Travelling to the Alps by train
Early check-ins, tedious queues and long transfers can make flying to ski resorts a hassle. But letting the train take the strain can be a more enjoyable means of getting all-of-you-plus-ski-clobber to the Alps (and the lower carbon footprint means it's better for the planet, too).
We've got information about 12 ski resorts that make excellent bases for a family skiing holiday, and details of how to get there by train.
Reasons for taking the train...
And reasons against...
The nursery slopes are right in the heart of this compact village. With plenty of wooden chalets, Alpbach is dripping with tradition - and very friendly. A newly built lift link to Wildschonau, creating the new 'Ski Juwel' area, means there are now 147km of pistes to explore.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 15:31 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 20:05 City Night Line sleeper train, arriving at Wörgl at 08:44. From there it is around 25 minutes by taxi.
In the heart of the 650km Portes du Soleil, Avoriaz is a modern ski-in-ski-out village, which is completely traffic-free and easy to get around. In the evenings, the huge new Aquariaz tropical aqua park has plenty to keep families entertained, with water slides, wave machines and relaxing spas.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 17:31 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 23:12 Corail Lunea sleeper train, arriving at Cluses at 08:20 From there it is a 60-minute bus or taxi ride.
- La Plagne
Part of the huge and varied 425km Paradiski area, La Plagne has a fabulous network of blue runs for early intermediates, and good nursery slopes for first timers. There are facilities for children in each of the 10 villages, with the slopes close by and a variety of non-ski activities, such as husky rides and the igloo village.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 10:00 Eurostar Ski Train, arriving at Aime la Plagne at 18:30. From there it is around 20 minutes by taxi.
- La Rosière
Close to the border of France and Italy, this small, friendly village shares its slopes with neighbouring La Thuile, as part of the 160km San Bernardo ski area. The local ESF ski school is the first in France to be headed by an Englishman, so British skiers are particularly well catered for. There are plenty of blue runs and reds to progress to, and queues are rare.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 10:00 Eurostar Ski Train, arriving at Bourg St Maurice at 18:51. From there it is around 40 minutes by bus or taxi.
- Le Grand Bornand
The charming Le Grand Bornand, with its distinctive, historic wooden chalets, is set in the Aravis mountain range, near Lake Annecy. While relatively few British have discovered it, families will find this village a treat. The scenery is stunning and the intermediate-friendly slopes have plenty of wide blue runs for learners.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 07:31 Eurostar, changing in Paris, arriving at Annecy at 16:30. From there it is around 35 minutes by taxi.
- Les Houches (Chamonix)
Les Houches is part of the Chamonix Mont Blanc ski area. Consisting of a number of traditional mountain hamlets, its 55km of pistes run through ancient forests. Non-ski activities include tobogganing, snowshoeing, ice-skating and an adventure park. There is an excellent kids club and good crèche facilities.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 17:31 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 23:12 Corail Lunea sleeper train, changing at St Gervais to arrive at Les Houches, in resort at 09:30.
This beautiful village has access to 400km of piste, shared with neighbouring St Gervais. The slopes are very intermediate friendly and remarkably uncrowded, but dotted with cosy mountain restaurants. This is a great place for early intermediates looking to improve, and also has plenty of accessible powder snow.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 17:31 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 23:12 Corail Lunea sleeper train, arriving at Sallanches at 08:33. From there it is a 20-minute bus or taxi ride.
As soon as you arrive in Montgenèvre's attractive village, on the Italian border, it becomes obvious why this is a family favourite. Nursery slopes sweep down right onto the village, meaning that lessons end right by the accommodation and make an easy meeting point for families. The resort has plenty of intermediate-friendly terrain, and links into the 400km Milky Way ski area.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 08:54 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 14:41 TGV, to arrive at Oulx at 19:21. From there it is 25 minutes by taxi.
- Sauze d'Oulx
Once dubbed 'Ibiza on the snow', this resort has changed, and its cobbled village is now a great base for families. The 400km ski area is dotted with affordable, excellent restaurants, such as the wonderful Ciao Pais. Prices in town, both for accommodation and food, are very reasonable, with an increasing number of places run by British families who have decided to move here.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 08:54 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 14:41 TGV, to arrive at Oulx at 19:21. From there it is 10 minutes by taxi.
Saas-Fee's car-free village makes you feel as if you are holidaying in a picture postcard. The setting, surrounded by 13 peaks of 4,000m, is magnificent, and as well as some excellent slopes there are a host of interesting non-ski activities, including dog-sledding, tobogganing and the world's biggest ice grotto. On top of that, there are some really excellent places to eat on the mountain.
Example journey: Depart St Pancras on the 06:57 Eurostar, change in Lille and take the 10:02 TGV Lyria, to arrive at Visp at 16:57. From there it is 50-minute ride by a special bus service.
1. Eurostar Ski Train
Journey: London - Tarentaise region of French Alps
Departures: Fridays and Saturdays
Facilities: Café bars. Overnight service: Reclining seats, comfort pack ( blanket, blow-up neck cushion, snacks, magazines, toothbrush, toothpaste)
2. Eurostar + TGV (including Eurostar Swiss Service)
Journey: London - Paris/Lille (Eurostar) - destination (TGV, possible onward train)
Departures: Daytime, daily
Facilities: Café bars (Eurostar/TGV) Restaurants/bistros (InterCity)
3. Eurostar + Corail Lunea
Journey: London - Paris (Eurostar) - destination (Corail Lunea sleeper)
Departures: Several nights a week, depending on destination
Facilities: Café bars (Eurostar); couchettes (Corail Lunea)
4. Eurostar + City Night Line
Journey: London - Paris (Eurostar) - destination (City Night Line)
Facilities: Café bars (Eurostar). Couchettes, snacks, drinks, breakfast (City Night Line)
Tickets for most European journeys go on sale 90 days before your travel (return) date, and for the Eurostar Direct Ski Train in July.
More info: Snowcarbon train guides
1. Book as early as possible.
2. Check out rail-inclusive packages from tour operators - often good value at short notice
3. Use the phone as well as the web - the best deals aren't always easy to find online, so it's worth ringing a rail company or tour operator to check.
4. Check and ask for child discounts.
Under-4s travel for free on Eurostar and European trains. Under-12 fares are lower by 10-20%, and may be free if with an adult family member. If you are taking the City Night Line to an Austrian ski resort, under-16s travel for free with a family member (apart from a €20 supplement each way)
5. When booking online, check fares for a single adult first, to make sure you're not missing any low-price offers that don't come up on searches based on family size (eg two adults, three children).
6. Mixing direct and indirect trains, or trains and flights can save money - depending on the deals available.
7. Get discounts on domestic rail travel to St Pancras. Phone 01233 617 913 (9am-5pm Mondays-Fridays) and give the reference number for your Eurostar tickets.
More info: Snowcarbon low fares guide
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