The glamor of traveling across Europe by train—popularized by Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express—is making a comeback. Designers are renovating original carriages from the historic Orient Express route, with plans to reboot the storied train in the next few years.
The Orient Express was a transcontinental passenger route that launched in 1883, running from Paris to Istanbul, then called Constantinople. Over the decades that followed, the route evolved through several iterations, with a variety of different stops, trains and companies all using the Orient Express name, which became synonymous with luxurious rail travel.
Now, French travel and hospitality company Accor wants to restore the iconic route to its former glory. Thanks to the expert sleuthing of French historian Arthur Mettetal, the company is currently renovating 17 carriages from the original Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express, which date back to the 1920s and ’30s.
Mettetal discovered the vintage carriages in a slightly unconventional way: by watching YouTube videos. While researching the history of the Orient Express for his PhD, Mettetal decided to go looking for any original train cars still in existence.
While watching a video posted online in 2015, he noticed a group of parked train cars painted the same shade of blue as the original Orient Express cars. Using Google Maps, he determined that the train cars were sitting at a station in Poland, not far from the border with Belarus.
“All the decorations were intact and it was as if time had stood still,” Mettetal tells CNN’s Francesca Street.
He contacted Accor and, after some negotiating, the company was able to buy the vintage carriages. Parisian architect Maxime d’Angeac is now leading refurbishment efforts. Though the train isn’t scheduled to hit the rails for a few years, the company has already unveiled images of some of the updated cars, which blend modern and historic designs.
“We are reimagining the Orient Express to create something timeless,” says Guillaume de Saint Lager, one of the train’s executives, to Conde Nast Traveler’s Marianna Cerini. “The idea is to present a fantasy: a train that could have been made today or 100 years ago—with the addition of all the contemporary comforts, of course.”
When complete, the train will include a restaurant, bar, experiential salon and sleeping cars. The locomotive’s luxe, 592-square-foot president suite has a private entrance and includes a living room, office, bathroom and secondary sleeping car, per Travel + Leisure’s Dobrina Zhekova. The train will run between Paris and Istanbul.
In the meantime, Accor is also extending the Orient Express brand to other projects, including a collection of hotels and a train inspired by the 1960s, the La Dolce Vita.
As David Zax reported for Smithsonian magazine, Georges Nagelmackers, the son of a Belgian banker, first dreamed up the Orient Express concept in 1865, though the venture didn’t get off the ground until 18 years later. It became known as “the King of Trains and the Train of Kings.” Some semblance of the route operated until 2009.
In Christie’s 1934 novel, the fictional detective Hercule Poirot must solve a gruesome murder while riding aboard the luxurious train. Christie’s whodunnit was first made into a movie in 1974, then remade in 2017. The train also made an appearance in the 1963 James Bond flick From Russia With Love.