Tracks to the Alps – via Paris Overnight

STORY BY
Daniel Elkan

By stopping over a night in Paris on a rail journey to the Alps, you can have a relaxing journey and reach resorts even earlier.

The normal thinking, when travelling to a ski resort, is to get there as quickly as possible:  the journey is a necessary hurdle, a mission undertaken in order to reach the comfort of your chalet and the exhilaration of powder-covered mountains.

When I first discovered rail travel as an alternative to flying, I realised that it didn’t have to be this way: no more early-morning dashes to the airport, cramped flights and tedious transfers; instead, relaxed journeys with socialising and scenery.

Eurostar

However, for years, our mindset was still to get there – by train – as quickly as possible. Only recently did it dawn on me that there’s a different way of doing it travel to Paris the day or night before, stay a hotel there and then get a fast TGV train the next morning, as the Parisians do, bound for the Alps.

For skiers with holidays starting on a Sunday in the popular Tarentaise region of the French Alps, stopover journeys are particularly useful.  There is no Sunday daytime Eurostar Ski Train service from the UK, so a Paris stopover journey provides a relaxed rail alternative.

There are plenty of TGV trains that leave from Paris each morning, and this kind of journey is viable for a variety of resorts in France, Switzerland Italy and Austria.  Trying it with a big group of friends, I’ve found it worked consistently well, prompting me to film a journey that we made.

Here’s the film, and a guide to some great resorts you can reach travelling this way.

La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, France

The twinned resorts of La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, in the Aravis mountain range have some wonderful skiing, with both resorts suiting a range of levels.  Marketed under the umbrella of Lake Annecy Ski Resorts due to their proximity to the lakeside town, they each have different characteristics.  Cute La Clusaz is the more sporty village, the streets dotted with buzzing bars in the evening. Neighbouring Le Grand Bornand, steeped with old wooden chalets, is far more family-orientated.  It’s also the birthplace of Reblochon cheese, and there is always plenty on the menu.  The ski terrain here overlooks unparalleled scenery. And there are plenty of sunny terraces from which to take in the views, such as that of restaurant Les Terres Rouge, with a 360-degree panorama that overlooks the Jalouvre and Lachat peaks.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Annecy at 11:16; from there it’s 35 minutes by bus or taxi to either village.

 

Val Thorens, France

The highest ski resort in Western Europe, perched a lofty 2300m, Val Thorens is an increasingly swish ski-in-ski-out village, with a flurry of upmarket hotels and restaurants in recent years.  The latest, La Datcha, is Val Thorens’ first guest house and the first building in a ski resort to be built entirely using ‘Passivhaus’ approved eco-friendly construction. The skiing is epic, with the resort well placed in the huge 600km Three Valleys ski area, with most of the local slopes located above 2,000 metres. , This year the resort’s slope-maintenance team has created the ‘Ski Flux’ system, which gives skiers real-time information about how busy the runs are, too.  But there’s plenty more than skiing here: there’s France’s longest toboggan run, fat biking, gyrocopter flights and ice climbing. The resort hits big on the après, which starts from early afternoon at the Folie Douce and there’s plenty of ambience in the evenings in the village.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Moutiers at 11:07; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:12; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:12; from there it’s 45 minutes by bus or taxi.

 

Sauze d’Oulx, Italy

Just over the French border, Sauze d’Oulx is part of the 400km Milky Way ski area, sharing the slopes with Sestriere, Claviere and Montgenevre.  The skiing suits intermediates best here, and there are plenty of wooded runs, making it good for visibility even on cloudy days. The centre of the village has 15th-century, cobbled, pedestrianised centro storico, lined with small restaurants and lively bars; further out the buildings are newer and brasher.  The mountain restaurants here are excellent, such as Orse Bianco and little Ciao Pais, a cosy hut dating from 1931, tucked away in the trees off a coasting blue piste, with dishes such as traditional antipasti of chestnuts in honey and balsamic vinaigrette and porcini mushroom casserole.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:29 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Oulx at 11:23; or the 10:41 TGV, arriving 15:43; from there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi.

 

Les Gets, France


Charming and refreshingly free of pretentions, Les Gets is resort that accesses the Portes du Soleil ski area, with 650km of slopes. The village has unique character and ambience, with a quirky museum of mechanical music and free excursions to the local cheese farm.  The local slopes are wonderful, lined with trees and a great place to go powder hunting.  Mont Chery, for example, will retain accessible, untracked powder long after a snowfall, because many skiers miss out on this part of the mountain, just off the main Portes du Soleil circuit. The resorts has introduced a new kind of activity originating from Norway, where skaters wear snow skates – called Sled dogs – to descend the slopes. The boot is light and comfortable and the ski-width sliding surface ensures a grip on all types of snow. The resort also hosts the ‘SkiColour’ event, where skiers ski down a slope, dressed in white ski suites, through clouds of multi-coloured natural paint powder.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:11 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Cluses at 11:05; from there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi.

