The easiest way to get to the French Alps by rail is to take the direct Eurostar ski train from London St Pancras International, or Ashford International, to Moûtiers (for the resorts of the 3 Valleys), Aime-la-Plagne (for La Plagne), or Bourg-Saint-Maurice (for Les Arcs, Tignes, and Val d'Isère). The transfer times from these stations to the ski resorts are short.
There's also a direct Eurostar to Lyon Part-Dieu; and it's possible to travel by Eurostar then TGV, changing in Paris or Lille. Finally, you can travel on the direct Eurostar ski train as part of a package holiday with a tour operator.
Read about ski trains to the French Alps here.
The direct Eurostar ski train is from London Saint Pancras International, and Ashford International, to Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne, and Bourg-Saint-Maurice. It is speedy and practical.
The Eurostar ski train takes seven to eight hours, which is a good deal longer than the journey by air, but the check-in time is less (60 minutes), and you arrive closer to resort than any airport. It's certainly a good option if you live in or near London or Ashford.
Train travel produces much lower CO2 emissions than flying, so it's a more environmentally friendly way to travel.
Eurostar's direct ski trains set off from St Pancras, calling at Ashford, before travelling direct to the French Alps, at around 186mph. They stop at Moûtiers, for the resorts of the Three Valleys (Val Thorens, Les Menuires, St-Martin-de-Belleville, Méribel, Méribel Mottaret, Brides-les-Bains, Courchevel, and La Tania), then continue to Aime-la-Plagne (for La Plagne), and Bourg St Maurice (for Les Arcs, La Rosière, Tignes and Val d' Isere).
The return trains from Bourg St Maurice don't stop at Aime-la-Plagne, but do call at Moûtiers, before heading on to Ashford and London. This means that if your ski holiday is in La Plagne, you alight at Aime-la-Plagne at the start of your holiday, but at the end when returning home, you get on the train at Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
There are two different direct Eurostar ski trains - the day train and the night train.
The night train leaves London or Ashford on Friday evening, arriving in the French Alps early on Saturday morning. On the way back, the night train leaves Bourg-Saint-Maurice then Moutiers on Saturday evening, and arrives back in Ashford and London early on Sunday morning. The advantage of the night train is that you can ski from Saturday to Saturday, so getting two extra days on the slopes - 8 days of skiing instead of 6 days.
This winter, the night train runs from 21st December 2018 (first outbound train), or 29th December 2018 (first inbound train). It runs until 29th March 2019 (!) (last outbound train), or 6th April 2019 (last inbound train).
The day train leaves London or Ashford on Saturday morning, and arrives in the French Alps early on Saturday evening. On the way back, the day train leaves Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Moutiers around 9/10am on Saturday, and arrives back in Ashford and London in the late afternoon. The advantage of the day train is that it's a civilised way to travel, and you don't spend the night in a railway train seat.
This winter, the day train runs from 22nd December 2018 (first outbound train), or 29th December 2018 (first inbound train). It runs until 30th March 2019 (last outbound train), or 6th April 2019 (last inbound train). In effect, the service begins with the Christmas holidays, and takes in the school Easter holidays.
|Station||Night train (Fri night)||Day train (Saturday)|
|Bourg St Maurice||06.17||19.03|
|Station||Day train (Saturday)||Night train (Saturday)|
|Bourg St Maurice||09.34||22.12|
Note: these are local times. (France is an hour ahead of the UK). Check in at least 60 minutes before departure.
These times are taken from Eurostar's timetable.
I'm not sure Eurostar publish fares any more, but testing with their booking engine for dates in January, I got from £126 on the outward journey, and £99 on the way back - in Standard Class.
There's also Standard Premier (which offers more spacious and comfortable seating, with two light meals & drinks included), and Business Premier (hot meals 'designed by Raymond Blanc'; don't expect him to be in the buffet car, cooking the dinners and selling crisps and Mars bars).
