London to Venice surprised me.

  5. When my daughter was teeny weeny I was working making underwater video in Thailand. We’d booked a sleeper train to Bangkok from Surat Thani to Bangkok and were waiting on Surat Thani train station watching the lady boys play on the tracks, the sweet smell of thai food in the air.
    Then the station went wild, for some reason people were running about shouting ‘Singapore, Singapore’. Then slowly, like a royal procession, a train rolled through the station with people on-board dressed in fine clothes. It was like the Titanic had come to life and it’s ball room was rolling through the station, waiters holding champagne bottles patiently stood, people in animated conversation, all oblivious to us outside.
    It was the Asian version of The Orient Express on it’s way to Singapore.
    My daughter was in my arms, for a moment I felt like I had short changed her, we were sleeping in $2 bungalows listening to the surf sending us to sleep yet here was a life that perhaps I should have given her.
    I said on that day that I would take her on The Orient Express, reading this has reminded me that I haven’t done that yet,
    This was all a long time before my life as a digital nomad, but still, like you Jools, we have a train to catch.

  6. Jools Stone says:

    Hello Cyber Gypsy, I wondered where you’d got to recently! Where you should get to of course is on that train with your daughter! A lovely idea that, hope you make it one day. Sounds like you have given her a very interesting life already though. Nice to see you anyway.

  7. Am in Argentina right now in an absolutely gorgeous place, right in the middle of an area of lakes and mountains in a hostel as the only guest. I am kept company by the eccentric owner who has an impeccable taste in Music, his Girlfriend and a few other characters around the place.
    Due to the fact that I’m the only guest I have the whole of the dorm room to myself, so I made myself a snug by this large triangular window that has a wonderful view of the forests and mountains. The mountains change colour when the sun rises and yesterday I awake to find the whole vista snow covered.
    I haven’t been on twitter as I have been distracted really, but no excuse as I have been near a Wifi connection for much of the last few months. I can see that you’re a bit of a marketing wizard and am making good value out of tweeting, good on you.
    For work while I am away I have made a few ecommerce stores for people so far, which locked me away for a week in a place called Villarica. Right now I’m in a place called Bariloche and love it so much have decided to hang around for a wee while. I have been trying to get these sites up the ranks (forgive the shameless linking here) Bariloche Hotel Bariloche andBariloche Hostel and am doing quite well for a few of them. If you happen to own a PR7 site…etc
    I do love your writing style Mr Jools, keep up the good work. Trains are great x

    • Jools Stone says:

      All sounds rather idyllic Dom. Reckon the view you’ve described could even distract me enough from twitter! Thanks for replying to my reply by the way, so rarely happens.

  8. You might not be getting replies to replies as the ‘send me notifications’ button doesn’t seem to have any text beside it below, so people won’t know you’ve replied.
    The formatting also doesn’t come out so well on those two check boxes in Firefox or Chrome for some reason, get that sorted and you’ll be busier than ferret at a baggy trouser convention ;0)

  9. I got a big kick out of your story. Actually, just so you, we provide very objective and complete reporting on all of the world’s great trains. Our IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys 2011 is hot off the press – with the list we issue yearly of the World’s Top 25 Trains. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is definitely on the list, and near the top. WHY? Find out on our web site, and our our blog, which focuses on deluxe train travel. It is Track 25, Your readers can get a complimentary download of our beautiful publication if they register on our web site.
    Eleanor Flagler Hardy
    The Society of International Railway Travelers

    Celebrating the World’s Top Trains since 1983.

  10. I guess I missed this article first time around since I had just entered the blogosphere. I’d definitely like to experience the Orient Express myself. How romantic! Now off to read Part 2!

  11. Jenny says:

    Deluxe train in Europe is very famous and i also wish to travel in this train but i need some time because it is expensive.

  12. […] to be my review of the Orient Express, which I took last year to propose marriage to my good lady, the beauty is all hers. How did it go? […]

  13. […] calls and/or web meetings let me know so I can check them out, having said that based upon this review of the Orient Express if they had Wifi I’d rather do that than be making calls all day long. […]

  14. […] my personal guide to the ultimate rail trip: The Orient Express, from London to Paris.  We pick up where we left off, stepping off from our London Pullman all set to cross the English […]

  15. […] did a trip from London to Paris last year, so read my review post if you want to know if the Orient Express is worth the money,  but for now let me fill you in on how to present […]

  16. Joseph Lister says:

    I am in love with this train. In fact journey through Orient Express is a tremendous trip of a lifetime.

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