Midweek, mid-morning, I’m tottering across Victoria station in my Sunday best (the brochure recommends you wear ‘your prettiest dress or a chic suit … as this is a day for flamboyance’) to join a trip called The Golden Age Of Travel.
As well as transporting all aboard back to the 1920s and ’30s, our journey will take us on a tour of Kent, with a brief stop in the oyster town of Whitstable. But the route is inconsequential: this is the ultimate travel for travel’s sake, starting with the surreal experience of sitting in a velour tapestry armchair sipping champagne beneath crystal chandeliers as I glide past my dinky flat in Brixton.
The delights of south-east London soon dispensed with, we whizz on through green fields and grazing sheep, but there’s too much distraction inside to pay much attention. The crisp, white tablecloths and sparkling cutlery hint at a sumptuous meal ahead and we are not disappointed.
A starter of Inverawer smoked salmon and caper berries arrives, followed by a rack of lamb and lavender scented roasted potatoes and a cheeseboard with home-made chutney. The sommelier accompanies each course, expertly rocking with the train to avoid spilling a drop.
Just as the plates are cleared and I take the opportunity to glance out the window, Miss Flapper Dress arrives to tell us about the history our carriage, Cygnus. Decorated in Australian walnut panels and old prints, it’s a first-class parlour car once reserved for use by royalty and visiting heads of state.
“Oh, but you must take a stroll and have a look at the other train carriages,” she urges. “Audrey is particularly fabulous.”
With that I take the chance to explore the 11 carriages of the British Pullman, each used in its heyday to take passengers to the ocean-going liners of the 1920s and ’30s. Their art deco interiors have been lovingly restored so that they can again be described as ‘Palaces on Wheels’, as envisaged by their originator, George Mortimer Pullman.
I’m making full use of the Miller Harris cosmetics in the gleaming, tiled toilet when the train arrives at Whitstable. We hop off briefly for a glass of champagne and a couple of oysters, and by the time we’re back on board a dessert of bread and butter pudding awaits us.
With coffee comes another host, this one in fringed dress and letterbox red lipstick. “Have you all had a wonderful day?” she asks, smiling beatifically as we nod in unison. “Of course you can’t go on the Tube after travelling on the Orient-Express,” she adds, her mouth curling at the mere mention of the word.
Instead I hop on a commuter train across the platform. Maybe it’s the functional decor, the absence of cocktail dresses or the lack of waiters artfully wielding magnum champagne bottles, but somehow it’s just not the same.
Travel back in time
Each of the 11 carriages of the British Pullman has its own distinctive decor and unique history. Here are a few to check out:
Zena: This carriage starred in the 1976 film Agatha about Agatha Christie, who wrote the detective novel Murder On The Orient Express.
Phoenix: Rebuilt after going up in flames (hence its name), this was the favourite carriage of the Queen Mother and once used by Charles de Gaulle.
Perseus: The ash panels and old prints of this car made it worthy enough to be used in Winston Churchill’s funeral train in 1965.
Audrey: With art deco strip lights and landscape panels, Audrey certainly deserves to be described as ‘fabulous’.
» Orient-Express day trips start at £160.