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REVIEW – Belmond VSOE (Orient Express)

Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE)

  • Route: Venice to Paris (The Classic Route)
  • Pricing at the time of writing, per person:
    • Twin Cabin: from £3,885
    • Suite: from £7,985
    • Grand Suite: from £11,180
    • *Note: I was offered a discounted rate as the owner of a Belmond Bellini Club agency
  • Loyalty Program: Belmond Bellini Club

Introduction and History

Belmond is a brand which is synonymous with old school luxury. Although the company owns and operates some iconic properties like Copacabana Palace in Rio and the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, it is perhaps best known for the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) train.

The original Orient Express train operated from 1883, linking Paris to Istanbul (i.e. The Orient). This is not to be confused with another vintage Belmond train, which currently operates in Malaysia: The Eastern and Oriental Express (E&O). 

Much like the name ‘Ritz’, there are numerous different legal claims on the words ‘Orient Express’ made by different companies around the world. Belmond has the right to operate its train service under the complete name Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) and does so with refurbished carriages from the 1920s and 1930s, which serviced the route in the European interbellum period.

Belmond Cipriani Hotel

Belmond Cipriani Hotel.

Confusingly, the hotel chain Belmond was previously called Orient-Express Hotels Ltd before changing its name in 2014.

Meanwhile, the French hotels chain Accor bought a 50% stake in the rights to the name “Orient Express” in 2017 from the French National Railway company SNCF.

Accor not only plans to launch its own Orient Express train service, using brand new carriages rather than refurbished ones, they also plan to start operating a chain of Orient Express branded hotels.

Just to make things even more confusing, the Belmond chain was bought by the French conglomerate LVMH in 2018, meaning that the world’s richest man is competing with the largest hotel chain in his country, for the naming rights to the train that his company currently operates!

Belmond VSOE - Original 1920s carriage built in Birmingham, England

Belmond VSOE – Carriage number 3309, in service since 1926.


In simple terms: if you want to ride on the ‘Orient Express’ in 2024, this is only possible on Belmond’s VSOE train.

When Accor finally launches its version of Orient Express Service, it will do so with brand new trains rather than refurbished historic carriages. So arguably it will have the historical name but none of the historical authenticity, when it comes to the on-board experience.


Booking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE)

Since The Luxury Traveller is a Belmond Bellini Club agency, our clients are able to enjoy some significant benefits when booking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) train with us:

  • $100 per person on-board credit
  • VIP welcome amenity and personal note from the GM
  • Complimentary cabin upgrade, if available on the day of departure
  • When booking a trip of $10,000 or more: receive a $500 gift voucher for use on a future Belmond booking of $2,500+ 


Much like their parent company Louis Vuitton, Belmond Trains never offer discounts of any kind, through any booking channel.
Our pricing and availability matches the Belmond website exactly but of course, we offer better value since our bookings include all of the benefits above, as well as the dedicated service of our team.


If you would like to make a Belmond Bellini Club booking with us, please drop us an email including:

  • Full passenger names
  • Desired date of travel
  • Desired cabin type


Full pricing and availability can be found on the link below:





What’s included on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE)?

All classes of service

Guests commencing or ending the journey in Venice are offered transfers by water taxi. In all other locations, the transfers will be offered by car.

On the standard one night journey this will include:

  • A Four Course Dinner
  • A Continental Breakfast
  • A Two Course Brunch
  • A Three Course Lunch

An extremely extensive list of included wines, spirits, cocktails and soft drinks
(reserve wines and premium spirits are available at an additional charge).

Steward service is available to passengers in all classes of service.


Suites and Grand Suites

A kimono and slippers to take home.



Grand Suites only

Veuve Clicquot champagne is offered in the Grand Suite free of charge, throughout the journey.


Grand Suite passengers are guaranteed to dine at their preferred time, at their preferred dining carriage and table type.


VSOE Water Taxi transfer and train check-in

Although the VSOE operates on a variety of European routes, the ‘Classic Route’ between Paris and Venice serves as the backbone of the entire operation and is by far the most frequently booked route, by clients of The Luxury Traveller.

I opted to commence the journey in Venice and end in Paris as I loved the idea of spending a day by the pool at the Belmond Cipriani hotel before departure and arriving at the train station via speedboat transfer!

Our day of departure began with a leisurely breakfast on the terrace of the Cipriani Hotel, overlooking the tranquil Venetian lagoon.

Belmond Cipriani - Breakfast

Belmond Cipriani – Breakfast.

After this wonderful start to the day, we made our way to the hotel reception, to check out of the hotel and into the train!

A Belmond Trains representative was waiting for us in the lobby to tag our luggage, provide us with a train ticket and escort us to the hotel dock. From here it was a quick 10 minute ride past some of Venice’s most iconic landmarks, en-route to Venice Santa Lucia train station.

Belmond VSOE - Venice boat transfer

Belmond VSOE – Venice boat transfer.

