Once upon a time, a very long time ago and long before the age of airspace congestion and low cost carriers, when travel still had the aura of glamour and adventure and passengers travelled with a set of valises and not just a backpack, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits operated a network of luxury trains across Europe. In their heyday, many of the routes operated by the Compagnie were often the only reliable connection to get from one place to another.
The legendary Orient Express is perhaps the most notorious train of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, made famous also by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which firmly established her as the Queen of crime fiction through the cunning of her most successful character, the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
The Orient Express originally ran from Constantinople to Paris, with slip cars from Athens and Bucarest joining the train at Belgrade and some cars continuing on to London from Paris. The journey would take the train three days to complete.
Along the route of the Orient Express a whole series of luxury hotels was established to accommodate the illustrious guests of the Orient Express when they needed to interrupt their journey. One of these establishments is the Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb, which still stands today.
The hotel is located right on the square just in front of Zagreb’s main railway station, on the fringe of the city’s elegant centre, which traces its history back to when Croatia was still part of the Habsburg empire. The hotel is now ninety years old. A few years ago it was completely renovated and has now been beautifully restored to its former elegance, underscoring its reputation as the most prestigious hotel in the city.
If you’re visiting Zagreb, you should definitely pay the Esplanade a visit, even if only to walk through the very grand foyer and to relive, just for a brief moment, the luxury and style of a bygone era.