The luxury of slow time, the possibility of traveling without the stress of time, smog and queues, pampered by 5-star service… on board a train.
A real trend that, even in Italy, is leading more and more operators to put together custom proposals, defining a renewed way of traveling and visiting the country. From Belmond, pioneer of luxury train travel which, since 1982, owns and operates the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, to the Italian Orient Express La Dolce Vita, which in 2023 will launch an innovative 5-star rail cruise project. This project is based on an idea by Rocco Forte, who, in partnership with the Ferrovie dello Stato Foundation, launched the Sicilian Railway Experience: an itinerary from Central Palermo to Agrigento - Valle dei Templi aboard a train from the 1920s, enabling customers to visit iconic Sicilian locations (Villa Igiea and Verdura Resort) but also to enjoy the coast-to-coast itinerary for corporate events, such as presentations or team building days.
“In recent years, the charm of luxury train travel has experienced a renaissance,” says Gary Franklin, in London, - Vice President of Train & Cruises at Belmond. “In the hectic reality in which we all live, true luxury is taking the time to enjoy something unique and authentic. Today guests seek to reconnect with the glamor and thrill of adventure, often in a more eco-conscious way. A trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express embodies all these characteristics in a unique travel experience that sometimes becomes more relevant than the destination itself. Belmond has been a pioneer in luxury train travel since it began operating the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in 1982, and will continue to innovate and set the benchmark in this growing market, with its exceptional travel and experiences all over Europe, in the United Kingdom, in Southeast Asia and Peru.”
On April 21, after more than 10 years, the historic convoy stopped in Rome, and will repeat the new Italian route Venice - Rome - Florence - Paris and return also on June 29, August 3 and October 24, with departures from Florence and Venice combined with a 5-star stay in one of the Belmond locations in Italy: the Cipriani, A Belmond Hotel, Venice; Villa San Michele, A Belmond Hotel, Florence; or Castello di Casole. Reservations are already sold out. This is a great restart for this type of tourism, which the pandemic does not seem to have dented: “Despite creating unprecedented challenges for the travel and tourism industries,” continues Gary Franklin, “COVID-19 has created fertile ground for slow tourism. After the worldwide lifting of travel restrictions, we are all eager to get back to traveling, but we want to do it safely. Trains have been perceived as a safer and less stressful option. At the Belmond, we have taken every measure to ensure improved health and hygiene protocols to ensure our guests enjoy our enchanting accommodation, extraordinary services and genuine service with complete peace of mind.” The allure of travel is all in the wonderful train made up of 17 original 1920s carriages individually selected by the late Belmond founder James B. Sherwood, who bought the first two carriages in the late 1970s at a Sotheby's auction in Munich.
Each has its own unique history, all coming from famous trains of the era that paved the way for international travelers to cross borders in style and luxury. Just think of the number 3309, the oldest carriage of the train: built in Belgium in 1926, from 1928 to 1939, it traveled from Paris to Bucharest to Istanbul and experienced a series of dramatic incidents, such as on February 1, 1929, when it was stuck in snow 60 miles from Istanbul for 10 days, said to have inspired Agatha Christie to write Murder on the Orient Express. Or carriage 3543, built in France and decorated by none other than René Prou, one of the first French decorators to have his own line of furnishings and specialized in the design of the creations that have marked the history of luxury rail travel. Carefully restored, the carriages now revive the romance and nostalgia of the golden age of travel. From breakfast served in the comfort of your cabin, to afternoon tea, to the elegant canapés offered during an aperitif in the Carrozza Bar 3674 (Bar Carriage), the convivial heart of the train, guests can truly experience the splendor of past times, which the passengers themselves help to create, which is why evening dress is compulsory for dinner.
At the end of the evening, guests return to their cabins, which are prepared with everything needed to spend an unforgettable night on board, ready to wake up in the destination city.
Today, the train also offers modern and essential luxuries for customers: Wi-Fi on board and six Grand Suites, each with a private bathroom with shower and a personal cabin steward available 24 hours a day. The absolute statement in luxury on the train are the Grand Suites, each handcrafted with meticulous care to ensure they are faithful to the train’s history, while also offering guests the ultimate experience in terms of privacy and comfort. A new gastronomic era has also begun for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for the travel season 2022, with the appointment of the famous French Chef Jean Imbert, who combines the grandeur of the golden age of rail travel with attention to seasonality and the use of the finest products from local producers en route.
