all aboard the most glamorous train journey in the world

A suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Belmond)

In the same way that I’ve never really embraced the idea of ​​guilty pleasures: if you like something, then you’re bound to like something, no matter how embarrassing it may be (and I say this as a huge fan of the movie The Proposal 2009, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds) – so I’ve never really toyed with the idea of ​​a gap year or a bucket list. The gap year seems to me like yet another misguided millennial birthright, the idea that higher education was so stressful, and the prospect of a full-time job so intimidating, that the obvious solution is to spend twelve months getting drunk in as many foreign places as possible. Angry.

So does the bucket list. There are a lot of things I’d still like to do in the world, but I don’t have a secret Word document full of places I want to visit, bridges I’d like to bungy jump off (short list), or esoteric or especially fat books I want to read. I also have no interest in running a marathon in Madagascar, doing a triathlon in Tasmania or skydiving in the Seychelles. In my opinion, the bucket list has always been a false distraction, which was given even more oxygen by social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram. And while I’m a big fan of Instagram, I don’t see it primarily as a means to show everyone the paragliding I did in Austria (aside from that one time I went paragliding in Austria).

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express passes the Brenner Pass, Austria (Belmond)The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express passes the Brenner Pass, Austria (Belmond)

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express passes the Brenner Pass, Austria (Belmond)

But the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has always been different, because the idea of ​​taking it has been quietly in the back of my mind for years. I once took the train from Waterloo to the south coast for a launch (no idea how I got back), and the experience was quite ruined, an old-fashioned idea of ​​what train travel might have been like back in the day when it was a glamorous novelty rather than a unpleasant necessity. So I wanted to do it again.

The classic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express journey is the one from Venice to Paris, which takes 24 hours and is something of a wonder. Of course it’s wise to spend some time in Venice beforehand, if you can, and I did, at a recently and beautifully renovated hotel called Ca’ di Dio, which is part of the Belmond group. It’s located on the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice’s main waterfront, and yet this former pilgrim hostel is the least touristy five-star hotel in the city.

Hotel Ca Di Dio in Venice (Venice)Hotel Ca Di Dio in Venice (Venice)

Hotel Ca Di Dio in Venice (Venice)

There’s a sexy little bar, two great restaurants and so many well-appointed communal areas (as well as a lovely secluded courtyard) that you feel a huge sense of freedom. The hotel feels clandestine and personal, but is still quite large. They’ve chosen to decorate it in an almost modernist way, the concierge is full of brilliant off-grid suggestions (I spent a day walking around the Jewish Quarter), and the place feels contemporary but not fussy at all. I’ve stayed in most of the so-called “best” hotels in Venice, but I definitely recommend giving this one a try.

When it was time to board the train, I was escorted to the motorboat by members of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express team, who looked as excited as I was about the prospect of the trip. Nothing represents a brand more than the people who work for it, and the team at Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Venice have embraced the experience with such enthusiasm that your own excitement seems completely reasonable. And as soon as I got on the train, I knew why. I was lucky enough to get one of the few Grand Suites, and I have to say it makes all the difference. If you’re thinking about doing this – and I highly recommend you do – go the extra mile and go for the upgrade, because you won’t regret it. The double bed is almost as wide as the train, while the living room and bathroom never felt less than palatial. This is true Art Deco luxury, where embroidered silk sits alongside Lalique glass, Baccarat crystal and table decorations that instantly transport you back to a time when there were more options on a train than cardboard sticks instead of spoons, plastic milk bags and Costa – quality coffee. On the train, never forget that you are in for an exceptionally pampering experience, whether that is the chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne and imperial caviar waiting for you when you check into your room, or the white glove breakfast service.

The dining room on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Belmond)The dining room on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Belmond)

The dining room on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Belmond)

You’re encouraged to enjoy yourself, so I did. Apart from the hours of blissful sleep, there didn’t seem to be a moment when I wasn’t asked to drink this, taste it or order another course from an unforgiving menu that seduces and excites in equal measure. Over the course of my trip, I ate so much food that for one brief, somewhat miraculous moment, I thought I might turn into Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote after asking for one too many wafer-thin coins after dinner. A friend of mine who has made the trip before said there was a moment when he began to question the appropriateness of sipping a perfectly served Chardonnay at midday while in full sleep (you will be asked to dress for lunch and dinner, the latter very formal) while racing through the Swiss Alps, but like him I quickly forgot about this after two or three glasses. After the fourth, I started figuring out how extravagant my pocket square would be at dinner (I ended up going with the full Hermès).

Last summer I had a job in the south of France and was put up in a very chic new hotel overlooking Monaco. As seasoned (or, in my case, spoiled) travelers often expect more than is delivered, I spent my time looking for faults – in the design, in the service, in the food, the lot. In the end I couldn’t find one, and I think the same about the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It is a perfect experience, a historical time capsule of an experience, and one that completely delivers. There were many people on the train celebrating anniversaries and birthdays (big birthdays), and those who just wanted to cross it off their bucket list. No one I spoke to was disappointed, while most actually found the delivery to be better than expected. Me, all I want right now is a bucket list. Or maybe a gap year.

Guests are requested to dress formally for dinner (Belmond)Guests are requested to dress formally for dinner (Belmond)

Guests are requested to dress formally for dinner (Belmond)

A one-night trip in one of the new suites on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, starts from £7,260 per person. This includes pre- and post-trip transfers, a personal 24-hour cabin steward, a suite with marble en suite bathrooms, bespoke amenities and a complimentary kimono and slippers, as well as a four-course dinner with sommelier wines, lunch and breakfast designed by Michelin star chef Jean Imbert . To book, visit

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