Once we arrived at the train station boat dock we were met by another Belmond representative who escorted us directly to the platform.

This was rather different to the experience with Belmond’s Hiram Bingham Train in Peru. Cusco station was devoid of passengers, except for those of us travelling on Belmond’s train and the whole station hall was filled with comfortable chairs and stewards serving drinks.

Venice station is very much a regular, bustling city centre station with hordes of people milling around and no Belmond lounge of any kind. You pass all the usual concessions and ticket machines on the way to the cordoned off train platform.

Thankfully the boat transfers were timed so that we were waiting for no more than five minutes before the gleaming blue carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express pulled majestically into the station.

Belmond VSOE - The train pulls into Venice station

Belmond VSOE – The train pulls into Venice station.

Although there are multiple VSOE departures each week, it felt like a major event when the train rolled into the station. All around us, members of the public stopped to take out their phones and record the arrival of this rather glamorous looking train.

It was bizarre seeing the gleaming blue and gold carriages sitting alongside the usual intercity services with their plastic seats and polyester upholstery. Almost as if a rift in space time had opened up to deliver this train to us from the past.

Once the Belmond platform crew gave us the go ahead, we made our way along the platform, as members of the public continued to film on their phones. The whole experience was surreal and felt a bit like we were celebrities being whisked away to our limos, flanked by paparazzi.

Belmond VSOE - Boarding

Belmond VSOE – Boarding.

VSOE Historic Cabin

As we approached the carriage marked on our ticket, we were greeted by a train steward who offered to assist us with our hand luggage and show us to our cabin.

Once on board I noticed this plaque right by the door, detailing the history of our carriage. Built in 1929, it had not only served as a Train Bleu and Rome Express carriage from 1929-1937; it had actually been used as a hotel during World War II!

Belmond VSOE - Cabin D

Belmond VSOE – Cabin D (5182).

Upon entering the cabin I was immediately struck by the incredible finishes: the inlaid wooden panels were beautifully intricate and polished to a lustrous mirror shine. I have the good fortune to spend a lot of my life in luxury hotel rooms but few show the level of craftsmanship that was on display here.

Belmond VSOE - Historic Cabin

Belmond VSOE – Historic Cabin.

There’s no question that space is at a premium inside the Historic Cabins though. Hangers, hooks, shelves and cabinets were supplied in order to assist us in freeing up as much space as possible. Ultimately though it still felt like a bit of a struggle finding a place for everything!

Belmond VSOE - Historic cabin

Belmond VSOE – Historic cabin.

A lot of this came down to the fact that most of the storage space was already filled with items such as bedding, water glasses and even an amenity kit.


One thing I didn’t mind was the ‘clutter’ on our table though. A chilled welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot served alongside some delicious baked gougeres.

This is the generous welcome amenity offered to Belmond Bellini Club guests, in lieu of the usual single glass of champagne.

Belmond VSOE - Welcome champagne

Belmond VSOE – Welcome champagne.

Aside from the fact that the Historic Cabins are rather compact, another key issue to highlight is the fact that they do not feature their own bathrooms.  Each carriage has one toilet shared between 8 Historic Cabins. 

There are also no showers available on board for guests in Historic Cabins. These are only offered to passengers in the Suites and Grand Suites.

In practice, this really isn’t a huge deal as you can shower before boarding on the date of departure and shower again the next day once you disembark.

(On the longer 5 night journey to Istanbul, guests alternate nights on the train with nights in hotels, so again, they never go a full 24h without a shower.)


Another key concern raised by a lot of guests in the past was the lack of air conditioning.

I’m pleased to report that the entire train is now fully air conditioned, however the electric fans have been kept for passengers requiring an extra boost!


Speaking of extra boosts, the wifi on board could certainly do with some improvement. Travelling through mainland Europe you’d expect the connection to be excellent throughout but from the moment we boarded, we were barely able to connect our devices. This is something which was echoed by our fellow passengers.


Thankfully there were plenty of other things to keep me entertained and after taking time to play with every single button, clasp, drawer and shelf, I decided to sit back, relax and enjoy our champagne, as the train pulled away from Venice station.

At this point the train manager, Bruno popped in to say hello. He thanked us for introducing so many of our clients to Belmond and offered to take us on a tour of the train.

Normally whenever we visit hotels, a key part of the experience is a site inspection, where we are shown around the key facilities as well as seeing numerous room types. This allows us to experience as much of a property first-hand as possible, rather than limiting the scope of our experience to the room we are allocated and the facilities that we would personally use.

I had worried that a site inspection would be impossible within the confines of a train, so I was very excited to learn that there were a couple of empty cabins in higher categories for us to view!

On the way Bruno stopped to show us a few original features of the train like the mail boxes and the boilers.


We also had the chance to peek into one of the galleys, where I was very pleased to spot an Illy coffee machine.

Belmond VSOE - Galley

Belmond VSOE – Galley.

