Forget the frustrations of queuing and the baggage regulations. My holiday starts in the champagne bar at St Pancras, the longest in Europe.
I board Eurostar half an hour before the train leaves and only the ever-changing scenery punctuates the next couple of hours as we race across frostbitten Kent and northern France. Arriving at Paris Gare du Nord in the early evening, a taxi transfers my bags to the magnifi cence of the Gare de Lyon. My dinner at the legendary station buff et Le Train Bleu, links me to a long line of France’s most glamorous including Brigitte Bardot and Coco Chanel.
As night falls, feeling satisfied and now somewhat sleepy, I board the Intercités de Nuit overnight train and find my little cabin, home for the night. Though I try to read for a few minutes I am soon sleeping soundly, a combined result of the train’s gentle motion and the wine at dinner. The private compartment is quiet, apart from the gentle shushing of the train. This could be the Orient Express except, perhaps, for the somewhat lurid branded sleeping bags. I wake up just before 8am, a few minutes before we pull into Cluses, where I leave the train and a taxi takes me the last 30 minutes up to Morzine. After grabbing a quick breakfast and unpacking my skis, I’m on the slopes soon after the lifts open, gliding across freshly pisted snow as the morning bites my cheeks. I spare a thought for those negotiating Geneva airport rather than The Stash.
This is what travel should be. Worlds away from the over-conditioned cabins and shrill announcements of your standard frill-free airline. This sort of travel means the holiday begins in London and doesn’t end until after the last lingering look at France. It sucks out the stress and fluster which airports somehow manage to pump through their clinical lounges, leaving behind a smooth, relaxed and even chic experience.
An eco experience
Flying is to your carbon footprint what an evening of fondue and wine is to your waistband. Travelling by train is the single most eff ective way of reducing your ski holiday carbon footprint. Dan from Snow Carbon (snowcarbon.co.uk), the people helping to facilitate train travel for skiers says, “it’s a bit of a crazy situation that so many skiers fl y out from the UK to the Portes du Soleil. Pretty soon we’ll look back at this period and wonder how we took so long to wake up to train travel”.
- Travelling by train as opposed to plane cuts carbon emissions by a whopping 82%
- A 2007 study by ADEME and Mountain Riders discovered that as a guideline, 73% of the emissions produced by resorts come from tourist transport.
- Comparing the two, by swapping from plane to train, you could say that you’ve reduced your contribution to the carbon emissions of your resort by more than half. And you can’t say fairer than that.
- Carbon isn’t the only ecologically ugly plane emission; planes produce a whole host of nasty gases. And because they’re released higher up, they’re almost twice as harmful as those released on the ground.
An all round holiday bonus
Maybe the most attractive advantage of the overnight train is that, because all your travel is during the night, you get two full extra days in resort. It is possible to go by daytime train as well, but you’ll need to rate the 4½ hours of scenery above the time you’d get on the slopes. Besides that, one of the obvious gains of travelling by train as opposed to plane is the lack of the increasingly extreme baggage restrictions applied by the frill-frees. You’ll need to be able to pack your stuff in the compartment alongside you, but that easily allows for a pair of skis and a relatively big bag.
There’s no specific snow train connecting the UK to Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz. Instead, the best option is to catch a Eurostar to Paris then choose between an Intercite de Nuit overnight train or a daytime TGV and regional connection up to Cluses. Beyond that there are two remaining steps (assuming you have successfully negotiated your way to St Pancras): transferring stations in Paris and getting to your final destination having reached Cluses, both of which can be done by taxi or pre-arranged transfer.
Travelling by train needn’t be expensive. In fact, if you’re taking the kids during holiday time the generous youth discounts combined with the airline price hikes means it can work out cheaper.
- A trip on the Eurostar (eurostar.com) starts from €88. There’s the option to upgrade to Standard Premier or Premier Plus with all the usual extras.
- Prices for the overnight train (sncf.com) range from around €73 with big discounts for those aged 25 and under. It is a little more expensive to sleep in a couchette but the alternative, a reclining seat, is something of a false economy. Couchettes come in four or six berth, with the optional reserve of a couchette for your sole use starting at €40. Each bunk has a sleeping bag, pillow, water, earplugs and tissues.
- If you don’t fancy negotiating the steps to the Metro between the Paris stations with all your bags, the most cost effective route is to take a taxi from the rank just outside the station for around €15. Both journeys take 15-25 minutes.
- From Cluses, the transfer time to resort ranges between 25 minutes to Les Gets and an hour to Avoriaz. The price for a taxi for one to four people travelling to Morzine is about €62 with Taxi Morzine (taxi-morzine.com).