The very name of the Orient Express symbolises the glamour and romance of train travel, summoning up visions of luxurious sleeping cars, opulent dining rooms, smoking rooms and elegant ladies’ drawing rooms. The Orient Express, however, wasn’t simply one train travelling along a single route.
Initially called the Express d’Orient, the train was the brain-child of Belgian businessman Georges Nagelmackers and set off on its inaugural journey in 1883. The original train included the novelty of sleeping and dining cars. Eight railway companies from France to Romania supplied the rails and locomotives. Passengers travelled from Paris to Varna and were then ferried by steamship to Constantinople. The train was an instant success and by 1889 the entire journey was by rail.
The train ran for more than eighty years from Paris to Constantinople, covering a route of more than 1,700 miles. It included stops at Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. WWI caused an interruption of service, which resumed in 1919 with an additional route from Calais and Paris to Lausanne. A new tunnel under the Alps, the longest in the world at that time, connected Switzerland to Italy at the Simplon Pass, dramatically shortening the journey time to Milan, Venice and on to Belgrade and Sofia. Trains taking this new route were called the Simplon-Orient-Express.
The Orient Express routes attracted Europe’s royalty, elite society, prominent politicians and celebrities. Several famous writers such as Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and Graham Greene set their stories on the Orient Express, which added to the mystique and fame of the train.The Golden Age of the Orient Express is, perhaps, the 1930s, when Agatha wrote her famous whodunnit, Murder on the Orient Express.
Three routes ran concurrently at that time – the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express and the Arlberg Orient Express which ran from Arlberg, through Zürich and Innsbruck, to Budapest. Sleeper cars continued from there to Bucharest and Athens.
Service was again interrupted by WWII, when the borders closed, but they resumed after the war in 1947. Thirty years later, air travel was providing faster and less expensive routes and, as the the number of train passengers declined, the service ceased in 1977.
However, all was not lost. The train carriages were auctioned at Sotheby’s in Monte Carlo and bought by American millionaire and railway enthusiast James Sherwood. In 1982, he revived the train service as the Venice Simplon Orient-Express with various routes between London and Venice, ushering in a new era of luxurious leisure train-travel.
A passenger on the modern version of the Orient-Express will begin their journey from Victoria station in British Pullman Coaches. The train travels through Kent to the Channel Tunnel and, once in France, passengers board Continental Wagon-Lits carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for the journey to Paris and on to Venice.
The route and the rolling stock of the Orient Express have changed over the decades but the name still symbolises the glamorous opulence, luxury and international intrigue of its glorious history.
Phoebe Wyndham, the heroine of my latest novel, The Lost Daughter of Venice, arrives in Venice by train in 1919 in response to an urgent pleas from her estranged aunt.
Come to Venice. Please, Phoebe, do not fail me.
Seventeen years ago, the grand Venetian Palazzo degli Angeli was Phoebe Wyndham’s home; now, the neglected walls of the palazzo are just a haunting reminder of all she has lost.
Arriving back in Italy after a plea from her estranged relative, the Contessa di Sebastiano, the recently widowed Phoebe is shocked to discover her aunt is dead and the palazzo now belongs to her.
All she wants to do is sell the property and return home. However, when a dark family secret is exposed, the shocking deception rocks Phoebe to her very core, and she vows not to leave the City of Water without first unravelling the truth from the lies.
As Phoebe searches for answers, she finds herself growing closer to two very different men. But, when her camera catches something more sinister than the faded grandeur of Venice, Phoebe begins to question who she can really trust and whether her aunt’s death was truly an accident after all . . .