Accor is relaunching the Orient-Express between Paris and Vienna, a new chapter in a turbulent history

The hotel group wants to bring the legend back to life aboard 17 original Orient-Express cars dating from the 1920s and 1930s that were scattered as far away as Poland. First departure in 2024.

Its name makes the eyes of the planet’s railway enthusiasts and those nostalgic for the luxury trains of the early 20th century shine. The French hotel group Accor has announced the relaunch of the Orient-Express between Paris and Vienna in 2024.

“Almost 140 years after the launch of the first Orient Express luxury trains, the legend continues. Orient-Express, craftsman of travel since 1883, announces the return of its legendary train in a new format”, can we read in a press release.

Remember that the Accor group co-owns the “Orient-Express” brand with the SNCF. However, the mythical train has known several operators and owners over time, a long river that is anything but calm which has led to the dispersion of very richly decorated cars.

1883, start of the Orient-Express

A little reminder of this long trip. In 1883, Georges Nagelmackers launched the Orient-Express, the most luxurious train in the world after a trip to the United States. It connects the West (Paris) to the gates of the East in Istanbul in Turkey.

Orient Express cars
Orient Express cars © Xavier Antoinet

In 1977, the first stop for the mythical train struck down by the all-powerful car. At the beginning of the 1980s, two private entrepreneurs nevertheless decided to resuscitate the legend.

On the one hand, James Sherwood, the American owner of the Cipriani hotel in Venice, puts the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express back on track. On the other, the Swiss Albert Glatt, inaugurates the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express. This cruise train, made up of historic carriages from the Orient Express, ran between Zurich and Istanbul and was a resounding success.

Under the name of Extrême-Orient-Express, the train made the longest journey ever, linking Paris to Tokyo. But a few years later, the adventure ends and the train disappears.

With the help of Google Maps

That is indeed the problem. By dint of being operated by different owners, resold and then abandoned, the rolling stock is dispersed and lost.

It was then that Arthur Mettetal, a researcher specializing in industrial history, came on the scene in 2015, who was carrying out a global inventory of the Orient-Express for the SNCF.

Orient Express car found in Poland
An Orient Express car found in Poland © Xavier Antoinet

In the course of his research, he discovers a providential video of a train in full maneuver, posted by an anonymous person on Youtube. He then goes up the track to Poland thanks in particular to Google Maps which allows him to locate from the sky the roofs of 17 cars which are indeed those of the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express, called “Glatt cars”.

Divine surprise, on his way there, Arthur Mettetal discovers some cars still in good condition, in particular the luxurious decorations made up of Morrison and Nelson marquetry, and Lalique panels, emblematic of the Art Deco style, which have remained intact.

Detail of the sets of the Orient Express
Detail of the decorations of the Orient Express © Xavier Antoinet

“After two years of negotiations, the owner of the Nostalgia-Istanbul-Orient-Express sold his treasure to Orient-Express. The agreement was signed at the Bristol Hotel in Vienna in July 2018. A dantesque convoy, in a truck, escorted by several police vehicles brings the 17 cars – 12 sleeping cars, 1 restaurant, 3 lounges and 1 van – to France”, says Accor.

The return of luxury trains in Europe

The architect Maxime d’Angeac was then commissioned by Accor. He will be able to rely on this formidable preserved heritage to “bring the legend back to life, by reinterpreting the decor of the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express. In 2024, on the occasion of the Paris Olympic Games, the first cars imagined in collaboration with the best French craftsmen, will unveil the new charms of the Orient Express”.

“Reinventing the Orient Express of tomorrow from historic cars dating from the golden age of rail, what a fabulous adventure!” Comments Guillaume de Saint-Lager, vice-president of Orient-Express. “It’s a treasure that we have rediscovered: the last Orient-Express, disappeared for 10 years and now saved. The talents and passion of Maxime d’Angeac and the best French craftsmen will reveal in a few months a new train, whose appearance will remain faithful to memory and the Art of Travel according to Orient-Express.”

For the moment, the group has not given details on the rates envisaged or on the frequencies and gives an appointment next October for the presentation of the revisited cars.

Accor is not the only one to bet on the luxury train in Europe. Puy du Fou has announced the launch of a train leaving Paris for a 6-day, 5-night tour of France. The offer is called “Le Grand Tour”.

It will not only be a question of traveling in a luxury train in the Belle Epoque style which is furiously reminiscent of the mythical Orient-Express, but also of attending attractions.

There will be 15 cabins equipped with bathroom with shower and private toilets from 10 to 30m2 each. Tickets will be sold from 4900 euros and the train will only carry 30 passengers per trip “because we want an immersive and tailor-made experience”, explains Nicolas De Villiers, boss of the park. The company hopes to convince 600 travelers in the first year.

Olivier Chicheportiche Journalist BFM Business

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