The carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express are individually designed and each has played a significant role in the golden age of luxury train travel during the 1920s to 30s. Every carriage has been lovingly restored to its former glory, with $16 million spent on recreating one of the finest luxury travel experiences the world has ever seen.
Each of the carriages has its own personal story, from transporting European royalty across the continent and being shot at during World War II, to being caught in a snow drift for 10 days and inspiring the events in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.
Bar Car 3674 started as a dining car built in France in 1931. It was based at the Gare St Lazaire in Paris and used to meet trans Atlantic liners docking at Le Havre, Cherbourg and Dieppe. After the war it ran in the Sud Express from Paris to Irun on the Spanish border and from Paris to Toulouse in La Capitole.
It ended up running from Paris to Calais, operating as a snack bar in the Fleche d’Or. Its present appearance has been created for Venice Simplon-Orient-Express by Gerard Gallet in the Art Noveau style.
Dining Car 4095
‘L'Oriental' was originally a Pullman kitchen car built in Birmingham in 1927 in the ‘Etoile du Nord’ style. She was shipped from the builders to France and entered the Etoile du Nord. This was an all-Pullman service between Paris and Amsterdam, passing through Brussels, a journey of 350 miles.
Its service finished with the Lusitania Express, which also included car 4110 between 1961 and 1969. When car 4095 was bought for the VSOE the interior was replaced with black lacquer panels that had been in dining car 3583.
Dining Car 4110
‘Etoile du Nord’ was built in 1926 in England by Birmingham Railway and Carriage and Wagon Co, Smethwick, in the same workshop as Pullman dining car 4095 and Ibis and perhaps has the most beautiful marquetry in the continental rake. It did not immediately go into service, by the summer of 1928 it was part of the Etoile du Nord from Paris to Amsterdam and then switched to the Edelweiss, based in Amsterdam for the winter season of 1928-9.
After running with the Lusitania Express from Lisbon to Madrid between 1961 and 1969 it finished service in the 1970s in Spain, running between Cadiz and Seville.
Dining Car 4141
‘Côte d’Azur’ was built in 1929 as a first class Pullman and was decorated by René Lalique in the ‘Côte d’Azur’ style. The faintly blue opaque glass shows various classical figures holding grapes, with a matching frieze of smaller panels.
She went into the Côte d’Azur Pullman Express immediately for the winter season of 1929-30 and then switched to the Deauville Express before returning to the Côte d’Azur Pullman for the winter seasons of 1930-31 and 1934-35. She ran from Paris to Calais for many years, meeting the passengers from the Golden Arrow.
By 1961 it was in a reserve pool used for special services and in 1971 was stored at the Wagon-Lits works at Villeneuve. Car 4141 was rescued from a cold and dreary siding in 1981 by Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and restored at Bremen.
Sleeping Car 3309
Sleeping Car 3309 is the oldest of the sleeping cars and was built in 1926 in Belgium. The marquetry designed by René Prou is Floral Art Deco.
It operated exclusively in the Orient-Express, working on various parts of the route from 1928 to 1939, from Paris to Bucharest or Munich, or to Istanbul via Vienna and Budapest. The car was part of the service, which in 1929 was stuck in a snow drift for 10 days, sixty miles outside Istanbul, along with a full complement of passengers who survived only with the assistance of nearby Turkish villagers.
Sleeping Car 3425
Sleeping Car 3425 was built in England in 1929 in an Art Deco leaf decoration and shipped to the Continent where it then switched from service to service all over Europe. The car was part of the Orient-Express service used by King Carol of Romania. Using the train to conduct love affairs or to pack off a discarded lover. He eventually fled Romania in 1940 on board the Orient-Express.
The train, packed with the King’s treasures and valuables, was shot at while crossing Yugoslavia before reaching the safety of Switzerland.
Sleeping Car 3473
Sleeping Car 3473 was built in Birmingham, England in 1929. The marquetry interior was designed by Morison and has charming garlands of flowers zig-zagging as a frieze around the cabins and along the corridors. The car started service in the Train Bleu, the famous luxury train linking Paris with the Riveria.
The Train Bleu service was launched in 1922 by René Nagelmackers and has boosted the profits of the Casino in Monte Carlo, as all the smart set flocked to the Côte d’Azur on the glamorous train.
