Full steam ahead
The undisputed duchess of luxury rail travel, the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, has turbo-charged its offerings. If the world’s most famous train wasn’t already opulent enough, passengers can now book into one of a trio of new, private Grand Suites, named for and styled around three of its iconic destinations: Paris, Venice and Istanbul. Each suite takes up an entire carriage, so there’s plenty of room to kick back and admire the views — not least the craftmanship that keeps this classic twinkling with its original 1920s, Agatha Christie-esque glamour. You’d need £5,500 per person for the classic, one-night London to Venice journey, but this is the golden age of travel brought right up to date, after all. Once on board, passengers can live the high life with free-flowing bubbly, in-suite dining and a personal cabin steward — and the art deco bathrobe isn’t a bad touch, either.
Not all bathrooms are made equal — take the Comodo di Cosimo I de’ Medici, which has been given a new lease of life as a seriously high-end ‘Renaissance’ spa in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. The spa’s centrepiece is a massive stone bathtub, with steam created by an old-fashioned hydraulic system to heat water, and the walls are adorned with frescoes by Marco da Faenza. The revitalisation is part of the ‘Florence I Care’ project, which enables private citizens and companies to assist in the restoration of the city’s heritage sites.
A royal retirement
Dewy-eyed devotees of the QE2’s days under Cunard will bemoan her decade of doing nothing since she made her last voyage to Dubai from Southampton back in 2008. The recession might have put a halt on the ship’s initial renovation plans, but it was full steam ahead this year, when the Queen Elizabeth 2 floating hotel opened in April. The venerable old vessel has had a dose of the Dubai treatment with new bars and restaurants, a pool deck, spa, shopping arcade, cinema, and conference rooms spread out across 13 decks.
Published in the July/August 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)