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Exceptional trains, a luxury that still makes you dream

DECRYPTION – Heirs to the myth of the Orient-Express, rail cruises continue to fill up. While waiting for the arrival of new players, getting a place on board one of these palaces on rails always requires more patience.

Orient-Express, Royal Scotsman, Trans-Siberian… The mere mention of these names is enough to transport us into the imagination of great rail journeys. That of long time, steam locomotives, refined service and sleeping cars with decoration embellished with woodwork, gilding and precious fabrics. On the scale of a region, a country or a continent, for one night, a few days or even a week, several dozen exceptional trains throughout the world perpetuate this mythology of railway, like the Rovos-Rail in South Africa,Eastern & Oriental Express between Thailand and Singapore or Venice Simplon-Orient-Express between Paris and Venice.

If environmental concerns encourage more and more people to favor the train to the plane, ” ecology is not the primary concern of customers who book a rail cruisesays Laure Jacquet, director of Discovery Trains, a French specialist in rail travel. Nevertheless, the trend of slow travel could attract new travelers in search of more contemplative tourism. For customers, mainly retirees, such a rail getaway is an opportunity to ” live a unique experience, out of time, which should not be like any other trip “.

An ultra-confidential market

The Orient Silk Road Express crosses several countries in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.) along the ancient Silk Road. Roland Jung

To take these legendary trains, you have to pay the price. For a night on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express or a week’s cruise aboard the Al Andalus (in Andalusia, in Spain), it is necessary to count at least 5000 € per person. Rates that change according to the comfort of the cabin or the number of stages. ” Keep in mind that the luxury train is an ultra-confidential market, unlike sea and river cruises which offer greater diversity in terms of price, comfort and itineraries. explains Lionel Rabiet, director of Voyages d’exception (formerly Croisières d’exception).

Places are therefore expensive, in both senses of the word. Prestigious trains only accommodate about fifty passengers with only a few departures per month, they are quickly full and require you to anticipate at least a year in advance. And available tickets are even scarcer after two years of the pandemic. The two agencies are indeed observing a phenomenon of massive postponement of stays that could not take place in 2020 and 2021. “ The desire to travel is stronger than ever and with the savings made during the pandemic, some travelers will not hesitate to catch up by treating themselves to a luxury train stay “says Lionel Rabiet. ” If you’re planning a rail cruise in 2023, no matter the destination, now’s the time to book recommends Laure Jacquet.

Among the routes traditionally most in demand in Europe, the Trans-Siberian experienced a booking rate “ exceptional in 2021 for the year 2022, according to Discovery Train, which now includes Russia specialist Tsar Voyages. But the geopolitical context in Russia makes this circuit impractical…Orient Silk Road Express, a train taking the Silk Road in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.), is an alternative to the Trans-Siberian, with an equivalent length and journey time. A circuit that Voyages d’exception has just added to its catalog (“The legendary Silk Road”, departure in October 2022).

New actors in ambush

One of the suites of the future Orient-Express Dolce Vita train which will be launched in 2023 by the Accor group. Rendering Orient Express La Dolce Vita by Dimorestudio

Despite the expected arrival of new players, ” supply remains and will always remain below demand », warns Lionel Rabiet. In 2023, Puy du Fou plans to launch “ The Grand Tour » a six-day, 4,000 km itinerary.discovering the splendors of France», with shows on board. Ticket price: €4900 per person. Also in 2023, the Accor hotel group, in partnership with the Italian national company Trenitalia, wants to revive the myth of the Orient-Express by launching the DolceVita on Italian rails (prices not given). ” An innovative concept insofar as it breaks with the theme of the 1920s, common in most luxury trains, in favor of the Italian lifestyle of the 1960s », stresses Laure Jacquet.

On his side, Midnight Trains aims to circulate its “hotels on rail” from 2024 to around ten destinations departing from Paris. If the young French company poses above all as a competitor of the plane rather than as an operator of luxury trains, it will take up the codes with the development of a restaurant car, a cocktail bar and cabins rooms with different categories of comfort. The Paris-Venice and Paris-Barcelona routes are planned for 2024, before the network extends to other European destinations such as Edinburgh, Rome and Copenhagen.

If they cannot find a place or have a sufficient budget, travelers have alternatives to exceptional trains. ” The mythical routes can still be taken with the regular commercial trains of the national companies “recalls Laure Jacquet. For example, that of the Orient-Express, between Paris and Istanbul, can be done in two or three days by taking the new Paris-Vienna night train, then continuing for example to Budapest and Bucharest. Less expensive and less comfortable, no doubt. But just as poetic.

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