On April 16th, I was lucky enough to fly to Venice with a small group of 7 other agents, 2 representatives from Kirker Holidays and the UK Sales Manager of Belmond (previously known as the Orient Express Group of Hotels/Rail).
Upon arrival into the Venice, we went by private water taxi to the Londra Hotel, located in a superb location along the Grand Canal. Here, we enjoyed the warm hospitality and a lovely lunch followed by a site inspection of the property. Recently refurbished, this property is a lovely choice both in location and standard. The décor of all rooms is both beautiful and tasteful and even the lead-in room here is of a lovely standard.
Following this, we enjoyed a tour of Doges Palace with a private guide. After a brief walk around St.Mark’s Square, we were then taken to Giudecca Island, a five-minute ride by private launch from St Mark’s Square, where the Hotel Belmond Cipriani is located – a true film-star arrival! This hotel is of timeless elegance and I can totally understand why it is one which George Clooney frequents! Well, if it’s good enough for him ………
That evening we were taken to a charming Ristorante called Osteria Oliva Nera, located down cobbled back streets in the heart of Venice, 5 minutes from Marks Square. Here we enjoyed a wonderful traditional Italian meal, prepared and served by the delightful restaurant owners.
The next day we were taken by the Cipriani’s private launch, ‘Shirley’ (named after the owner’s wife), to the beautiful islands of Murano and Burano. Whilst on Murano we visited the world famous Murano Glass Factory where we marvelled at the making of some of the most delicate and ornate pieces of glass which were then able to been found for sale in the shop afterwards.
After our visit to Murano, we were soon back on the water aboard ‘Shirley’ for a visit to another nearby island in the Venetian Lagoon called Burano. With a population of less than 3000 people, this really was a ‘step back in time’. It is like a Legoland where everything is brightly coloured – the canals, the bridges, the leaning tower and the houses all painted in the deepest colours. Tradition has it that the fishermen painted their house bright contrasting colours so that they could identify their homes on the way home in the misty lagoon (or when they’d had a drink or two!). Whilst the men of Burano still fish, the women uphold the island’s lace making traditions and is also home to the world famous lace. This quaint crime-free island, where the locals leave their windows and doors open and unlocked, is a must-visit whilst in Venice.
After our return to the Belmond Cipriani, we found ourselves with an afternoon at leisure. Having never been to Venice before, I wanted to ensure that I saw as much of the city as I possibly could in the short amount of time we would be here. Therefore, with a couple of others, I took the hotel’s complimentary water-taxi back to St.Mark’s Square and walked through the beautiful streets to the Rialto Bridge. Adjacent to the bridge on the east side is the old Post Office building, which has now been beautifully restored and developed into a shopping mall. Here, I would recommend that, unless you are in the market for expensive designer goods, to head straight to the roof terrace. Entrance is free but as it is not a large area, crowd control is well managed by acquiring a timed ticket so just a short queue before gaining access. The views are wonderful in all directions but especially those of Grand Canal north and south and the view down towards the Rialto Bridge, seeing it from a more unusual perspective.
Upon return to the hotel, we had a short while to get ready for dinner which, this evening, was going to be at the hotel’s Cip’s Club Restaurant. A short walk through the hotel grounds brings you to the waterfront where this elegant but informal restaurant enjoys the wonderful panorama with views across to St. Mark’s Square. It is also just a few houses along from Elton John’s home and I can certainly see why he would have be drawn to such an amazing location.
The following morning, we checked out and headed via the Grand Canal to Venice Rail Station. This journey itself was really enjoyable – and the best was yet to come! Upon arrival, we were efficiently checked in for our journey aboard the world famous Venice Simplon Orient Express.
Within an hour, we were on our way. First we received a personal introduction to our carriage steward, and were shown all aspects of the facilities available to us and the meal arrangements onboard were explained. We were then left to relax in the comfort of our cabins.
The main way in which I would describe my experience of the Venice Simplon Orient Express is that of ‘timeless elegance’ of a bygone era. It really does transports you back in time and totally epitomises the glamour and elegance of the Golden Age of Travel.
However guests must realise that it is all about the experience of this iconic journey and not about the luxury that has become expected or custom of modern day transport. The cabins are small, in fact very small, and the sleeping arrangements are those of upper and lower bunks. For tall people, or larger people, overall comfort therefore can be compromised due to the restrictions of the size of the cabins. Facilities are basic – each cabin has just a small washbasin although luxury toiletries are included, including a gown and slippers. There is one toilet per carriage.
These comments are not intended to be negative or certainly not critical in any way whatsoever but I feel that expectations need to be managed. These carriages have been painstakingly restored to their former glory and the specialised craftsmanship which has been used for the task is awe-inspiring.
The comfort levels, service and culinary delights aboard are second to none. Local seasonal produce is used and fresh ingredients are taken onboard at stops along the route. From lobster to steak, all food was of the highest of quality and cooked to perfection, and the quality of the wines and Prosecco to accompany the food was extremely good.
In March 2018, Grand Suites were introduced. There are currently three Suites aboard the train, located in one carriage. These comprise of a double bed, lounge area and private bathroom which include shower and w.c and certainly introduce a level of luxury to the sleeping arrangements.
Travelling through five countries over the two day journey, with the sights and views of the forever changing scenery, it really is an overall 5-star experience and one which I feel so very lucky to have enjoyed.