Sleeping Car 3482
Sleeping Car 3482 was built in England in 1929 with décor by Maple in an abstract geometrical design called ‘Trapeze’. The car immediately went into service into the Train Bleu and later alternated between that and the Rome Express. In 1937 the car was transferred to the Nord Express from Paris to Riga.
This route was particularly rigorous in winter because the salt from the track caused severe corrosion to the metalwork, which showed up at the time of restoration. During the war the car was used as a hotel in Lyon.
Sleeping Car 3483
Sleeping Car 3483 was built in Birmingham, England in 1929 and decorated by Morison with a delightful pattern of flowers clustered in a variety of baskets. During the 1930s the car was in the Train Bleu, the Rome Express and the Nord Express. At the beginning of the war it was stored at Pouancée but by 1942 it was rented to Germany, later to be recovered by the German Army in 1946.
In the start-up of luxury services again after the war it went from Paris to Rome, Biarritz and Brig and from 1948 is was in the Simplon-Orient-Express.
Sleeping Car 3525
The next four carriages were all built in France and decorated in a similar pattern by René Prou. Each car has elegant circles of stylised flowers in an ivory-like inlay set in a chequer-board design. The car went briefly into service on the Pyrénées Côte d’Argent Express, which ran from Paris to Biarritz. The Duke of Windsor enhanced its popularity between the wars because he preferred Biarritz to the Côte d’Azur.
From 1930 to 1939 the car alternated between the Train Bleu and the Rome Express and was stored throughout the war at Lourdes.
Sleeping Car 3539
Sleeping Car 3539 has the same decoration by René Prou as car 3525. The car was in service in the Pyrénées Côte d’Argent Express for one year and then transferred to the Train Bleu in 1930. In 1930 the depression was biting into luxury travel and Wagon-Lits found they had surplus cars, car 3539 was withdrawn and stored until 1936, when it joined the Rome Express.
It was stored during the war and used by the US Army Transportation Corps between 1945 and 1947.
Sleeping Car 3543
Sleeping Car 3543 has the same decoration as cars 3525 and 3539. The car went into service on the Pyrénées Côte d’Argent Express and the Train Bleu until 1932. Like car 3539 it was withdrawn from service during the depression, returning to service on the Rome Express.
After the war it rejoined the Train Bleu from 1950 to 1956 and finished service in the Simplon-Orient-Express from 1961 to 1969.
Sleeping Car 3544
Sleeping Car 3544 the last car in the group decorated by René Prou, had a varied and dramatic existence. It went into service in the Pyrénées-Côte d’Argent Express and the Train Bleu, was stored during the depression at St Denis, Paris, and emerged to enter service between Paris and Marseilles with the Rome Express. During the war the car was stored at Limoges where it was used as a brothel. In 1946 it was sent up to Amsterdam from Paris to become part of the royal Dutch train.
It returned to the Train Bleu in 1948 for two years and then alternated with the Simplon-Orient-Express from Calais to Trieste.
Sleeping Car 3552
Sleeping Car 3552, along with the remaining two sleeping cars was built in France and decorated by Nelson with a delicate tracery of tiger-lilies and small mauve flower heads. On the outside of the cabin doors in the corridors are oval plaques of more stylised flowers with long stems. The car was in the Pyrénées-Côte d’Argent Express for the whole of the 1930s, it was stored at Lourdes at the beginning of the war and finished the war as a hotel at Lyon.
Like many of the sleeping cars it completed service in the Costa Vasca Express.
Sleeping Car 3553
Sleeping Car 3553 has the same decoration as cars 3552 and 3555 and a similar history with service with the Pyrénées-Côte d’Argent Express and then being used as a hotel at Lyons after the war. It had four years service with the Paris-Brest boat train from 1945 when Brest was an international port for ocean liners.
It was with the Simplon-Orient-Express from 1949 until 1961 and was transferred to the Sud Express in Lisbon between 1969 and 1971.
Sleeping Car 3555
Sleeping Car 3555, again is similar to cars 3552 and 3553 in decoration and history.
The only difference is that the car was in service with the Nord Express between 1961 and 1969 when it was transferred to the Sud Express.