Glamour. Intrigue. Comfort. Extravagance. The Orient Express epitomized luxury travel, lifting the idea of riding the rails to an exalted new standard between 1883 and 1977. After nearly 50 years, an exhaustive worldwide search, numerous copycat attempts and one very improbable happy ending, The Orient Express is back on track.
French architect Maxime d’Angeac, who has collaborated with French fashion houses like Hermès and Guerlain, is in the process of restoring 17 Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express cars, preserving original Art Deco details and making modern updates. The first passengers are expected to board in 2024, in time for the Paris Olympics.
“Reinventing the Orient Express for tomorrow from historical cars dating back to the Golden Age of rail travel has been nothing sort of an adventure,” says Guillaume de Saint Lager, vice president of Orient Express, in a release. “It is a treasure that we have rediscovered: the last Orient Express, which disappeared for 10 years and has now been saved.”
The story behind that discovery of 17 original Orient Express cars is every bit as intriguing as the plot of Murder on the Orient Express, the 1934 Agatha Christie mystery novel-cum-feature film whose plot was said to have been inspired by the train. In 2015, French Ph.D. student and train enthusiast Arthur Mettetal was painstakingly researching the history of the Orient Express and searching the globe for remaining carriages. Upon spotting clues in a frame of an anonymously posted YouTube video, Mettetal used Google Maps and Google 3D to delve deeper and pinpoint the cars’ location.
Mettetal, a photographer, and de Saint Lager then traveled to Poland for in-person confirmation and found 13 circa-1920s and 1930s Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express cars on the border between Belarus and Poland. Despite being abandoned in harsh conditions for more than a decade, the cars were “surprisingly well preserved,” according to Orient Express, with intact Morrison and Nelson marquetry and “blackbirds and grapes-engraved” Lalique panels. “It was a true miracle and discovery of a lost treasure.”
After two years of negotiations, Orient Express was granted the right to purchase the cars. Four additional carriages found in other countries were eventually added to the lot, creating the new 17-car incarnation, with 12 sleeper cars, a restaurant, three lounges, and a van.
Rail Travel Ramps Up the Luxury
When the inaugural Orient Express train left Paris’ Gare de l’Est on October 4, 1883, the 40 passengers on board got their first taste of plush rail travel, with comfortable, luxurious accommodations with sleeper cars, high-end finishes and upscale dining. Version 2.0 is being designed similarly, with what Orient Express calls a “contemporary vision of luxury and extreme comfort [that] will pay tribute to the legacy.”
Corridors will feature graphic, textured carpets below and vaulted ceilings above, along with generous windows and Lalique lamps. Suites will take on a rounded shape to “counter the strict lines and designs of the train,” as d’Angeac describes. They will boast private bathrooms and dressing rooms; large sofas that transform into plush beds; elegant wood, mother of pearl and bronze headboards; and those historic Lalique “blackbirds & grapes” panels.
The dazzling Presidential Suite will occupy an entire train car with beds adorned with original and restored solid mahogany and Nelson and Prou marquetry; Lalique panels; a gas fireplace; a beautifully finished bathroom; and the Cabinet de l’Égoïste, which Orient Express reveals is a “secret room dedicated to good vibes and epicurean festivities.”
The Orient Express Presidential Suite will capture “the essence of the future train,” notes d’Angeac. “It is a work carved out of excess, inspired by the geniuses and pioneers of Art Deco, Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, and Armand-Albert Rateau, and by the importance of refinement and the absolute finesse of detail.”
In the bar car, you’ll find Second Empire-style domed lighting, a reinterpreted “rail” motif from the 1930s; marble tables; bronze columns; an all-glass counter in tribute to René Lalique; and a mirrored ceiling – just a few more ways d’Angeac says the Orient Express will offer “an incomparable train travel experience, imagined through a contemporary vision of comfort and extreme luxury.” On each table is a call button for champagne service and another to ring staff.
“The legend is back,” he adds, “and with it, a redefinition of luxury rail travel.”
By Zachary Chase
This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates.