When we think about train travel, unless we are commuters forced to do it every day, our minds imagine the air of luxury and mystery that goes with the most famous train in the world: the Orient Express.
An atmosphere inevitably tinged with noir thanks to the 1934 Agatha Christie novel and its two film adaptations. The first in 1974 directed by Sidney Lumet with a cast that included Vanessa Redgrave, Ingrid Bergmann, Jacqueline Bisset, Albert Finney, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery and others, among others. The second film of 2017 directed by Kenneth Branagh, and despite the stellar cast it features (Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe and more), it’s certainly less suggestive.
On the trail of memory
The first section this train passed, unaware of the impact it would have on the collective imagination, dates from 1883 and ran from Paris to Vienna. But there is another trip that made him famous and so fascinating: Paris-Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. The discovery of the Orient in arts, crafts and fashion coincided with this happy decision to connect two great cities, thus becoming a favorite journey of the wealthy bourgeois and aristocrats. Nobles, merchants, intellectuals found the train with its decorated walls and excellent quality of wines and food on board an ideal place to meet and hold a social ball, consisting of alliances, deals and intrigues. In addition to the carriages intended for private apartments, naturally equipped with bathrooms, there were actually common salons where people could meet, watch each other and talk. Luxury was in everything: in the carved wood details, in the Art Deco decoration, in the exquisite murals and in the exceptional courtesy and professionalism of the staff. There were routes in Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Italy, but with the spread of faster aircraft, he made his last flight in 2009, covering the distance between Strasbourg and Vienna.
Running to the future
The Accor Hotel Group, which brings together more than forty hotel brands present in one hundred and ten countries around the world, has acquired thirteen carriages from the original train, the traces of which have been lost, and is currently restoring them in order. to preserve their unique and idiosyncratic characteristics. The purchase was born out of an accidental vision by French researcher Arthur Mettetal, who in 2015 recognized them by watching a video on You Tube and reported them to Accor, which in 2017 bought half the rights to the Orient Express brand. The carriages were not used, but were perfectly preserved at the Malashevichi station, a Polish town not far from Belarus. The restoration, entrusted to the French architect Maxime d’Angac, combines respect for a true historian and incredibly well-preserved decorations with more modern elements that guarantee comfort appropriate to the modern world.
The prediction is that by 2025, the Orient Express will again be able to connect cities and people on long, luxurious and beautiful journeys that will cover not only the historical routes that made it famous, such as Paris and Istanbul, but also Italian cities, such as Rome, Venice, Siena and Matera.