Carefully restored, the carriages now revive the romance and nostalgia of the golden age of travel. From breakfast served in the comfort of your cabin, to afternoon tea
Another fantastic rail travel proposal is the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita, conceived by the thirty-something entrepreneur Paolo Barletta. Notwithstanding the two years of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the Russia-Ukraine war, the heir to the Barletta real estate group has continued the project to diversify the family activities and relaunch Italian tourism by focusing on the synergy between trains and luxury hotels. It was also Paolo who, in 2010, as soon as he returned to Italy after studying in America, invested in the blogger Chiara Ferragni.
The allure of travel is all in the wonderful train made up of 17 original 1920s carriages individually selected by the late Belmond founder James B. Sherwood.
In 2018, he founded Alchimia (today worth €100 million, with shareholders including Nicola Bulgari), which finances startups such as the app ‘Ufirst’; he also invested in the Californian ‘Hyperloop One’, launched in 2013 by Elon Musk with the goal of creating a very high-speed train that can connect Los Angeles to San Francisco in half an hour. “In 2020,” he says, “we came up with the idea of 'Arsenale', a new company that aims to put tourism on board luxury trains through the company ‘Orient Express La Dolce Vita’.” Six trains, each with 11 wagons, 12 Deluxe cabins, 18 suites, 1 Honor suite, carrying 62 passengers, from 2023 (reservations will start in September 2022) will cross 14 regions and 131 cities throughout Italy, though three international routes are also ready.
The idea is to create a rail cruise and give people the opportunity to visit Italy in a different way. Through 12 scenic routes, the trains will stop in various places around the country.
“In Italy,” says Paolo, “there are over 16,000 km of railway lines, of which 7,000 are non-electrified, which represent strong ties with the territory and the history of Italy. Thanks to the partnership with Trenitalia - Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato and the Fondazione FS Italiane, it will be possible to reach intimate locations and long-forgotten places and enjoy a new way of experiencing Italy through ‘slow’ and ecologically sustainable tourism.” From secret wonders of Venice, to the enchanting Langhe region, to the Gonzaga Court in Mantua or the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in Cortina; in central Italy, routes traveling from Rome through the enchanted Gardens of Ninfa and the romantic hills of Umbria, winding through the Val d’Orcia to Montalcino, and then on to Siena and Florence; or in the South, in Sicily, traveling up the peninsula from the Ionian coast to the ‘heel’ of Salento to admire the Baroque architecture in Lecce and then head north to Matera, the magical ‘city of stone’. “On board, everything is 100% Italian and even the staff will be dressed by Italian stylists.” Whilst traveling on the Belmond will be a step back to the 1920s, staying on board La Dolce Vita will embody the art of “Italian living”. The livery and interior furnishings are designed by Dimorestudio, an international architecture and design firm founded by Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran in 2003.
The furnishings are thus inspired by the great masters of Italian design of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Carlo Scarpa, Gio Ponti, Ignazio Gardella, as far as the great artists of the Spatialism movement, whose compositions synthesized space and time, such as Lucio Fontana, Agostino Bonalumi and Enrico Castellani.
The project also foresees the possibility of combining train travel with a hotel stay, and partnerships are already in place with the French group Accor to inaugurate the 5-star Hotel Minerva in Rome, branded ‘Orient Express’, while a second partnership was announced a few weeks ago for a second Orient Express hotel in Italy, within Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice.
This slow and exclusive luxury can also be rediscovered as a corporate experience. A meeting or a presentation in motion, admiring the magic of Sicily from the window, perhaps alongside the Temple of Hephaestus, is one of the proposals by Rocco Forte, whose Sicilian Railway Experience retraces with 'slow travel' the ideal route to discover western Sicily through the more authentic and intimate inland places, to reach the famous UNESCO heritage sites, such as the Scala dei Turchi and the Valley of the Temples. All this is enjoyed aboard a vintage train from the historic rolling stock operated by the Fondazione Ferrovie dello Stato (state rail).
“The coast-to-coast itinerary was conceived for occasions such as corporate events, presentations or team building days,” says Anna Gricini - Regional Director of Sales & Marketing - Italy, Rocco Forte Hotels, “a new service for the corporate segment, totally customizable to accommodate every need and offer passengers an immersive and authentic travel experience.” The route traveled with Sicilian Railway Experience lasts about two hours and there are different options for customizing the train, with up to four standard carriages with wooden seats, one carriage with leather seats and a completely free baggage car that can be set up as a space for the event. The catering on board the train is also exclusive: the restaurant car is in the creative hands of chef Fulvio Pierangelini.
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