After this we continued walking past the various dining and bar cars (which I will show you later) before arriving at the part the of the train containing the Suites carriages…

VSOE Suite

As we entered the first of the carriages containing the Suites, Bruno pointed out to us an interesting historical feature: the steward’s chair.

During the golden age of rail travel the staff didn’t have their own carriages with sleeping quarters, instead the steward’s chair would convert into a bed and he would sleep here in the hallway, ready to be woken by any passenger requiring his assistance during the night!

Belmond VSOE - steward's chair

Belmond VSOE – steward’s chair.

Thankfully, conditions have improved considerably for staff on board and as of 2023, there’s also been a remarkable improvement in the quality of cabins offered for passengers too!

Belmond currently has 2 carriages of 4 Suites (3x doubles and 1x twin per car).

One key feature of the new Suites was instantly apparent when looking along the hallway of this carriage: each Suite has a window facing the internal corridor.

Belmond VSOE - Suites carriage

Belmond VSOE – Suites carriage.

In contrast, the standard historical cabins only feature windows facing outwards, with solid panels along the hallways:

Belmond VSOE - Historical Cabin hallway

Belmond VSOE – Historical Cabin hallway.

I was actually quite skeptical about the internal windows when I first saw a memo about them but having seen them in person, I can attest to the fact that they are utterly transformative.

Once inside a Suite, the amount of natural light is amazing. You can see everything on both sides of the train and thanks to some excellent soundproofing, the experience feels considerably more private than if you just propped open the door to peer across the hallway.

Belmond VSOE - Suite internal facing window

Belmond VSOE – Suite internal facing window.

The window is far from the only thing which substantially elevates the Suites above the historic cabins though. As soon as I walked into the suite’s reception area I was utterly blown away!

There was a full length wardrobe directly in front of me together with a bar area, featuring an assortment of teas and water.

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

Looking into the main sitting area, I immediately noticed that the main table is four times the size of the Historic Cabin’s, there’s an armchair in addition to the sofa and there’s also far more space in which to stretch out.

In the Historic Cabin it can be a real struggle to find an empty surface on which to put things down (indeed in many ways the feeling is akin to sitting in the old British Airways Club World seats), whereas here you have tables with drawers on either side of the sofa. These then serve as bedside tables at night, once the sofa is converted into a bed.

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

From this angle you can also see how it looks when you close the ornate wooden blinds of the internal window.

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

The Historical Cabins are certainly beautiful but you’d be hard pressed to credibly refer to them as being luxurious.

The Suites, on the other hand, are private, spacious and ornate compartments, epitomising luxury, with little in the way of compromise… and I’ve not even shown you the best part!

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

Each Suite features its own extravagant private bathroom, clad from top to toe in marble, featuring dramatic glass sinks and powerful showers.


Something I found very interesting was seeing how different the decor is in each in suite. The Historic Cabins are all identical but the Suites each have a personality of their own. This suite featured a noticeably warmer colour palette and rather different lamps too.

This angle better illustrates the size and positioning of the bedside tables:

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

This shot gives you a better look at the wardrobe and bar area in this Suite, which serves to dramatically increase the amount of storage space, compared to a Historic Cabin.

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

The wardrobes have plenty of shelves and compartments of their own too, adding considerably to their utility.  Another thing to note is that guests in Suites are given slippers and yukata style robes, which they are free to take home as a souvenir.

Belmond VSOE - Suite

Belmond VSOE – Suite.

After seeing the enormous chasm in luxury between the Suites and the Historic Cabins, I was very intrigued to see how the Grand Suites would compare…


VSOE Grand Suite

The Grand Suites were launched in 2021 and before this, the only accommodation available on board was in the Historic Cabins.

The decision to launch the Grand Suites was akin to an airline jumping straight from Economy to Singapore Suites and not having a Business Class cabin in between!

However, there’s no denying that there has been an enormous demand for the Grand Suites since their launch and this cabin type is generally the first to sell out on any trip.

There are actually two Grand Suites carriages, each holding 3 Grand Suites and once again, detailed explanations of each carriage’s history were displayed prominently on the walls.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suites carriage

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suites carriage.

The innovation of adding interior windows only came about with the introduction of standard Suites in 2023; as such, the Grand Suites carriages feature an almost unbroken wall of highly polished wooden panels.

Indeed, the wood is so highly polished that you would be forgiven for momentarily thinking that there are internal windows here too!

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suites carriage

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suites carriage.

Each Grand Suite is named for a major station on the original Orient Express route and the one that we were shown was Budapest.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite Budapest

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite Budapest.

As I opened the door and peered inside I could hardly believe my eyes. There’s no question that the standard suites are very special but this was almost double the size!

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite Budapest

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite Budapest.

The key difference here of course is that the Grand Suite has a separate living room and bedroom. This means that you can go and have a lie down after having a glass or two of wine with lunch, without having to worry about calling a steward to transform your entire cabin!

