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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: The Orient Express

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In 1883, The Orient Express departed on its first official journey from Paris to Istanbul. A luxury train that ran from for more than 80 years, it was Europe’s first transcontinental express, initially covering a route of more than 2,700 km that included stopovers in cities including Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest.

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Developed by Belgian businessman Georges Nagelmackers, he invited guests on the inaugural railway journey of 2,000 km on his "Train Eclair de luxe". The original route started from Paris to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, where they boarded another train to Varna, finally completing their journey to Constantinople by ferry. By 1889 however, the trip was entirely by rail.

The first menu on board included oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken 'a la chasseur’, beef filet with ‘chateau' potatoes, ‘chaud-froid’ of game animals, and a buffet of desserts.

(photo credit: The Orient Express was suspended at the start of the First World War in 1914. They resumed at the end of hostilities in 1918, and in 1919 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel allowed the introduction of a southerly route via Milan, Venice, and Trieste.

It was in the 1930's that the Orient Express was at its most popular, with three separate services running; the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and the Alberg Orient Express. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, and the wealthy in general patronized it. The 1934 novel "Murder on the Orient Express", one of the most famous works by Agatha Christie, was set on the Simplon Orient Express.

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Service was suspended again in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II and did not resume until 1945. Following the end of the war, normal services resumed except on the Athens leg, where the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece prevented services from running. The Orient-Express was discontinued in 1977 after several decades of steadily declining ridership.

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American born James Sherwood, a US Navy veteran and owner of London headquartered Sea Containers and Belmond, started purchasing dilapidated carriages at auction and by 1982, he had located and restored enough carriages to their former grandeur to form the Venice Simplon-Orient Express. In 2018, Belmond was bought by LVMH who continues to run the line today, along with the British Pullman, the Royal Scotsman, the Grand Hibernian in Ireland, the Andean Explorer in Peru, and the Eastern & Oriental Express between Bangkok and Singapore.


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