A vista of ever-changing scenery, tables to play games at and room for little legs to walk around – rail travel makes sense for families heading to the Alps. Daniel Elkan picks some of the best ski resorts that you can reach by train.
What’s the best way of getting your family from the UK to the Alps? Plane, train or car? Driving gives a degree of freedom en route, but also means children are cooped up in the back seat for a long slog – not exactly a recipe for happiness. Flying often seems quick on paper; the reality is a conveyor belt of tedious queues and long transfers, as faces turn glummer and glummer. The eye-wincing prices that airlines charge at peak dates are salt in the wound.
What then rail travel? In terms of a quality experience, the train works well for families. You’ve got space to move around, no limits on luggage and a more comfortable journey than flying or driving. Plus, the journeys create a fraction of the carbon emissions of flying or driving.
The direct Eurostar Ski Train has been taken over by French tour operator Travelski Express. It runs to the popular Tarentaise region of the French Alps, and can only be booked as part of an all-inclusive package of train, transfer accommodation and ski pass, but there are some good value packages.
There are plenty of independent travel options too, combining Eurostar trains to Paris or Brussels with onward high-speed TGV, Thalys or ICE trains. Don’t let a change of station in Paris put you off: Alpine transfer company Ski Lifts has begun offering a Paris transfer service to take you easily between stations.
Although prices aren’t cheap, when you compare rail fares to peak-time flights you might save money with the train, especially given the discounts that apply to child fares.
So where can you go? Here’s our selection of 12 great resorts that you can reach by train.
St Martin de Belleville
For skiers who love the feel of a traditional, Savoyarde village, St Martin de Belleville is a delight. The streets are lined with stone and timber buildings with quaint shops and an unpretentious feel. The local slopes are intermediate friendly – and you are only one gondola ride away from the main areas of the vast Three Valleys. The village has a host of innovative restaurants, such as L’Etoile des Neiges, and luxurious new accommodations such as Hotel M Lodge.
Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express to Moutiers, arriving at 16:45. The transfer from the station takes about 25 minutes (included with Travelski packages).
Although it isn’t that well known to the British market, Val Cenis is a family-friendly village located in the heart of the beautiful Maurienne Valley. The scenery is spectacular, overlooking the Lac Du Mont Cenis, part of the Parc National de la Vanoise. This is a great place to learn to ski, and the resort boasts the Alps’ longest green run, L’Escargot. There’s also a snowtubing course, up at 2500 metres, husky-dog sledding, ice climbing and – for the more adventurous – ice diving.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:22 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Change to Paris-Lyon and take the 14:41 TGV to Modane, arriving at 18:45. From there it’s a 30 minutes by taxi or bus.
The charming village of Les Gets has streets lined with chalets and restaurants, and a little road-train that ferries skiers around the resort. The resort is part of the huge 650km Portes du Soleil ski area, so confident skiers can spend all day munching the mileage.
The local slopes suit beginners very well, with a network of tree-lined blue runs dotted with mountain restaurants. This winter the resort is introducing an enchanted night walk, Alta Lumina, on a one-kilometre immersive adventure through the forest.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras 07:55 by Eurostar to Paris-Nord; change station and take the 12:45 TGV changing at Bellegarde to arrive Cluses at 16:52; from there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi.
The resort of Les Arcs has seen a suite of family-friendly developments in recent years, such as the Mille8 complex at Arc 1800, with its state-of-the-art toboggan run and a new Club Med in Arc 1600. This winter, hotel La Cachette in Arc 1600 has been fully renovated into a comfortable 4-star, with much of the accommodation tailored to families. New additions to the on-slope experience are the Mountain Animal Museum, where one can discover the story of 30 species of local flora and fauna and the illuminated mural exhibition up at the top of the Varet gondola.
Example journey: depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express to Bourg St Maurice, arriving at 17:23. The transfer from the station takes about 40-minutes (included with Travelski packages). Or take the seven-minute funicular railway to Arc 1600, with free bus connections to the other villages.
Close to the border of Italy, and a few minutes’ walk from Italian neighbour resort Clavière, Montgenevre is a deserved family favourite. It’s easy to see why: from the village’s front de neige, gentle slopes fan out in all directions, giving beginners perfect learning terrain and connecting up to intermediate friendly terrain that forms part of the 400km Milky Way ski area. The resort has a huge spa and swimming complex, Durancia, where you can enjoy views over the mountains as the water bubbles around you.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:31 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Change to Paris-Lyon and take the 14:45 TGV to Modane, arriving at 19:23. From there it’s a 35-minute taxi or bus ride.