The Grand Suites are also the only cabin type allowing for more than 2 passengers. This is because the sofa can be extended into a bed, at the push of a button, like so:

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite sofa bed

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite sofa bed.

Equally as impressive as the amount of space was the quality of the finishes. I’m not even sure that the word palatial does this justice.

The level of detail on the inlaid wooden panel above the sofa was absolutely remarkable and the design of the lamp next to it was wonderfully elegant too.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite Budapest

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite Budapest.


…Moving on to the bedroom, I was mesmerised by the tone and grain of the wooden panels here too. As I mentioned when I first set eyes on the Historic Cabin, even the very best hotels in the world rarely feature anything close to this.

It transpires that a lot of the wood found in these cabins is illegal to source new, in the modern age, making the Grand Suite interiors essentially priceless.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite bedroom

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite bedroom.

The headboard above the bed was a delicately carved work of art…

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite headboard

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite headboard.

…and this light was just casually embedded into the ceiling, looking like the surface of Jupiter:

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite light

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite light.

Interestingly, Grand Suites are the only cabin type that have space for full sized luggage too, since the beds flip up to provide storage (just like on the Bateaux Belmond).

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite bed storage

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite storage.

As can be seen from the design of the base, any of the Grand Suites can also be converted into a Twin Grand Suite – simply by separating the beds and placing the nightstands in the middle.

Belmond VSOE - Twin Grand Suite bedroom

Belmond VSOE – Twin Grand Suite bedroom.

The storage options didn’t end there either; the solid mirrored wall on the left contained a slimline wardrobe with three hangers, whilst the mirror on the right sat atop a small chest of drawers.


Earlier I mentioned the nightstands and it definitely feels like the design here was a step behind the new Suites. The reason I say this is because these nightstands featured very limited storage space and were completely dominated by gigantic lamps, which occupied almost their entire surface.


Inside the drawers were some thoughtfully placed sustainable earplugs though and I was pleased to see numerous power sockets close by, for charging devices.


Just above one of the power sockets was this rather interesting looking brass handle:

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite window handle

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite window handle.

I was told that this opens and closes the window, allowing passengers to enjoy the breeze from the comfort of their bed.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite window

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite window.

Moving back to the living room, this angle shows the magnificent bar cabinet, behind which was the main wardrobe.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite living room

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite living room.

The bar didn’t contain any alcohol though, just large bottles of room temperature still and sparkling water, together with a selection of teas from Mariage Frères. Frankly this felt like product placement more than anything else.

Since there wasn’t a kettle, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t just order your desired tea from the steward, rather than filling an entire shelf with tea just so you can add your own bag to a cup of freshly delivered water!

I did think that the drawer full of small towels and bathroom amenities was a nice touch though, as this freed up space for guests’ own toiletries in the bathroom.


This brings me very neatly on to the subject of the Grand Suite bathrooms themselves…

To be honest, I didn’t see a whole lot to set this apart from the bathrooms in the standard Suites but that’s hardly a criticism, given how remarkable those bathrooms are. Short of adding a clawfoot bathtub like on Rovos Rail, I can’t imagine what else one could hope for on a train!


Even if there was no counter space there was still more than enough room for two guests’ toiletries, in the storage area under the blue glass sink.


In keeping with the theme of the Grand Suite, the toilet was also beyond clean – every last millimetre was polished and sparkling to perfection.


Not only do the bathrooms feature heated marble floors and powerful showers, they also come complete with Guerlain amenities and customised bathrobes which guests can either take home or have posted to them.



My experience on board the VSOE

After touring both the Suites and the Grand Suites, I must admit, I wasn’t overly thrilled with the idea of heading back to our original Historic Cabin!

Thankfully, a cheeky grin flashed across the train manager’s face just as we were due to head back. He reached into his pocket and handed me this key.

Belmond VSOE - Budapest Grand Suite key

Belmond VSOE – Budapest Grand Suite key.

“Welcome to your new cabin”, he said…at which point our jaws hit the floor.

Although cabin upgrades are a stated Belmond Bellini Club benefit, they only ever take place on the rare occasions that the train isn’t completely sold out. Since 2023 when the Suites were introduced, an intermediate step has also been created between Historic Cabins and Grand Suites. Ordinarily the very best you can hope for is a one notch upgrade but the stars aligned for us on this day.

I’m not going to lie, this only happened because we own a travel agency that does a lot of business with Belmond. I’m always up front and honest if I think I’m getting special treatment and this double upgrade was certainly a prime example!

Having said that, I’m 100% convinced that the treatment we received from all the staff other than the train manager was completely by the book. Ultimately, the expectation should always be that our clients’ experiences will follow those shown in our reviews as closely as possible.

So, if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in a Grand Suite aboard the VSOE, this is what your experience will be like:

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite Budapest

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite Budapest.

