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    Checking in: The British Pullman, Orient-Express

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    A trip on the Orient-Express makes a perfect corporate away day, as Colette Doyle discovers on a murder-mystery themed journey. What images come to mind when you think of train travel? Probably for many of us it brings to the fore that unpleasant and often overcrowded experience of getting into the office in the mornings. But what if you replace the words “train travel” with “the Orient-Express”? Clearly, that is an entirely different proposition, likely to evoke a scenario of Hercule Poirot chasing down a gang of murderers amid sumptuous surroundings (with apologies for that spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet enjoyed this Agatha Christie classic).

    The British Pullman, part of the luxury Orient-Express collection, is the perfect antidote for those traumatised by their daily commute to work; effortlessly replacing chaos with meticulous organisation, overcrowding with your very own luxurious, comfy armchair and elegantly draped table, and curled-up cheese sandwiches with a sumptuous fine dining experience.

    As my companion and I arrive at Victoria station for the round trip to Kent, we are ushered in to a private check-in area, where a rascally character is already making his presence felt in stentorian voice. He’s not a rowdy passenger, however, but one of the cast: for as well as a journey aboard a magnificently restored train, there’s a murder mystery on the menu too.

    We’re seated in the magnificent Zena carriage; these “palaces on wheels”, as they were aptly called by American industrialist George Mortimer Pullman, who gave his name to the deluxe train carriage, have been lovingly restored after falling into disuse in the 1960s. Incredibly, this gorgeous Art Deco car was consigned to the scrapheap before fortuitously being rescued by an amateur railway enthusiast, who then sold it on to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train company. As a huge fan of the crime genre, I’m intrigued to discover it was actually used as the location in the 1976 film Agatha about the eponymous crime novelist.

    We’re greeted with a glass of champagne by our convivial host – indeed, there is enough liveried staff here to put Downton Abbey to shame. The five-course gourmet lunch starts off with that classic upmarket appetiser smoked salmon, served on this occasion with horseradish cream, followed by a garden pea soup that comes with a simply gorgeous minted crème fraîche.

    When it comes to the main, the duck breast with pancetta is a little heavy for my palette (especially as I’ve already wolfed down the first two courses), so the solicitous steward arranges to substitute it for a lighter alternative – a lovely piece of sole. I still manage to find room, however, for the selection of British cheeses (Somerset brie is a real highlight) and the luscious roasted plum and chocolate mousse. The attention to detail is amazing, with fresh flowers on the immaculate tablecloth, gleaming crystal glasses and well-polished silver cutlery.

    To be honest, despite close interrogation of several of the prime suspects, I’m afraid I was so enthralled by the delightful setting of the British Pullman that I can’t really be sure who did away with the dastardly Lord Deville, although I believe the butler may have had a hand in it.

    As we reluctantly alight at the end of our journey, my guest and I agree this memorable outing is a wonderful way to experience the golden age of train travel, even if just for a day.

    The British Pullman offers an extensive programme of luxury day excursions to Britain’s historic towns and stately homes, as well as fine dining experiences. Group rates are available, or companies can tailor their own customised trip by choosing the destination, length of journey and all the activities on and off the train, together with the option of pre-selected drinks and bespoke menus. Prices start from £205 per person. The murder mystery journey starts from £310 per person. For further information call 0845 077 2222 or visit orient-express.com/uktrains

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson