150 years ago, Georges Nagelmackers created the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (the International Sleeping Car Company).
His first luxury trains soon set off across Europe. A few years later, the legendary Orient-Express train connected Paris to Constantinople and the rest is history.
Thanks to the train’s success, la Compagnie des Grands Hôtels was launched. As the trains traveled across the globe, sumptuous palace hotels embodying the art of living in Orient Express style opened their doors all over the world.
Today, the story continues. An artisan of travel, Orient Express chose Rome, “the Eternal City” as the first destination for its collection of hotels. The inauguration is set for the end of 2023.
Rome: a historic stopover
In 1877, the first passengers of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits disembarked in Rome, a city that had just been elected as the new capital of a unified Italy. The world passionately discovered all the history and wonder of ancient Rome. The Italian capital soon became one of the most popular places to visit. Several trains including the Nice & Rome Express and the Cannes-Florence-Rome traveled to the city.
In the heart of Rome’s Historic Center, in the Pantheon district, the first Orient Express hotel has found a prestigious address at the Piazza de la Minerva. The location is just next to the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the only Gothic style church in Rome and home to Michaelangelo’s Christ, just across from an Egyptian obelisk by sculptor Bernini. Orient Express chose the ancient Palazzo Fonseca, a 17th century palace, as the first hotel to celebrate all of the rich heritage and signature art of living of the Orient Express. The hotel was built in 1620 by order of the Fonseca, a rich aristocratic family from the Kingdom of Portugal who became established in Rome in the 15th century. The hotel opened as a hotel in the early 19th century, before taking the name of Grand Hotel de la Minerva in 1832.
Orient Express Grand Hotel de la Minerva: the soul of travel
Behind its 17th-century façade, this historic hotel has a lobby decorated with Roman columns and sculptures by Rinaldo Rinaldi, a disciple of Canova, plus a panoramic terrace where you can admire the dome of the Pantheon or the Sant’Ivo and the roof of the Quirinal.
For two centuries now, the greatest travelers have passed through this historic hotel. As a stopover on the “Grand Tour” that took aristocratic youth all around Europe, as well as art lovers, collectors, churchmen and intellectuals, the hotel welcomed the writer, adventurer and globetrotter Herman Melville. Stendhal stayed there for a few months and found inspiration to write his Promenades in Rome.
George Sand, who loved Italy, took a long trip there in 1855. Later, writer Thomas Bernhard created Murau, the character of his novel, The Extinction.
Debuting in 2023
“For the past 150 years, Orient Express has been sublimating the art of travel with its luxury trains, its unique experiences and its collections of rare objects,” explains Guillaume de Saint Lager, Vice President of Orient Express, adding: “ Today, a new era is beginning, the launch of a collection of hotels that are unique in the world in one of the most romantic capitals of Europe. It is the perfect place to write the next chapters of the Orient Express story.”