At the point that the photo above was taken I was still somewhat in shock… the welcome amenity helped to soothe my nerves.


One thing I do find slightly incongruous is the fact that Grand Suite passengers are offered free flowing Veuve in their room and also as a welcome amenity.

However, the moment they leave their Grand Suite and head to the bar or dining carriages they can then order all the Ruinart Rose and Ruinart Blanc de Blancs that they like, free of charge.

Personally I think that the Grand Suites need to up their game in this regard. At £24,000 for 2 passengers for a one night trip, you’d think that Ruinart is the least that would be offered within the confines of the Grand Suite.

Hopefully, in time, we’ll see the wine offering in the Grand Suites move in line with the likes of Emirates First Class, a product whose cellars are also stocked almost exclusively by LVMH.

One very cool feature of our Grand Suite was the fact that it was the very last suite on the entire train. This meant that there was zero foot traffic, total privacy AND we effectively had the rear viewing area of the train to ourselves!


Dining times aboard the Belmond VSOE

As we settled in to our glamorous new quarters, our steward Thibault came in to introduce himself and hand us our reservation tickets for lunch and dinner, at the times we had previously agreed with our steward in the Historic Cabin.

He also took the time to show us the various call bells dotted around our suite and warned us to be careful not to accidentally press them when in bed and looking for the light switch as he would be obligated to come in and check on us, no matter the time of night!


Guests are allocated their dining reservations based on their desired meal times, with Suite and Grand Suite guests given preferred access to tables of 2.

Those in Historic Cabins are more likely to share a table of 4 with other guests for at least one of their meals.

There is even a ‘high roller’ table in the Côte d’Azur dining carriage for groups who reserve an entire carriage of 3 Grand Suites. It’s very rare for this to happen though, so in practice this table is allocated to groups travelling together irrespective of cabin class.

Belmond VSOE - High roller table at Côte d'Azur

Belmond VSOE – High roller table at Côte d’Azur.

In total, there are three dining carriages:

  • Côte d’Azur – Blue
  • L’Oriental – Gold
  • L’Etoile du Nord – Green

Given that there are three main meals served on the overnight journey and all three carriages offer the exact same menu, we were happy to be given the opportunity to try all three!

In terms of timings we were offered two options for lunch: 12pm or 1.30pm

And two options for dinner: 7pm or 9pm

We opted for the later lunch sitting since we were still quite full from our breakfast at the Belmond Cipriani.

We also went for the later dinner seating, since the live music starts around 6pm in the bar car and we wanted to have the chance to enjoy a couple of cocktails before dinner.


Lunch at L’Etoile du Nord

I was very excited to head over to the Etoile du Nord carriage and experience our first meal aboard the train. Chef Jean Imbert is a huge celebrity in France, who is arguably best known for revamping the culinary offering at the Hotel Plaza Athenée in 2022, taking over from the legendary Alain Ducasse.

We were fortunate enough to stay at Plaza Athenée a few months before this trip and were blown away by every single meal that we ate. It was perhaps the single most consistently excellent food offering of any hotel I’ve experienced, other than Ritz Carlton Kyoto or the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong (which famously holds a total of 7 Michelin stars on its 7th floor).

Perhaps even more impressive than 7 Michelin stars was the wine list that we were handed upon being show to our table. It is without a doubt the single most outstanding list of included beverages that I’ve ever experienced in any hospitality setting.

Everything that you see on this wine list without a price could be ordered at no additional charge!

Belmond VSOE Wine List

It is worth noting that only the Veuve is included from the champagne section for non-Suite guests. Also the intention is that all of these wines will be ordered by the bottle.

There was also a list of suggested wine pairings by the glass, listed for each meal. However in situations such as these I always fall back on the fact that Rosé champagne is a true chameleon, able to be paired with almost anything!

Belmond VSOE - Wines by the glass

After drinking our initial glasses of Veuve Clicquot, we stuck with Ruinart Rosé for the rest of the meal.

Belmond VSOE Lunch Menu

Our meal commenced with the delivery of a freshly baked bread, with an outer shell that delivered a satisfying crunch as I pulled away a piece, revealing a steaming fresh interior.

This was served together with a pair of absolutely delicious butters. Based on the bread alone I could tell that the food was going to be substantially better than anything I’d ever eaten on an airplane.

Belmond VSOE - Freshly baked bread and artisanal butter

Belmond VSOE – Freshly baked bread and artisanal butter.

The starter was a bluefin tuna tartare hidden under a beautifully ornate tuile. The combination of textures and flavours was truly extraordinary. Months later I still frequently think about this dish.

Belmond VSOE - Bluefin tuna tartare with crispy tuile and condiments

Belmond VSOE – Bluefin tuna tartare with crispy tuile and condiments.

