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Skiers Making Tracks by Luxury European Train

March 02, 1986|SUSAN BAYER WARD and Ward is an Evanston, Ill., free-lance writer.

ZURICH, Switzerland — This winter, for the first time, that mobile pleasure palace on wheels, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, has formed a dazzling duo of delight for train buffs and skiers alike. Running through March 27, this 1920s-era dream machine introduces skiing from the train along its new Alpine route.

Last March the London-to-Venice run (a more southerly route that passed through Lausanne and Milan) was diverted, once weekly, to the north through some of the world's most handsome mountain regions, making stops at Zurich and Innsbruck as well as the usual halt at Paris.

More Winter Stops

Because of the success of that scenic excursion, the owners of the Orient-Express decided to make even more stops during winter months: at Landquart, Switzerland, for the resort areas of Klosters and Davos; at Chur, Switzerland, for St. Moritz and the Arosa areas, and at St. Anton, Austria, for the great Tyrolian resort centers.

Tickets for Swiss Mountain Railways also will be sold by the Orient-Express so that swift and easy connections can be made from the gleaming blue-and-gold railway cars to the famed Alpine ski resorts. The Orient-Express stops practically at the lift heads of St. Anton and Innsbruck.

Prices are quite reasonable. Passengers can make the full run from London to Venice (a two-day, one-night train journey), with one stopover at a ski resort of their choice (for as long as they want), for $720. This rate includes private sleeping compartment, all meals and the plush amenities the train has to offer.

For dyed-in-the-wool ski folk, $200 will get them on the Orient-Express run just between Zurich and Innsbruck, with a stop at any of the ski areas mentioned above.

The combination of old-guard, stylish train travel and some of the best and most idyllic ski resorts of Europe seems a timely idea. One must simply arrive armed with a desire to be pampered by liveried cabin stewards and tempted by toothsome edibles such as le filet de boeuf poele Hercule Poirot, washed down with a bottle of Moet et Chandon Brut.

Further, travelers must thirst after heady mountain vistas (the train passed through the magnificent Arlberg Tunnel and the spectacular Brenner Pass) and the pine-scented ozone of Alpine ski resorts.

Winter Wonderland

The train experience alone, mushing through picturesque, snow-snuggled scenery, is worth the price of admission. Standards have not faltered since the Orient-Express's first renaissance run in 1982. In fact, the adventure has improved with age. Thirty-five restored railway cars champ at the bit in the Orient-Express stables, ready to whisk you on your journey.

Your train compartment of sparkling brass fixtures and polished wood also has a pink-shaded lamp, a vase of pastel-hued flowers and your own private wash cabinet tucked out of sight behind a wooden door resplendent with marquetry panels.

Hot tea and fluffy croissants are served in here to you in the morning as is high tea in the afternoon.

The art nouveau bar car opens at the civilized hour of 8:30 a.m., where one can restore the tissues with more tea, coffee, juices, bottled water or an eye-opening aperitif. An accomplished pianist plays a baby grand piano at 10 a.m. sharp and plays intermittently until the last reveler has trundled off to bed at night.

Each sleeping car sports a multilingual steward who is on call all night in case you require a chicken sandwich washed down with a bottle of Perrier or an aspirin.

In a tiny boutique in the bar car one can buy trip mementos such as chrome-plated key rings with the Orient-Express emblem, silk scarfs, leather belts and all sorts of other goodies. Crystal, china, luggage and other items--all with the Orient-Express insignia--can be ordered from the "Orient-Express Collection" catalogue.

It's especially fun to buy a $3 set of eight natty Orient-Express post cards, write them over a Campari and lime, then toss them into the mailbag at the end of the car. No postage needed--the train provides the stamps and mails your swank missives for you.

Dining in Style

Lunch and dinner are events on the train and, especially for the evening repast, one dresses. Many folks tote along 1920s-era garb to wear while downing such selections as steamed deep-sea fish and crayfish in puff pastry with watercress-flavored hollandaise sauce along with a mellow Chassagne Montrachet A.C. 1982 to wet the palate.

A new French chef, Christian Bodiguel, formerly of La Couronne in Paris, oversees the preparation and presentation of these multicourse gastronomic feasts.

The new route through the Alps gives passengers much to look at between bouts of coddling, and the route has history behind it, too. In the early 1920s this was the second run introduced by the original Orient-Express train, the first being the Paris-to-Istanbul run begun in 1883.

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