A weekly direct ski train from London to the French Alps is back on track this winter – thanks to the enterprise of a French tour operator. Two years ago, to the horror of all rail ski fans, Eurostar announced that for pandemic-related reasons it was no longer going to offer its twice-weekly service from St Pancras to Moutiers and Bourg-St-Maurice.
The end of the ski train after 23 years? Well, that’s what it looked like until Travelski stepped in and managed to organise its own Eurostar charter train. Travelski is the tour operator arm of Compagnie des Alpes, Europe’s largest ski lift operator.
The overnight charter should have started running in December, taking skiers to top resorts including Val d’Isere, Tignes, La Plagne, Les Arcs, and Meribel. The train leaves St Pancras on Friday evening, reaching its destination in the Alps nine hours later. The return journey begins in Bourg or Moutiers on Saturday morning and you’re back in London in time for tea.
But, in the event, the start was delayed due to France’s temporary health ban on all British visitors. When restrictions were finally lifted at the end of January I was on board the first train with 310 excited skiers as it pulled out of St Pancras. It’s important to note that you can only take the train if you have booked your holiday with Travelski.
The French tour operator has opened up this new opportunity for seamless travel and their holidays include return train journeys, resort transfers and accommodation ranging from self-catering to all-inclusive hotels. They can also include lift passes, lessons, equipment hire and insurance, too.
‘But just how comfortable is the train?’ I hear you say. Well, you need to think of it a bit like a long-haul flight to the USA – nine hours in a comfortable seat which, depending on how much you pay, reclines a little or a lot. There are no couchettes, so I packed a neck pillow and pashmina blanket, ear plugs and an eye mask which meant that I was able to sleep in relative comfort.
In fact, as we travelled in Standard Premier, we had two airline-type meals (a hot dinner just after leaving London and breakfast at dawn), and a pack containing the aforementioned ear plugs and eye mask. As it was night-time there were no views to gaze at through the windows, but the return journey is by day which makes it a lot more interesting. However, you can get up and stretch your legs far more easily than you can in a plane, and you can take a washing bag in your hand luggage to freshen up on the journey.
Luggage is one of the main advantages. You take whatever you want: skis, snowboard, there’s no weighing of suitcases. This is a real advantage for families travelling with all the clobber needed for small children or babies. I also see it as a big plus point if you’re travelling at Christmas, laden with gifts and even crackers, turkey and Christmas pudding. No wine or beer though, as the train is alcohol-free on the night-time journey. Our bottle of Champagne for toasting the first service was confiscated as we went through the x-ray machine before boarding. I assume the idea is to encourage people to sleep rather than party through the night.
The other advantage is the extra day’s skiing included in the price. Arriving in your resort at breakfast time on Saturday means a whole extra day on the snow – if you are not too tired! You can actually catch the first lift of the day. Travelski offers a wide range of accommodation in their resorts. We chose to stay in La Plagne because we hadn’t been there for some time, but also because you get off the train even sooner than you would for resorts like Val d’Isere, Tignes and the bus transfer is shorter.
Our accommodation was in Club Alambra, a three-star in Plagne Centre that’s run on an all-inclusive basis with three buffet-style meals each day, an in-house rental shop, bar (not included in the price) and a spa (for ‘spa’ read sauna and gym). The skiing is, literally, outside the boot room door and you can ski back to the same door. At the end of January the resort was busy, but our ESF guide took us off piste and we were able to skip any lift queues.
Would I do it all again? With a family – yes; at Christmas – definitely.
The price is from £748pp including direct trains, transfers to/from the resort, seven-day lift pass and a welcome breakfast. Travelski has holidays by train in a choice of 20 French resorts, including Val Thorens, La Rosiere, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Courchevel, Meribel and Les Deux Alpes.
Also see our post Skiing By Train This Winter.