After this, we both opted for the sea bream with artichoke and fennel confit and a Barigoule sauce. This was cooked to perfection, a very moist and tender piece of fish with a heavily seasoned and crispy skin. Hints of fennel and lemon really helped to offset the stronger flavours of black olive and peppers, tying the dish together wonderfully.

Belmond VSOE – Sea bream with artichoke and fennel confit and a Barigoule sauce.

For dessert, we were offered a strawberry tiramisu, which so clearly pained our Italian waiter that it honestly added a fantastic comedy element to the proceedings. Unlike our waiter, I’m all for the rejection of culinary dogma, especially when the results are this delicious!

Belmond VSOE - Strawberry tiramisu

Belmond VSOE – Strawberry tiramisu.

The freshly baked pastry slivers that were brought over as dipping utensils were perhaps even better than the tiramisu itself though. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to freshly bake bread and pastries to this level, on a moving train!

Belmond VSOE - pastry slivers

Belmond VSOE – pastry slivers.

After lunch we made our way back towards the bar car. We passed through L’Oriental on the way and noticed that it had been converted into a games room of sorts, which I think is a wonderful idea for people in the Historic Cabins, looking for a quiet place to relax between meals.

Belmond VSOE - games room

Belmond VSOE – games room.

Once in the bar car, I ordered an espresso macchiato, which was expertly prepared with Illy coffee beans.

Belmond VSOE - Espresso macchiato

Belmond VSOE – Espresso macchiato.

Crossing through the Swiss Alps on the Belmond VSOE

After lunch, our train began to pass by some incredibly picturesque scenery, most notably spending an hour or so passing along the banks of Lake Maggiore.

Belmond VSOE – Lake Maggiore.

Belmond VSOE – Lake Maggiore.

After Lake Maggiore the train made a stop at Domodossola, on the Italo-Swiss border. Here we had around 30 minutes or so to stretch our legs and take in the fresh mountain air.

Belmond VSOE - Domodossola stop

Belmond VSOE – Domodossola stop.

Belmond VSOE - Domodossola stop

Belmond VSOE – Domodossola stop.

Of course this was also a prime opportunity to get pictures of the train in the warm light of the late afternoon.

Belmond VSOE - Domodossola stop

Belmond VSOE – Domodossola stop.

Although I’m no trainspotter, it was quite fun walking along the individual carriages and noting how old each of them was and where it had been built.

Belmond VSOE - Carriage information plate

Belmond VSOE – Carriage information plate.

Once the authorities had checked all the relevant paperwork, the train received its clearance and we were free to continue on to Switzerland.

Belmond VSOE - Heading into Switzerland

Belmond VSOE – Heading into Switzerland.

Belmond VSOE - Heading into Switzerland

Belmond VSOE – Heading into Switzerland.

A few minutes later we made our way through the Simplon Pass, for which the train is named, and emerged into a spectacular Alpine panorama:

Belmond VSOE - Simplon Pass

Belmond VSOE – Simplon Pass.

Belmond VSOE afternoon tea

Although it felt like we’d only just finished lunch, our crossing into Switzerland coincided with the serving of afternoon tea, in the comfort of our suite.

I’m generally not a huge fan of afternoon tea since I barely touch sugar or bread but I was pleased to see a decent selection of savoury nibbles to complement the sweets.

Belmond VSOE - Afternoon tea

Belmond VSOE – Afternoon tea.

Belmond VSOE - Afternoon tea

Belmond VSOE – Afternoon tea.

I’m also pleased to report that the Illy coffee was as excellent as always!

Belmond VSOE - Illy coffee

Belmond VSOE – Illy coffee.

Pre-dinner drinks on board the Belmond VSOE

Almost immediately after we had finished with afternoon tea it was time to prepare for dinner and of course, cocktails in the bar!

We not only had the luxury of a fantastic shower in our suite, our cabin steward Thibeault was on hand to expertly iron our clothing for us:


When getting ready for dinner, the Dyson hairdryer came in very handy indeed. This is what I personally use at home, since it’s undoubtedly the best product on the market.

However, it’s still by no means standard to see this in hotels, even those charging north of $1000 per night. The fact that the VSOE took care of this small detail was very much appreciated.

As I always say: “There’s nothing luxurious about taking a downgrade from your daily life!”


I had briefly taken a look at the bar car before getting changed and it was absolutely heaving with people.

Luckily I took pictures of this spectacular carriage as soon as we got on board in Venice!

Belmond VSOE - Bar Car

Belmond VSOE – Bar Car.

Not only was the carriage physically stunning but the bar was also very well stocked, with the staff being more than happy to go off menu and create custom cocktails.

Belmond VSOE - Bar Car

Belmond VSOE – Bar Car.

The seating in the bar car is quite cleverly designed, with tables of two being the norm and small ottomans being used to dynamically alter the capacity of each of the seating sections.

Some might argue that having to sit on ottomans is not exactly luxurious but this really helped to maximise the capacity of the bar and the atmosphere was very jovial and friendly as a result.

