Orient-Express, Northern Belle– Iconic luxury train travel. The Venice-Simplon Orient Express trains are a fleet of original carriages from the 1920s and 30s, which continue to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul. This weekend I had the absolute pleasure of boarding the Orient-Express Northern Belle day trip from Manchester to Edinburgh.
A wise man once said ‘it’s better to travel well than to arrive’, this Saturday proved that to be a fact. The Northern Belle travels through some of England’s most picturesque countryside including the endless, green, rolling hills of the Lake District before entering Scotland, where the scenery is truly breathtaking.
Our 7.20am boarding time at Manchester Piccadilly meant a jolly early start for a Saturday morning. As the 1930’s style Pullman train made its way to the platform, everyone was so excited to be boarding the train. The uniformed stewards rolled out the carpets and welcomed everyone onboard with a cheery good morning.
The moment you step onboard, you’re instantly transported back to the glamorous 1930’s. Combining classic craftsmanship and contemporary engineering, the Pullman is a reflection of the magnificent ‘Belle’ trains of the 1930s. The six dining carriages are named after great British castles or stately homes. They display marquetry, fabrics and brass fittings specifically commissioned from British craftsmen.
The latest addition to the Northern Belle is its seventh carriage, named ‘Duart’ after Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull. I was shown the new carriage and was blown away by the artwork by artist Christopher Shields, who lay on his back for weeks hand painting the ceiling, depicting wildlife and nature scenes from the carriages namesake Scottish Castle.
Of the seven dining carriages on the Northern Belle, we were seated in the ‘Alnwick’ named after the formidable fortress in Northumberland, England. Soon after being seated, breakfast was served. We enjoyed four fabulous courses, including porridge with fruit compote, pastries, fruit salad and Scrambled Eggs with Chives, Smoked Salmon served on a warm buttered crumpet. We grazed our way through breakfast, sipped coffee and marvelled at the scenery. Post breakfast we swotted up with our Edinburgh city guide. As our train meandered through the beautiful countryside of the Lake District we sat back and enjoyed the ride, napping and chatting. Bliss.
Arriving into Edinburgh we were escorted by the Orient-Express stewards to a coach and driven to the stunning Palace of Holyrood. Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the Queen of United Kingdom in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.
We acquired our audio headsets and walked around the palace before ducking out into the gardens to admire the view. The funny thing about Edinburgh is, you can be stood on a busy city centre high-street one minute and round the next corner you can be staring at the stunning highlands. The city air feels much easier to breath than the smog of Manchester or London.
I was in two minds about what to wear for our adventure, one part of me was convinced I should pay homage to Marlene Dietrich a la Shanghai Express, where as the other was sure I should be channelling my Celtic roots with a little tartan. In the end I opted to wear a vintage plaid wool vintage circle skirt, cashmere turtle next from Jaeger, Aquascutum camel overcoat and my new (comfiest EVER) fur lined boots from Shuropody, oh and of course my classic Kangol beret. I think I made the right decision, I was super comfy and warm walking around on a winters day in Edinburgh. We were however able to leave things on the train during the day, so I could have potentially brought a costume change or two!
After our tour of the Palace we had some free time to explore a rather bustling Edinburgh. Edinburgh is steeped in history and there’s tons to see and do including Edinburgh Castle, Christmas pop up markets, the Royal Yacht Britannia and a variety of museums and galleries. The winter sun went down at around 4:30pm so we got to see Edinburgh lit up at night, which was beautiful. We hopped back onto the Orient-Express Northern Belle at 5:30, the carriage was toasty warm and our table was set and ready for dinner to be served. Luxury train travel at its finest! Our stewards came round with champers and welcomed us back onboard.
The Orient-Express d’hôte cuisine menu always has a regional theme based on your destination and is freshly prepared onboard in the two kitchen cars. Does luxury train travel get any better?
What an adventure!