A project that has been many years in the making, and further complicated by the ongoing pandemic, pop-up attraction Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express finally opened at Gardens by the Bay on 12 December 2020.
From the construction of the special infrastructure designed to house and preserve the showcase in ideal conditions to the transportation of the historical monument of carriages from Orient Express, the setting up of artefacts, furniture and displays of the pop-up attraction, it has taken six months for the legendary train to be brought back to life in the national garden of Singapore.
“The Singapore Tourism Board is delighted that Singapore will be the first destination to showcase the Orient Express outside France. Once Upon A Time on the Orient Express at Gardens by the Bay, in partnership with Arab World Institute, reflects the spirit of collaboration to create unique and immersive experiences for locals and visitors,” said Mr Keith Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Tourism Board.
“The launch of this pop-up attraction during these times is a testament to Singapore’s global appeal and also reflects confidence in us as a safe and trusted destination.”
For the first time, two of the original train carriages and locomotive, along with over 300 artefacts have left France to sit within the 2,000m exhibition space within Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.
The mythical carriages of the Orient Express include the fourgon car and a Pullman car built in 1920 with interiors decorated by René Prou, featuring superb lemon burr marquetry inlaid with pewter floral motifs.
Visitors can temporarily bask in the experience of travellers who have used the train for decades, accompanied by the cinematographic dimension of the myth, which owes much to literature and cinema.
A keeper of the brand and one of the key enablers who have played a crucial role in making the project possible in Singapore, VicePresident and Executive Director of Orient Express, Guillaume de Saint Lager, said: “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to see this exhibition going on a world tour, with Singapore as the first stop. Gardens by the Bay is a magnificent showcase for the Orient Express and echoes the exotic dimension of the brand. “We hope, in these complicated times, to take Singaporeans on a journey into the myth of the Orient Express. A true escape for the senses.”
CEO of Gardens by the Bay, Mr Felix Loh, said: “Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express not only brings a slice of French history, heritage and culture to Singapore, but complements the European-themed experiences we have put together at Gardens by the Bay this festive season. With overseas travel on hold for many, we hope to bring a bit of the world to the Gardens so that Singaporeans can spend some quality time with their family and friends during the holidays.”
Historical Artefacts Not To Be Missed
The Orient Express was known for its lavish decorations and travellers were spoilt like movie stars and royalties.
With its theatrical characteristics, this train has been a universal attraction since its creation in 1883.
A masterpiece in itself, the train is constructed with Cordoba embossed leather ceilings, Lalique crystal bas-reliefs, Gobelins tapestries, velvet curtains from Genoa, silverware, precious tablecloths and crystal fine glasses. With more than 300 pieces of artefacts on display, the objet de arts can be categorised into three groups – art, daily and travel.
Conceived as a luxury train by Founder Georges Nagelmackers, it was a response to the demand for more comfort during long journeys across Europe back in the days.
Visitors will be able to marvel at the display of décor such as Lalique glass plate inlays, René Prou marquetry, restaurant lamps, as well as the dishes used in the dining area, as well as travel objects such as historical Louis Vuitton trunks and garment hangers once used by travellers, displayed in giant trunks.
Some of the key highlights that visitors can look forward to, curated by General Commissioner Claude Mollard:
Oeil de boeuf des voitures Pullman: The Pullman cars’ oeil de boeufor “bull-eye” represents typical Art Deco designs from 1929. It ensures discreet ventilation for the passengers while evolving into a form of identification of the Orient Express. It is used as an element of the Orient Express’ current logo.
Monogrammede la compagnie provenant de la voiture lit numéro 831: The Compagnie des Wagons-Lit has always ensured the quality and originality of its identification. It is the case of the brass monogram with two lions around a crown that refers to the coat of arms of Belgium. The King of the Belgions, Lepold II, had helped Georges Nagelmackers in his endeavours.
Affiche London Baghdad: At the time of the creation of the Orient Express, the British Empire ruled the seas. However, in order to reach Baghdad, Iran, the British used this train as the railway allowed them to reach India faster than by boat.
Bol à potage: The cutlery used in the train are the result of a specific design: the pieces are silver. The Orient Express style contributes to the definition of the brand image of the legendary train due to an addition of details that created the brand’s unity and visibility.
Menu français arabe de 1908 pour train spécial pour SA le prince Ismael Kamal Pacha: This 1908 menu shows the already important influence of the French gastronomy on the Egyptian authorities. The vice-King of Egypt and his family theoretically depended on the Ottoman Empire, but in fact enjoyed a great autonomy during a time when power was shared between the Ottomans, the English and the French.