Belmond VSOE - Bar Car

Belmond VSOE – Bar Car.

The majority of the train’s passengers appear to have opted for the early dinner sitting. As such, by the time we had showered and changed we were able to grab a couple of these sofa style seats:

Belmond VSOE - Bar Car

Belmond VSOE – Bar Car.

We ended up sharing our drinks table with a young American couple sitting directly across from us and we enjoyed a very pleasant hour chatting about travel whilst sipping Aviations.

Belmond VSOE - Bar Car

Belmond VSOE – Bar Car.


Dinner at L’Oriental

After finishing our drinks we headed to L’Oriental, aka the yellow carriage, for dinner.

Belmond VSOE - L'Oriental

Belmond VSOE – L’Oriental.

Belmond VSOE - L'Oriental

Belmond VSOE – L’Oriental.

Belmond VSOE Dinner Menu

Once again, the meal began with an incredible freshly baked bread together with a duo of butters: salted and saffron.

Belmond VSOE - Dinner bread course

Belmond VSOE – Dinner – bread course.

The first course was a delicious lobster served with mixed vegetables and marigold flowers.

Belmond VSOE - Lobster starter

Belmond VSOE – Lobster starter

After this, there was a choice of either the turbot with caviar and stuffed courgette flowers, which I opted for….

Belmond VSOE - Turbot with caviar and courgette flowers

Belmond VSOE – Turbot with caviar and courgette flowers.

….or the sautéed veal chop served topped with chanterelle mushrooms, accompanied by an aubergine parmigiana:

Belmond VSOE - Sauteed veal chop with chanterelle sauce and aubergine parmigiana

Belmond VSOE – Sauteed veal chop with chanterelles and aubergine parmigiana.

Once again these dishes were on the level of what one would expect at a top brasserie in Paris, there was absolutely no hint of any compromise at all. It really is remarkable what can be done within the confines of the small galleys of this train.

Following the main course, we were presented with an array of cheeses from which to select:

Belmond VSOE - Cheese course

Belmond VSOE – Cheese course.

Given that we had done nothing but eat and drink all day, with effectively zero exercise, I opted for a very small plate. All of the cheeses were excellent and served at the correct temperature, as you would expect.

Belmond VSOE - Cheese course

Belmond VSOE – Cheese course.

After this, much to my protest, came the dessert. To be fair I’m glad that the waiter talked me around since it would have been a shame to miss out on this spectacular creation. A lightly toasted brioche served with fragrant honey ice cream and pollen chantilly cream, cut through with the sharp tang of stewed cherries.

Belmond VSOE - Brioche perdue

Belmond VSOE – Brioche perdue.

Sleeping on the Belmond VSOE

Upon returning to our suite after dinner, we found that a full turndown service had been performed: slippers and dressing gowns were prepared for us, Kamara’s PJs were neatly folded on top of the bed and we were even left a small gift of VSOE playing cards, together with a note from Thibeualt.


In terms of comfort, it has to be said that this still does not compare to a regular bed on land. If you’re a light sleeper like me, you’re likely to wake up multiple times in the night, feeling all the little shakes and bumps.

I would definitely recommend making use of the same regime of melatonin or other sleep medication that you use on planes and wish I’d thought of this beforehand myself!


Breakfast in our Grand Suite

After a few hours of broken sleep I awoke to the sight of the vibrant green hues of the French countryside hurtling alongside us. I took the opportunity to use the call bell, built into the headboard and asked Thibeault to bring me a triple espresso in bed.

Belmond VSOE - Coffee in bed

Belmond VSOE – Coffee in bed.

Belmond VSOE - morning views of the French countryside

Belmond VSOE – morning views of the French countryside.

Although breakfast is served to all guests in their cabins, the proposition is entirely different in a suite – where you truly have the space to spread out and enjoy a cooked meal.

Belmond VSOE - Grand Suite breakfast

Belmond VSOE – Grand Suite breakfast.

Guests in Historic Cabins are only offered the continental option, with a hot breakfast available in the dining carriages at an additional charge of €165 per person.

Belmond VSOE full breakfast menu

I have it on good authority form Kamara that the pastries were excellent and given how much food we’d eaten so far, it was arguably not entirely necessary to consume a more complete breakfast.

Belmond VSOE - Continental breakfast basket

Belmond VSOE – Continental breakfast basket.

Although it may not have been necessary, having the full breakfast was most certainly delicious! We were encouraged to try as many dishes as possible so that we could sample the full symphony of the kitchen’s capabilities.

The smoked salmon with blinis was tasty but unexciting.

Belmond VSOE - Smoked salmon with blinis

Belmond VSOE – Smoked salmon with blinis.

The lobster and avocado toast was incredible though, as delicious as it was beautiful to look at.

Belmond VSOE - Lobster and avocado toast

Belmond VSOE – Lobster and avocado toast.

This was followed by a gratinated soufflé omelette with caviar for me and scrambled eggs with caviar for Kamara.

Belmond VSOE - Omelette souffle with caviar

Belmond VSOE – Omelette soufflé with caviar.

Belmond VSOE - Scrambled eggs with caviar

Belmond VSOE – Scrambled eggs with caviar.


Bonus meal: Brunch on the Belmond VSOE

Ordinarily, breakfast would have been the last meal of the journey but thanks to some lengthy delays (which were entirely outside of Belmond’s control) we ended up having an arrival time 4 hours later than expected and somehow the team managed to design and cook a whole new ad hoc meal, complete with printed menus!

Speaking to some of the crew onboard, it really dawned on me just how complex this operation is; the amount of moving parts and possible pain points is honestly mind boggling. As such, I probably shouldn’t be surprised at how well this delay was handled!

Belmond VSOE - Brunch menu

Belmond VSOE – Brunch menu.

The scrambled eggs with caviar were rather reminiscent of the breakfast that we had eaten only 3 hours prior but I appreciate that the majority of the train’s passengers would probably not have eaten a hot breakfast.

Belmond VSOE - Scrambled eggs with caviar at brunch

Belmond VSOE – Scrambled eggs with caviar at brunch.

After this, we were served the fresh scampi ravioli which featured thin skins, a generous filling and were accompanied by a deeply rich and satisfying seafood bisque.

Belmond VSOE – Scampi ravioli with bisque and green vegetables.

The meal was finished by a true French classic: tarte tatin. This was a perfect expression of the dish, with the decadently buttery pastry wonderfully balanced by the acidity of the apple and the chilly embrace of the vanilla ice cream.

Belmond VSOE - Apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream

Belmond VSOE – Apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream.

The meal and indeed the train journey itself drew to a close with a double macchiato, served alongside a selection of pralines.




Booking a Historic Cabin on the VSOE is much like booking the entry level room at a top resort, what you’re really paying for is access to the facilities as a whole.

Stepping aboard this remarkable train really does feel like entering a time capsule and enthusiasts of history and trains in particular, will be very happy indeed.

No matter which cabin class you book, you get to experience the unique atmosphere of the refurbished historical carriages and can also enjoy the highly polished steward service, the unique bar with its baby grand piano and of course the amazing Jean Imbert cuisine.

I would argue that booking an entry level Historic Cabin is not a luxury experience though, only the Suites and the Grand Suites qualify in that regard.

No matter how great the service and food are, there’s no way to sugar coat the fact that as a Historic Cabin guest you share a toilet and can’t have a shower for 24 hours!

I have it on good authority though that the bunk beds make for better sleep, thanks to the fact that they run perpendicular to the train, whilst Suite and Grand Suites run parallel.

Let’s not forget that Concorde provided rather cosy seats too but the overall experience was far more special than sitting in larger seat on a slower plane.

All of this is to say that the Belmond VSOE is not for everyone. For the price of one night in a Historic Cabin for two, you can spend 6 nights at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa in the Maldives, including transfers!

Belmond’s VSOE is a niche product involving mind-boggling levels of operational complexity, delivered in a way that simply has no peers of any kind. You are effectively spending 24 hours in a stunningly polished museum, which you are free to interact with as you choose.

This is why journeys sell out months and sometimes years in advance.

In a way, this reminds me of Aman hotels like Amanjiwo, Aman Sveti Stefan or Aman Summer Palace (or of course Airelles Château de Versailles) – where a great deal of what you are paying for is privileged access to a historical site of great cultural importance, without the crowds.

If you are reading this review and thinking that this all sounds fantastic, then my advice would be to lock in a booking as soon as you can. The supply of Belmond VSOE trains is fixed and the number of people hoping to find a place on board is only heading one way….

Although Accor will soon be offering an Orient Express train of their own, it will all be completely new, in terms of the design. Comparing that to Belmond’s offering would be like comparing a brand new W hotel to Raffles Singapore, both are ostensibly 5* … but that’s where the similarities end.


Book the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) with Belmond Bellini Club Benefits

Since The Luxury Traveller is a Belmond Bellini Club agency, our clients are able to enjoy some significant benefits when booking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) train with us:

  • $100 per person on-board credit
  • VIP welcome amenity and personal note from the GM
  • Complimentary cabin upgrade, if available on the day of departure
  • When booking a trip of $10,000 or more: receive a $500 gift voucher for use on a future Belmond booking of $2,500+ 


Much like their parent company Louis Vuitton, Belmond Trains never offer discounts of any kind, through any booking channel.
Our pricing and availability matches the Belmond website exactly but of course, we offer better value since our bookings include all of the benefits above, as well as the dedicated service of our team.


If you would like to make a Belmond Bellini Club booking with us, please drop us an email including:

  • Full passenger names
  • Desired date of travel
  • Desired cabin type


Full pricing and availability can be found on the link below: