Travelling by rail
Whether you’re an enthusiast or not, rail travel has its advantages for travelling to the snow. As well as the leisurely journey aspect, taking the train can avoid overcrowded airports, traffic congestion and high baggage charges to fly. There are efficient high-speed links between London and Paris, and daytime services to French resorts can take as little as 7.5 hours (with Eurostar direct). Some French resorts have their own railway stations, so transfers can be relatively straightforward. Here we sum up the main options.
The starting point of most European rail trips is likely to be the Eurostar high-speed train from London St Pancras or from Ashford or Ebbsfleet stations in Kent.
DIRECT SERVICES TO THE FRENCH ALPS
The fastest way to France is Eurostar’s direct services to the Tarentaise region – such as to Moûtiers (for the Trois Vallées) and to Bourg-St-Maurice (for Les Arcs, La Rosière, Ste-Foy, Tignes and Val d’Isère). Overnight services allow you eight days on the slopes. Daytime services give you the regular six days, the same as flying. Generally allow an hour or so for onward bus transfers, depending on the resort – though Moûtiers to Méribel takes a lot less.
Overnight trains are expected to depart from London every Friday evening from 21 December 2012 to 12 April 2013. Last season, these left at 7.38pm and arrived at Bourg at 6.41am. The return service left Bourg at 10.15pm on Saturdays and arrived in London at 7.16am. There are no special sleeping arrangements – you doze (or not) in your seat. The daytime service is expected to run on Saturdays from 15 December 2012 until 13 April 2013. Last season, it departed at 10am, arriving in Bourg by 7pm. The return service left Bourg at 9.48am and arrived at 4.11pm.
A Standard adult return cost from £149 (non-flexible) last season. A Standard Premier ticket (non-flexible) – which gets you a bigger seat pitch and basic meals – cost £229. There were discounts for the under-25s and over-60s, and semi-flexible fares were available. Seats can also be booked as part of a package holiday.
INDIRECT SERVICES TO THE FRENCH ALPS
The French regular rail network (SNCF) can get you to lots of places such as Chambéry, Briançon and Grenoble for onward buses to more southerly resorts. For Chamonix, an overnight train from Paris Austerlitz, via St-Gervais, would put you in resort by 10am next morning; prices from £150 to £200 return. A pre-bookable taxi service to get you between the Paris stations is offered through snowcarbon.co.uk; you ring or email to reserve a place, and the driver will meet your train. It costs 50 euros each way for up to eight people; ski carriage is included. SNCF has saver cards for young and older travellers. The 12-25 Card costs about £45 and entitles you to 25% or 60% discount, depending on times/days and peak periods. The Senior Card (for over 60s) costs £50 and gets you 25% to 50% discount.
HIGH-SPEED TO SWITZERLAND
The Swiss do rail travel very well, with lots of options. Allow travel times of around 10–12 hours from London. High-speed trains from Paris can get you in resort by evening – assuming a lunchtime departure. Lots of resorts, such as Andermatt, Davos, Engelberg, Grindelwald, Klosters and Zermatt, have convenient local railway stations. It’s easy to get to others, such as Saas Fee and Verbier, by a combination of train and post bus. Eurostar has connecting fares to five major Swiss cities, including Geneva, Zürich and Basel; journeys are also bookable (via Rail Europe) from Paris to 18 other Swiss hubs – such as Chur, Sion and Visp. Two high-speed Lyria des Neiges routes will run this winter. The first, from Paris Gare de Lyon, will stop at Sion, Aigle and Brig, which give access to lots of resorts. The second, in conjunction with Eurostar, will run from London to Lille then Brig.
It is most likely to be cheaper to buy a return ticket to the Swiss border and a Swiss Transfer ticket (from £90) for onward travel rather than a straightforward return ticket to your destination resort. This Transfer ticket allows one return journey from the point of entry into Switzerland to any other station in the country, regardless of distance – you have to buy it in the UK before you travel.
AUSTRIA AND GERMANY
The great advantage of rail travel to Austria is that many resorts have their own convenient stations. City Night Line is part of a large network of European rail services, with weekend sleeper trains departing from Paris and Amsterdam. Winter services from Paris Est include trains direct to Innsbruck or Wörgl (Fridays), arriving late morning; or via Munich (Sat, Sun, Mon). Onward connections can get you to resorts such as St Anton, Zell am See, Mayrhofen and the SkiWelt. From Munich it’s an easy hop to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Typical fares start from £200, including Eurostar to Paris. Check out www.citynightline.de for more details.
THE ITALIAN JOB
Most Italian resorts are hard work to reach by train, but there are exceptions. The Dolomites are close to the line through Trento and Bolzano, reachable from Munich (as an onward connection from the City Night Line), from Innsbruck to the north, or from Verona to the south. Resorts of the Val di Susa are easily reached via trains from Paris Gare de Lyon to Turin and Milan. These run twice a day and stop at Bardonecchia and Oulx – 15 minutes by bus from Sauze d’Oulx and a bit further from Sestriere. A flexi-return fare from Paris starts at £90. Journeys can be booked through Rail Europe.
PLANNING AND BOOKING
Rail fares have few of the extra charges that you have to watch for with air fares. But the cheapest fares are best secured early. Booking is normally only up to 90 days in advance. Main sites include: Rail Europe (www. raileurope.co.uk), Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), Swiss railways (www.sbb.ch/en) or Austrian railways (www.oebb.at). Some local lines such as Martigny to Le Châble (for Verbier) and Bex up to Villars may have to be organized separately. Detailed general websites include www.seat61.com and www.snowcarbon.co.uk.