Photo du Gezireh: The Gezireh Palace, today known as the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, was built for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869, where Empress Eugénie used to live occasionally. The monumental cast-iron decorations made in France were transported by boat. This hotel represented for travellers from the Orient Express, the equivalent in Cairo of the Pera Palace in Istanbul.
Marqueterie René Prou: The 1930 Orient Express cars feature generous use of the Art Deco style, particularly René Prou who specialised in marquetry of the liner cabins or railway cars. He later on collaborates with master glass blower Lalique to create more iconic décor for the carriages.
Malles: The exhibition counts five units of different trunks used in the 1900s -1920s, designed by the Louis Vuitton Company. They were the strongest and most refined of the period, real portable cabinets created with wood, metal, leather, glass and textiles. The exhibition scenography is based on the use of these trunks concept for the art objects display pattern.
Buste de Georges Nagelmackers: Georges Nagelmackers was born into a family of bankers in Belgium. His life was both romantic and exemplary. In order to interrupt a love affair with his older cousin, his family sent him to the United States as a young man. There, he discovered the railway design by Pullman that passes throughout the United States for several days without crossing any borders.
Inspired by Pullman, he created Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits in Paris upon his return to Europe. His concept modernised the Pullman system by creating closed sleeping compartments which did not exist in the United States, allowing the preservation of passengers’ privacy.
In 1883, he connected and enabled the travel from Paris to Istanbul in four days for the first time, permitting travellers to go through Europe without having to stop at any borders.
La carte animée: The Orient Express links the East to the West from 1883 to the 1980s, for about a hundred years. The animated map allows to see the political evolution of this period.
Express Pop-Up Restaurant with Double Three Michelin-starred Chef Yannick Alléno
The dining car once served cuisines reflecting countries that passengers journeyed across, with a spread worthy of the greatest Parisian restaurants. As a special gourmet highlight at the pop-up attraction, Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno, awarded twice with three Michelin stars, will be offering diners a unique experience to dine lavishly on board the replica Anatolia dining car that will house the pop-up restaurant.
Recipes have been created especially for this showcase, and everything has been carefully curated to reflect and mirror the legendary meals of the era, both in terms of the dishes and the decoration.
Following the codes of French gastronomy and fusion cuisine, whether it is consommé or modern food, Chef Yannick Alleno’s creations are elegant, courteous and creative, the perfect interpretation of the myth of the Orient Express in all its glory.
“Orient Express has given me the chance to express myself through their pop-up restaurant that took place in an Orient Express car situated on the square of the Arab World Institute in Paris in 2014, and my second collaboration was in 2016, for “La Table Orient Express”, the travelling restaurant with exclusive dinner experience. Being associated to a magical name such as Orient Express for the third time is a fabulous opportunity. The Orient Express is a fairy-tale universe linked to travel, culture and gastronomy. It has always spread ‘l’art de vivre à la Française’ (the French art of living) to the entire world. I am very proud to be associated with this project and to be able to offer a pop-up café and restaurant experience made especially for Once Upon in Time on the Orient Express in Singapore,” said Chef Yannick Alléno.
Passengers can step aboard the Orient Express dining experience and enjoy a gourmet meal amid period décor from the train’s heyday in the 1920s. The Orient Express Pop-Up Restaurant will open with high tea sessions from 12 December 2020.
The full dining experience of lunch, brunch and dinner will be available before Christmas with more information to be revealed at a later date.
Reservationsfor high tea can be booked online at www.orientexpressexhibition.
Orient Express Road Café
Visitors can also seek respite after exploring the pop-up attraction at the Orient Express Road Café. This special 40-seater café will give visitors the chance to embark on yet another journey through coffee blends that were discovered and made famous by the many stops along the Orient Express route such as Paris, Venice, Vienna and Istanbul.
Curated specially for Singapore by Visionairs in Art, the menu will include the traditional local coffee, Kopi O. Helmed by Chef Alléno, the team will prepare an exquisite selection of dishes aligned with the road map concept.
Reservations will not be required, visitors can also choose to take away their orders.
A Uniquely Singapore Experience
Eligible Singaporeans will be able to purchase tickets for this pop-up attraction using the SingapoRediscover vouchers via different bundled packages from $438++ with Fairmont Singapore which include an overnight stay with breakfast, tickets to Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express exhibition, dining experience in the carriage as well as a memento.
For room reservations, please contact +65 6837 3883 or reservations.singapore@
Once Upon A Time on The Orient Express is a ticketed exhibition. To gain admission, visitors must first reserve their tickets (access to the booking platform on www.orientexpressexhibition.
Admission tickets sold are only available for the selected time and date in accordance with safe management measures.