Child prices (4-11 years old) are cheaper.
On the night train, Eurostar do not sell alcohol on board, nor do they allow passengers to bring alcohol with them - they say it will be confiscated during check-in. This is no doubt to avoid rowdy behaviour on the train, although the total ban seems excessive.
On the day train, alcoholic beverages can be bought on the train, and they allow people to bring four cans of beer or one bottle of wine, but no spirits.
There's no weight limit for luggage, you just have to be able to carry your bags onto the train. An adult can take two bags (each up to 85cm long), one piece of hand luggage, and their skis or snowboard. There are a number of banned items, including firearms, ammunition, military shells, grenades, tear gas, furniture, and perishable food like meat, fish and cheese!
Probably Eurostar are devotees of Jerome K. Jerome, and remember the anecdote he tells in Three Men in a Boat, in which the author takes two cheeses from Liverpool to London on the train, as a favour to a friend. 'Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred horse-power scent about them that might have been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards'. He starts off sharing the carriage with seven other people, and ends up having it to himself. 'Cheese...makes too much of itself', he concludes.
Eurostar runs a year-round service direct to Lyon Part-Dieu, which is a stop on the London-Provence route to Avignon and Marseille. (On Eurostar's website, 'direct' comes with an asterisk, because when you're travelling back to the UK, you have to leave the train at Lille for security and immigration checks.)
The direct Lyon train runs on Saturdays only from November to March, then on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays from April onwards.
The service leaves London St Pancras at 0719, and arrive at Lyon Part-Dieu at 1300. On the way back, it leaves Lyon at 1725, and arrives at St Pancras at 2212.
Eurostar promotes this route as suitable for the resorts of Les 2 Alpes, Alpe d'Huez, and Chamrousse, although they are much closer to Grenoble than Lyon. Still, Lyon is within a reasonable distance of those resorts, as well as the resorts of the 3 Valleys, and La Plagne, Les Arcs, La Rosière, Tignes, and Val d'Isère.
From Lyon Part-Dieu, you can take a train, for example to Grenoble (for Les 2 Alpes, Alpe d'Huez, and Chamrousse), to Moûtiers (for the 3 Valleys resorts), to Aime-la-Plagne (for La Plagne), or to Bourg-Saint-Maurice (for Les Arcs, La Rosière, Tignes, and Val d'Isère) .
It is also possible to get a private transfer from Lyon Part-Dieu to your ski resort, or a hire car.
If you're prepared to change in Paris or Lille, you can travel by train to Moûtiers, even if the direct Eurostar ski train is fully booked.
Some UK tour operators have an allocation on the direct Eurostar ski train, so you can travel by train as part of a package holiday. Tour operators offering travel on the direct Eurostar ski train include Inghams Travel, and Crystal. These tour operators include the transfer from the railway station to resort in their package price.
Many people prefer taking the train to flying. The direct Eurostar ski trains are only scheduled on Friday nights and Saturdays. There's a campaign for Sunday Ski Trains, with a petition, and a video to back it:
The old Snow Train was direct from Calais to the Alps. It had sleeper carriages and a disco car.
People used to arrive in resort either hung over, or bleary-eyed having been kept awake by revellers. Still it was an institution and a talking-point.
The old Snow Train stopped running in 2009.
|La Tania||Moûtiers||40 minutes|
|Val Thorens||Moûtiers||1 hour 15 minutes|
|Les Menuires||Moûtiers||50 minutes|
|La Plagne||Aime-la-Plagne||40 minutes|
|Les Arcs||Bourg-Saint-Maurice||60 minutes|
|Val d'Isère||Bourg-Saint-Maurice||60-90 minutes|
These transfer times are approximate, and reasonably generous. For example the transfer time to Val Thorens is given as 1 hour 15 minutes; it can be 45 minutes with good weather and clear roads; the longest transfer time in ValThorensGuide's experience was 6 hours, on a very snowy New Year's week Saturday.