The History of the Venice Simplon Orient Express – Things You Didn’t Know

Venice Simplon Orient Orient Express has always been glamorous over decades as it is today. The service, first called Express d’Orient by its original owner, started in 1883. It offered long-distance passenger service from the city of Paris to a town called Constantinople (today the city is called Istanbul). However, its first trip was from Paris to Vienna.

After World War 1 in 1919, the Simplon Tunnel was opened. This allowed the railway service to offer transport to Venice, Milan and Trieste. This route was referred to as Simplon Orient Express. As new routes were added to the service, there was a Saint-German Treaty that compelled Austria to allow the movement of the railway service on its soil. This made it one of the most important long-distance travel means from France to other parts of Europe.

According to, Over the years, the routes have changed just as the train itself. However, the branding and the luxury that comes with the railway service remains. It is known for its opulence, luxury and intrigue.


The Golden Age of Railway Travel

The Golden Age of railway travel came in the 1930s. Most of the people opted for railway transport for its safety and speed, especially when it came to long distances. Given its luxury and quality of food served on board, it became a favorite for the royalty and dignitaries from various corners around Europe. Many successful business people also used the train for their travel.

Some of the famous people who rode the train include Lawrence of Arabia, Marlene Dietrich, Leo Tolstoy, Agatha Christie and Leon Trotsky, among many others. It is the work of Agatha that made the railway travel service known around the world. She used the Orient Express to visit her husband, who was an archaeologist in Syria. Her memoirs recollected her trip across Europe and the contrasting difference between Syria and Europe at the time.

There has been reported a few high profile suspicious deaths on the train. The first was the death of a wealthy Romanian lady called Maria Farcasanu, who was pushed through the window after being robbed in 1935. (The killer was arrested and imprisoned for life). There was also Eugene Karpe, an American naval attaché who fell off the train in a tunnel at Salzburg in 1950 in a suspicious twist of events.

Source: Belmond

Famous Books and Movies Inspired by the Service

Orient Express became such a big brand at the time such that it inspired several movies and book writers. One of the most popular books was the Orient Express by Graham Greene, which was written in 1932. Another bestseller was the Murder on the Orient Express, written by Agatha Christie in 1934. These books have inspired some Hollywood movies.

One remarkable movie was Ian Fleming’s 1963 sequel titled ‘From Russia with Love.’ In the movie, there is a scene by James Bond, where he boards the Orient Express from Istanbul to England. There is also the 1938 movie by Alfred Hitchcock called ‘The Lady Vanishes,’ which showcases action on the train.

Source: Palace on Wheels train

The Service after the Second World War

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the service was interrupted and did not proceed until after it ended in 1945. During the Cold War era, it did not regain its prestige as air travel had progressed and had become the top choice due to its speed.

However, Orient Express regained its significance when an American entrepreneur called James Sherwood purchased Hotel Cipriani at Venice in 1976. He discovered that he could use the train service to attract high-end clientele to the hotel. He started by purchase two of the original train carriages at an auction held in Monte Carlos. Then, he went on to purchase an additional bar, restaurant and bar carriages.

Later, he purchased the railway service into his Belmond Group of companies. Today, this group has over 40 luxury hotels, river cruises, trains and restaurants across 24 countries. You will still find some of the original carriages that have dining, bar and sleeping cars that rekindle the golden years of Orient Express.

The original train service remains and offers a transport service from Venice to London, Paris and other locations. Today, it provides more adventure travel than standard passenger travel through some of the world’s most beautiful locations. However, you will still find the non-stop service between many of the cities.


The Make of the Train

Originally, the train pulled several sleeping and dining cars. The company had partnered with over eight companies around Europe that supplied it with everything it needed from locomotives to rails.

Passengers enjoyed overnight travel and food services on the way to their destinations. The cabins had polished brass fittings along with oak-paneled walls to add to the luxury. Several artists around Europe painted the interior walls with floral art. Orient Express is still known for this charm up to today. While a few modern coaches, seats and entertainment technologies have been added, it retains the classic look of the yesteryears.

About Stefania Trtica