‘To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers. In fact, to see life,’ said Agatha Christie, the novelist who penned Murder on the Orient Express, birthed an enduring fascination with the famous train and, in many ways, train travel itself. There’s something unequivocally romantic about train travel – the languid journey, the gentle chugging of the engine, the chance to properly take in your surroundings. While once the preserve of Europe, the US and Asia, a new luxury rail cruise experience is coming to the UAE, courtesy of Etihad Rail, Arsenale and Orient Express.
The agreement for the new passenger service was signed on Tuesday, 17 May 2023, and will see the highly anticipated new UAE rail service Etihad Rail partner with Italian luxury group Arsenale and Accor-owned Orient Express to operate the luxurious rail cruise experience. Described by the operators as a ‘luxury rail cruise’, the journey will take guests across the Emirates and is expected to travel from mountainous and beachy Fujairah south to the Liwa Desert – part of Abu Dhabi’s enigmatic Empty Quarter.
Though there is no launch date and official name itself, the train itself is modelled on Arsenale’s new ‘La Dolce Vita’ trains, which will launch in Italy in 2024 in partnership with Accor’s Orient Express brand (with reservations now open). The UAE’s iteration will boast 15 luxury carriages built in Puglia and Sicily, according to The National. While offering Italian glamour and undoubtedly impeccable design, the train is expected to reflect Emirati heritage, with all production and design taken care of by Arsenale.
The new train route is a turning point for travel in the Middle East, where rail travel has noticeably long been absent, and a desire for fast travel usually prevails. La Dolce Vita is the second international luxury train project coming to the region from Arsenale, and the brand announced earlier this year it will launch a similar project in Saudi Arabia, entitled Dream of the Desert.
Dream of the Desert is expected to launch in 2025 and will have 40 cabins making use of Saudi’s existing railway network. Set to cost around €51 million in manufacturing and €10 million in further investments in Italy, Dream of the Desert will operate in collaboration with Saudi Arabia Railways (Sar) and also offer Italian carriages completely refurbished in Italian factories, and we can expect the design will be similar to the one set to operate in the UAE.
For a taster of what’s to come, reservations are now open for Orient Express x Arsenale’s debut project La Dolce Vita, which will pay homage to Sixties Italy and travel exclusive itineraries from the Alps to the beautiful beaches of the south, and from Venice to Rome or Palermo.