Fed up with lugging skis and heavy bags around fog-bound airports? As you head to the Alps this winter let the train take the strain. Snowcarbon’s Daniel Elkan always travels by rail. He argues that it is less stressful, environmentally friendly, affordable, and often no slower. Here’s his pick of ten train journeys to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria.
ALPE D’HUEZ, FRANCE
Ski area: 250km
Top lift: 3330m
Alpe d’Huez sits south-west of Grenoble, just an hour from its train station by bus or taxi. What’s more, Grenoble is connected to Paris by one of the fastest railway lines we’ve ever flown – sorry – travelled on. There are several departures per day, every day of the week. And with the right connections you can get there from London St Pancras in just six hours.
The resort itself is no beauty, but it’s home to some of the best beginner slopes in the world, and the longest black piste in the Alps. First-timers, wobbly intermediates and more advanced skiers will be happiest here – as well as night owls, because Alpe d’Huez buzzes after dark.
For more information, see Welove2ski’s Alpe d’Huez resort review.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras on the 11:01 Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, arriving at 14:17. Then take the 15:41 TGV to Grenoble, arriving 18:42. From there it’s a 60-minute bus or taxi ride.
LES GETS, FRANCE
Ski area: 650km
Top lift: 2466m
Les Gets is a traditional Savoyard village close to Morzine in the vast Portes du Soleil ski area, which is popular with families. The village has the French government’s Famille Plus Montagne award for childcare, and is also the base for several British tour operators specialising in family skiing.
With Cluses station only a 25-minute drive away, this is one of those via-Paris train journeys I’ve done several times. While most people know you can get down to the Tarentaise region easily by train, fewer realise that the Portes du Soleil is also very accessible. Sleeper trains from Paris will get you to Cluses at 08:22am – ready for the piste action.
What’s bonkers is that for daytime journeys there isn’t a direct TGV from Paris that connects well with your Eurostar from London. So you have to change at (the rather unremarkable) Bellegarde station, to take a regional train. But honestly, who cares? It still beats flying, hands down. And travelling back, you need only change in Paris.
For more details, read Welove2ski’s Les Gets resort review.
Example journey: depart St Pancras on the 17:31 Eurostar to Paris-Nord, arriving at 20:47. Change to Paris-Lyon and take the 22:56 sleeper train, arriving at Cluses at 08:20. From there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi.
ST ANTON, AUSTRIA
Ski area: 276km
Top lift: 2811m
St Anton is one of the oldest resorts in Austria but it constantly reinvents itself to ensure its continued spot on the podium as a winning world-class destination. St Anton is home to some of the best apres-ski bars in the Alps. Some would say it’s the home of the best off-piste, too.
Austria might sound far by train, but the daytime journey from Paris through Switzerland into the Arlberg Valley is so ridiculously scenic that you might have to be dragged off the train. You’ll pass by vast Lake Zurich and Lake Wallensee. From Zurich you are on a super-modern RailJet train, which has restaurant-café facilities on board – all very civilised.
For this train journey, I’d probably stop over in Paris on the outbound – there are lots of hotels by the Gare de Lyon, and head for St Anton next morning. Then on the inbound, do the journey straight through in one go.
For more details, read Welove2ski’s St Anton resort review.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras 17:31 by Eurostar to Paris-Nord, arriving 20:47. Cross by taxi to a hotel by Gare de Lyon and next morning take the 10:23 TGV train, changing in Zurich to a RailJet train and arrive at St Anton station, located in the village, at 16:59.
LES ARCS, FRANCE
Ski area: 200km (425km in Paradiski)
Top lift: 3226m
It may be another of those fractured, purpose-built French resorts, but the high-quality terrain around it means Les Arcs is very far from being awful. Intermediates, experts and freestylers will all like it – and the half-baked “villages” are improving, too – stay in Arc 1950.
Getting to Bourg-St-Maurice is easy with the direct daytime ski train, or going via Paris on a Eurostar and then a TGV. And whoever had the foresight to construct a funicular train from Bourg-St-Maurice station up to Arcs 1600, did a really great thing. This scenic whizz up the slopes takes just seven minutes – and then there are regular shuttle buses connecting you to Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000.
However, getting from the Eurostar or TGV platform to the funicular could be improved. For a start, a more regular free shuttle bus from the station so that skiers exiting the station at the front – with luggage – can avoid the ten-minute walk to the funicular entrance.
For more information, read Welove2ski Les Arcs resort review.
Example journey: depart on the 09:39 Eurostar Ski Train from London St Pancras, arriving at Bourg-St-Maurice at 18:52. From there it is a seven-minute transfer to Arc 1600. You can also book bus travel from Bourg-St-Maurice to all the villages.
Return rail fares: from £109 via Paris, or from £149 direct; book travel at Eurostar, Voyages-SNCF or Loco2.com. Funicular 8€ bought at the station (or free with ski pass valid that day). See the Snowcarbon Journey Planner.
LA CLUSAZ AND LE GRAND BORNAND, FRANCE
Ski area: 220km
Top lift: 2400
La Clusaz is a traditional French market town, not too well known by the Brits. The pistes are quiet and the prices quite reasonable. The neighbouring Le Grand Bornand is accessible, relaxed and very authentic. Both are much-loved by generations of French family skiers. Of those Brits who know of it, many learned to ski here, on safe, reassuring terrain which is just ideal.
I love travelling from London to Annecy, via Paris, because few skiers are aware of this option and they are always pleasantly surprised. It’s quick, inexpensive and scenic, and you are deposited 35 minutes away from some cracking resorts in the Lake Annecy ski area. But these resorts are close to Geneva airport, I hear you say. Forget about it. The train journey is nearly as quick as flying, so why bother spending time in airport queues, when you could be enjoying the ride?
You can also do the Paris-Annecy leg overnight, arriving at Annecy at 7am – in good time to make first tracks and sign your name in the powder.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras on the 07:52 Eurostar, arriving in Paris-Nord at 11:17. Then take 12:45 TGV to Annecy, arriving at 16:29. From there it is a 35-minute taxi or bus ride.
Return rail fares: from £109; book travel at Voyages-SNCF or Loco2.com. Book bus tickets at Altibus; adults 8€ one-way. See the Snowcarbon Journey Planner La Clusaz and Snowcarbon Journey Planner Le Grand Bornand.
Ski area: 600km
Top lift: 3230m
Meribel sits in the middle of the famous Three Valleys ski area, and is billed as one of the world’s best ski resorts for intermediates. But you need to be organised and informed to enjoy your skiing here.
On Saturdays you can get the direct Eurostar Ski Train to Moutiers, which is only 20 minutes from Meribel. But skiers often overlook the alternative of a Eurostar to Paris and then a fast TGV train. It’s about an hour longer in total, but a lot of fun and more of a travel experience. And of course you can change station easily in Paris with a pre-booked taxi.
The crazy thing is that on Sundays – when the direct Ski Train doesn’t run, there isn’t a very convenient daytime schedule linking the Eurostars to Paris with the TGVs. This is madness, given that many chalet companies now offer Sunday-to-Sunday holidays and want their guests to enjoy a relaxed journey by train. So if your accommodation is Sunday-to-Sunday, then either go overnight on Saturday, or stopover in Paris on Saturday night and get a TGV from Paris on Sunday morning.
For more information, read Welove2ski’s Meribel resort review.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras on the 07:52 Eurostar, arriving in Paris-Nord at 11:17. Then take 12:45 TGV to Moutiers, arriving at 16:58. From there it is a 20-minute taxi or bus ride.
Return rail fares: from £109 for indirect trains, £149 for the Eurostar Ski Train; book travel at Eurostar, Voyages-SNCF or Loco2. Book bus tickets at Altibus; adults 8€ one-way. See the Snowcarbon Journey Planner.
