By John O’Ceallaigh
At this year’s luxury-travel conference ILTM, the most exciting news announced by the French hotels group Accor was about a train: the conglomerate will revive the Orient Express brand in 2023, by launching a luxury-train service based in Rome. Comprising six trains, Orient Express La Dolce Vita services will offer several ‘iconic’ itineraries across 14 regions of Italy and beyond, with at least three international routes leading from Rome to Paris, Istanbul and Split. To top and tail the experiences on board, the first Orient Express Hotel, Minerva, will open in the Italian capital in 2024.
Designed by Dimorestudio, the Milan-based architectural and design practice, the Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains pay tribute to ‘La Dolce Vita’, a period of Italian glamour, joie de vivre and artistic fervour that swept over Italy in the 1960s. The studio wanted to celebrate the craftsmanship, design and creativity of that decade and the 1970s and drew inspiration from Italian masters such as Carlo Scarpa, Gio Ponti and Ignazio Gardella. According to the designers “The spaces are thoughtfully designed and well-curated without being ostentatious and always well-curated. Every element should feel like it has always belonged there, to create a sense of sophisticated depth and visual weights that can be interpreted as layers of exclusiveness.”
Each of the six trains will feature 11 carriages, comprising 12 deluxe cabins, 18 suites and one signature Honour Suite, all with showers; they will accommodate 62 passengers. On-board services will include a fine-dining carriage where lavish meals will be served and a lounge bar. In Rome, guests will gather at a newly opened executive lounge at Roma Termini train station for welcome drinks before commencing their journey.
As for the overnight and multi-day itineraries, they’ll “provide a highly emotional travel experience, appealing to all five senses”. One route through northern Italy might extend from the country’s lake district on to the Dolomites, taking in mountain landscapes along the Vie del Barbaresco and Alba, and offering a pitstop in Venice. In southern Italy, itineraries will explore Sicily. The route between Rome and Paris will stretch along the Riviera, via Nice, The Rome-Venice-Split Orient Express service will go from Venice to Trieste, along the Dalmation coast to Split.
Of course, the launch of the Orient Express La Dolce Vita train service could potentially cause confusion for travellers who feel they’ve already travelled on the Orient Express with Belmond. The latter company, now part of LVMH, operates Venice Simplon-Orient-Express services between London and Venice. While Accor now claims the Orient Express brand as part of its portfolio, Belmond services will continue to operate, apparently under their existing name.
Other travellers will remember that the first Orient Express-branded hotel was meant to have opened some time ago, in Bangkok’s hyper-modern Mahanakhon skyscraper, which was the city’s tallest building when it opened in 2016. That project ultimately fell through and there are now no plans to open in that building or in the Thai capital, though in any case the brand’s placement in such a flash new-build seemed at odds with the heritage and reputation of the original Orient Express. The first trains launched about 150 years ago, and the name remains a romanticised byword for old-world glamour.
I was told that the forthcoming Orient Express Hotel, Minerva in Rome, housed in a heritage property, will be much more in keeping with how Orient Express properties are likely to be positioned in future. The converted 17th-century palace will feature a lobby adorned with Roman columns and sculptures, and its terrace will overlook the dome of the Pantheon. More modern conveniences will include a Guerlain hammam.
Exact prices for Orient Express La Dolce Vita train services have yet to be confirmed, but I was told customers can expect to pay something like €2,000 per person per night for each itinerary.
You can read about Japan’s new luxury train here.
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