The Tirolean village of Alpbach is certainly one of the most beautiful in the Alps and has attracted families for years. Alpbach’s slopes are well-suited to intermediates, with smooth, groomed slopes linked by an efficient network of chair-lifts and gondolas. The centre of the village has beginner slopes on the doorstep.
Food on the mountain is hearty and good value. Böglalm is famous for its spit-roasted chicken, while Hornboden has a sun terrace with panoramic views. Gipfö Hit, meanwhile, is well known for its Knödel (spinach dumplings).
Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 15:04 Eurostar to Brussels; take the 18:25 ICE from Brussels to Cologne; then take the 21:21 NightJet sleeper train to Jenbach, arriving 08:53; from there it’s about 20 minutes by bus or taxi.
Located in the Southern Alps, the resort of Serre Chevalier is made up of four villages, and 80% of its pistes located above 2000 metres, giving good conditions for early and late season. Alternative winter family activities include a 2km descent on a steerable Mountain Kart sled, which you can ride from the top of the cable-car at 2491 metres, speed down 300m for 2km, as well as fat-biking and dog sledding. There’s also ice-climbing on frozen waterfalls near Briançon and La Schappe.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 15:04 Eurostar to Paris-Nord, change station by taxi and take the 20:40 sleeper train to Briancon, arriving at 08:30. From there it’s about 20 minutes by bus or taxi to Serre Chevalier’s other villages.
The highest village in the Alps, Val Thorens sits at 2300m atop the huge 600km 3 Valleys ski area. However, even at such high altitude, there are excellent nursery slopes and beginner runs just below the village. There’s also dog sledding, snake glisse and fat-biking – and the resort also offers the experience of riding a piste-groomer after the slopes close. The sports centre has plenty of sports activities and includes a vast 2000m2 aqua spa and wellness area – which might be needed after all the excitement here.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express, arriving at Moutiers at 16:45. The transfer from the station takes about 50 minutes (included with Travelski packages).
The sight of a horse-drawn sledge ready to whisk you to your accommodation is sure to widen children’s eyes – if not adults’. But then Avoriaz, with its car-free, ski-in-ski-out village, is a very unique place.
Kids in particular will love the Aquariaz tropical pool in the village centre with its waterslide and swinging ropes – and a huge sledging area on its doorstep. There’s also a dedicated nursery zone right in the centre of the village.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras 07:55 by Eurostar to Paris-Nord; change station and take the 12:45 TGV changing at Bellegarde to arrive Cluses at 16:52; from there it’s 50 minutes by bus or taxi.
The journey by train to St Anton takes you past Lake Zurich and Lake Wallensee and through the spectacular Arlberg Valley – making it one of the most beautiful journeys you could make. St Anton’s reputation as a hub for advanced skiers often overshadows the fact that there are some very good slopes for those learning to ski, such on the gentle pistes over at Nasserein and the quiet slopes of Rendl – well suited to those progressing their carving skills. In the village, the History Museum gives fascinating insight into the development of skiing.
Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 18:01 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Stopover in Paris and take the 07:23 TGV from Paris-Lyon, changing in Zurich to the 12:40 RailJet arriving at St Anton at 15:03.
It’s fair to say that Bardonecchia is one of the most underrated resorts in Italy – and a great place for families with children learning to ski. There are kindergartens, play areas and ski school classes for the very young, while those progressing on blues and reds will enjoy the quiet slopes and lack of lift queues.
The resort has over 100km of pistes and the resort also has a floodlit snow tubing track, as well as ice skating in the village. When you arrive by train there’s no transfer needed – the railway station is actually in the village.
Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:31 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 14:41 TGV train, arriving Bardonecchia station at 19:13.
La Plagne is one of the most popular destinations for British families, and the high-altitude slopes means it is a good choice for spring skiing. Much of the accommodation is ski-in-ski-out, making it a quick transition from breakfast to slope. The terrain is extensive, with a vast network of blue runs that will suit improving skiers, as well as plenty to entertain the advanced. Apart from the skiing, there’s plenty to do as well. And this winter, at L’Écrin de Baloo, the resort has introduced a new activity of snowshoe walks through the forest, accompanied by dogs.
Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express to Moutiers, arriving at 16:45. The transfer from the station takes about 40 minutes (included with Travelski packages).
Rail travel booking and information:
Rail companies: Eurostar
The new European Rail Map (£10.99 + p&p)
More information about rail travel to ski resorts can be found at independent guide, Snowcarbon