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Florence, Venice and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

By Ignacio Foley , 18 November 2016

Since I joined Kirker almost ten years ago, I have ticked a number of items off my travel wish list, but a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has stubbornly remained at the top. So you can only imagine how thrilled I was when I had the opportunity to visit Florence and Venice, with a journey on the Orient Express back to London to crown the experience. I still remember the highlights vividly, especially when speaking with clients about their own ambitions to tick this once in a lifetime experience off their must-do wish list.

We began by flying from Heathrow to Pisa, where we were met by our wonderful local Kirker transfer driver and driven the 90 minutes from Pisa to Florence. I had no idea of what to expect, but on arrival at the hotel Villa San Michele, it felt magnificently surreal. The hotel is located 15 minutes from Florence, on the hillside of Fiesole, and offers immaculate service, beautiful architecture (designed by Michaelangelo himself), and elegant rooms, including mine which boasted a private terrace with panoramic views of the Florentine hills in the distance and the city surrounding its iconic Duomo below.

The first day was spent discovering Florence, with our wonderful local guide Francesca, who is well known to Kirker and our clients for her ability to bring the art and history of the Renaissance to life. I can highly recommend a morning or afternoon walking tour with Francesca, or one of our other equally talented local guides. The Kirker Concierge, Charlie Dyson, pre-booked the Uffizi Gallery tickets, which was greatly appreciated when we saw how long the queue was (this is something which we include for all Kirker clients visiting Florence). It felt very satisfying bypassing the crowds queuing to buy tickets!

The next day we had beautifully hot weather, a welcome break from a wet April in Britain, so we went wine-tasting at a local vineyard in Chianti. It is an incredibly beautiful region of Italy, which I know very well and would happily continue visiting year on year.

After a couple of days in Florence we then took the new ITALO train from Florence to Venice. An excellent, privately-owned rail company, they provide a high-speed, comfortable service between many Italian cities, and are our first choice for Kirker clients travelling around Italy. I travelled in Prima Class and was offered a glass of Prosecco - a very civilised way to travel to Venice. On arrival we were met by our Kirker private water taxi at the end of the platform at Santa Lucia station and whisked to the Ciprani Hotel in effortless style - the journey alone felt like a private panoramic tour of Venice. From Santa Lucia station you navigate the little canals of Venice and get a rare insight as to how the Venetians live. If you’re staying at one of our hotels on the Grand Canal, then you also get to pass the Rialto Market, Rialto Bridge and the Accademia Bridge. Nonetheless, my stay at the Cipriani was unforgettable - those views of St Mark’s from the hotel, were truly mesmerising!

Waking up on the morning of our departure, I decided to have a light breakfast, in anticipation of culinary delights to follow. The excitement built from the moment we stepped on board the private water taxi back to Santa Lucia, where we finally boarded the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express!

The journey started with a glass of champagne followed by a lavish three course lunch, whilst we were approaching the border of Austria. There are two sittings available at all meal times, we chose the second sitting, so I could enjoy the views of Northern Italy, sat in the fine surroundings of my beautifully crafted cabin. The quality of food was quite astounding - I still have copies of all the menus! After lunch we were passing through the famous Brenner Pass with not a cloud in sight. A very relaxed afternoon followed, with a spectacular series of panoramic mountain passes, gravity-defying bridges and snow-capped peaks passing the window whilst I sampled a very elegant afternoon tea, served in the cabin. In late afternoon we arrived into Innsbruck Station, in the heart of the striking Austrian Alps. We spent about 30 minutes here, so it gave me the opportunity to meet with fellow passengers and talk to the train personnel whilst streching my legs.

Once back on board, it was almost time to get ready for dinner, which I knew was going to be a highlight of the experience. After some practice runs I managed to do my own bow tie, (all those lessons with my father have paid off!) I loved how many of the ladies carried a feather, embracing the 1920's period style. Over-dressing really is impossible on the Orient Express, the bar car was filled with passengers in their elaborate evening dress and black tie, enjoying an aperitif and the piano before dinner - a magnificent culinary feat, miraculously prepared in the onboard galley.

Whilst guests are at dinner, the steward transforms each cabin. The lighting in your cabin is dimmed and the bank seating is converted in to a very inviting bunk-bed; surprisingly comfortable. Slippers and dressing gown are also provided. For couples who prefer a little extra space, consider opting for two interconnecting single cabins, or a 'cabin suite' which allows you to have two lower bunks, or to keep one cabin in its day configuration.

A light continental breakfast was served in my cabin just as we were arriving into Paris. Here the train stops to allow you enough time to stretch your legs again or simply look on with pity at the poor commuters negotiating the Gare du Lyon while you sip your coffee from the comfort of the opulent carriages. On the final strech of the continental journey from Paris to Calais, we were given an almighty brunch of lobster, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon - by the time we arrived in Calais I did not want to leave. 36 hours had passed far too quickly!

After bidding the Wagons-Lit of the continental train 'au revoir', we were transported by the most comfortable coach I have ever seen, through the Eurotunnel to Dover where the British Pullman awaits. The transition is seemless and baggage is transported smoothly all the way to Victoria without you lifting so much as a finger!

A brass band welcomes guests onto the Pullman for the gentle journey through Kent, keeping that 1920's theme going. The Afternoon Tea on board was the icing on the cake of a truly unforgettable few short break and when we arrived in Victoria the dream was all over - but I still have the memories.

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The Low Countries

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Our expert reservations team regularly travel to a wide range of destinations to explore new cities, visit hotels and to research museums, galleries and restaurants so that we can offer the most up-to-date advice and recommendations.

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