Ski area: 145km
Top lift: 2100m
Alpbach is everyone’s dream of how a village in the Tirol should look. The skiing is low-altitude but is now linked into the Ski Juwel area with Auffach and Niederau. It is good for laid-back intermediates and families.
Deutsche Bahn have, from this autumn, ceased the Paris–Innsbruck City Night Line sleeper train, which used to make a good overnight route to Tirolean charmers like Alpbach.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get there by train. Instead, take a Eurostar to Paris, hop in a cab to a hotel by Gare de Lyon. Then the next morning, step onto a TGV and change onto the German rail network for a scenic glide to the Worgl. Sure, you have to change train once or twice between Paris and Worgl, but all the stations have lifts, so it’s pretty easy.
A point to note is that rail company websites struggle with online bookings where there is more than one change of train, so you might need to phone instead to book this one.
For more details, read Welove2ski Alpbach resort review.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras 19:01 by Eurostar to Paris-Nord, arriving 22:17. Stay at hotel by Gare de Lyon and next morning take the 09:10 TGV train, change at Manheim and Munich, to arrive in Worgl at 16:49. From there it’s a 25-minute taxi ride.
SERRE CHEVALIER, FRANCE
Ski area: 250km
Top lift: 2800m
Think of it as the laid-back, country cousin of the A-list resorts further north – a bit smaller, and a bit less high-tech, but also friendlier, more relaxed and with bags more Gallic character. It’s just a shame the accommodation is so widely scattered.
The overnight train journey from Paris to Briancon is a little longer than some other ski destinations, but will give you two extra days on the slopes, which in Serre Chevalier, with 250km to explore, is certainly something to take advantage of.
On top of that, Briancon, the lowest altitude of Serre Chevalier’s four villages, actually has a train station located in it, and all the other villages are a very short transfer away.
For more details, read Welove2ski Serre Chevalier resort report.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras at 17:31 on the Eurostar, change Paris and take the 21:50 sleeper train to Briancon, arriving 08:30. From there it is a 15-minute bus or taxi ride up to the other villages.
SAUZE D’OULX, ITALY
Ski area: 400km
Top lift: 2823m
The former party capital of the Alps has now transformed into a pleasant family resort. It has, arguably, the best piste skiing in Italy and some excellent eating opportunities both on and off the mountain.
Years ago, it was en route to Sauze d’Oulx on a coach from Turin airport when I first passed little Oulx station and wondered whether the entire journey from London could have been done by train instead. Well it can – and almost as fast as flying.
People sometimes assume that because a resort is in Italy, that Sauze must be too far by train, but in fact Sauze lies just over the French border. The village itself is only 15 minutes from the station, a beautifully short hop.
For more information, read Welove2ski Sauze d’Oulx resort report.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras on the 09:22 Eurostar to Paris-Nord at 12:47. Change station to Paris-Lyon and take the 14:41 TGV to Oulx, arriving at 19:23. From there it is a 15-minute taxi or bus ride.
Ski area: 150km
Top lift: 2600m
This is a year-round working village below the legendary Col du Galibier with an infectious, friendly vibe. Valloire has a loyal following among French family skiers, but is relatively little-known outside France. Resorts in the Maurienne Valley tend to be overlooked by skiers as options by train, but they are certainly accessible – and the from next season, with the new direct Eurostar service to Lyon (from where you can get a train and two hours later be in the Maurienne), even more so.
The connection via Paris from London leaves quite early, but you can also stopover at a hotel in Paris for one night and then catch a TGV in the morning.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras on the 06:18 Eurostar, arriving at Paris-Nord at 09:47. Then from Paris-Lyon take the 11:49 TGV train which arrives at St Michel Valloire station at 16:33. From there it is a 40-minute taxi or bus ride.
See also our feature Ten Tips for a Successful Train Journey to The Alps.