 

La Plagne, France

With 10 villages accessing 425km of ski terrain, La Plagne has plenty to offer – especially families who benefit from the ski-in/ski-out convenience of many of its locations. The slopes are linked with Peisey Vallandry and Les Arcs by the epic Vanoise Express gondola.  The resort prides itself on offering a range of  activities, and these include climbing an ice tower, dog sledding, fatbiking and airboarding. There’s also a brilliant festival at Easter, called Sublicimes, which features music and activities around six summits in the resort, with a huge ice grotto, pop-up hot tubs, magicians and other performers.  With the snowsure altitude that the resort has, including the 3,417m summit of Bellecôte, it’s no wonder it’s so popular with a range of clientele.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Aime la Plagne at 11:27; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:29; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:28; from there it’s 20 – 40 minutes to the resort’s villages by bus or taxi.

 

St Anton, Austria

Ski Holidays


Legendary St Anton, in the Austrian Tirol, is much loved by skiers and snowboarders for its generous and regular snowfall, expert terrain, bountiful off-piste and its vibrant après ski – arguably Austria’s best. This winter, three new cable car systems will connect all ski resorts on the Arlberg – turning it into Austria’s largest inter-connected ski area with a total of 305 kilometres of marked runs and 87 lift and cable car systems. This will mean that the Arlberg-Arena will therefore extend from St. Anton in Tyrol to Lech and Zürs, as well as Warth and Schröcken in Vorarlberg. The resort village has attractive hotels and wooden chalets, and the atmosphere is cosmopolitan. The terrain is best suited to experts and intermediates, but there is much here for the non skier too, such as the huge spa complex, the Arlberg Well and the sports and climbing centre.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:23 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Zurich, change there and take the 12:40 RailJet train, arriving at St Anton at 15:03.

 

Saint Gervais, France


With slopes that form part of the Evasion Mont Blanc Ski area, Saint Gervais is a great ski base.  The altitude of the skiing isn’t that high, but the terrain is on grass-covered slopes (as opposed to rock), meaning great skiing as soon as the snow falls.  Intermediate skiers who want to get a taste for accessible off piste will find it in abundance here – there is often plenty of powder snow alongside and between the pistes, which you can dip in and out of.  And once you’ve carved and skied yourself into a state of hunger, you’ll find a cosy mountain restaurant is never far away, such as Sous les Freddy’s. The villages of Saint Gervais are fairly quiet in the evenings, more restaurants and chilled bars than partying, but for skiers that want to get up and make first tracks, that might just be a good thing.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:11 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at St Gervais at 11:33; from there it’s 10 minutes by bus or taxi.

 

Peisey-Vallandry, France

Far less well known than it should be, Peisey-Vallandry sits at the heart of the huge Paradiski area, between it’s more famous neighbours: Les Arcs and La Plagne.  Peisey village itself is full of traditional charm, with old working farms, chalets and a Baroque church.  The skiing here suits intermediates well – and the views are stunning, with panoramas that take in the valleys of the Isere and Ponturin rivers.  The child-friendly nature of the villages and slopes make it popular with families, and the plethora of large, beautiful old wooden chalets means that the resort is also a firm favourite with groups. There’s also a 43km Nordic ski area, on the gateway to the Vanoise national Park. The pistes are mostly in the forest and criss-cross the Rosuel plateau, passing through the picturesque villages at the end of the valley.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Landry at 11:38; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:39; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:38; from there it’s 15 – 30 minutes to the resort’s villages by bus or taxi.

 

Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Reknowned for its panoramic views that sweep from the Matterhorna to Mont Blanc, Crans-Montana is swish ski resort billed as the sunniest in Switzerland. Both Crans and Montana are more towns than villages, and do get a fair bit of traffic; Crans, however, has a pedestrianised zone. There is a sizeable 140km of skiing, plenty of shops and restaurants an 18-hole golf course and other snowsports, including cross-country skiing, ski touring, snowshoeing, ice-skating and curling. Indeed, half the winter guests come to Crans-Montana for reasons other than skiing and boarding.  For the skiers, there’s there’s a lot to do, with some notably long runs. The 12km run from Plaine Morte to Les Barzettes starts with top-of-the-world panoramas and descends through some fantastic terrain to finish in woodland.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:57 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Sierre at 13:30; from there it’s 10 minutes by funicular railway.

 

Val Cenis, France

Val Cenis is located in the beautiful, unspoiled Maurienne Valley, a part of the French Alps that largely sits under the radar of British skiers.  For families who aren’t fussed about having lots of British to rub shoulders with, the resort is brilliant because there are excellent nursery slopes.  In fact, the resort is home to the longest green run in the Alps, aptly named L’Escargot. The pistes total 125km of pistes – ample for a week for intermediate skiers as well as those learning – and all the upper lifts have off-piste routes coming off them too, so experts can enjoy powder hits.  Accommodation-wise there are plenty of high-quality, good value apartments too in the villages that make up the resort, much of which sits directly at the foot of the slopes – so that you can put your skis on and head straight up the hill.  This isn’t a resort full of busy bars, but the relaxed, friendly atmosphere with prices that are refreshingly down to earth, will suit many.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:29 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Modane at 10:48; or the 08:27 TGV, arriving 13:07; from there it’s 30 minutes by bus or taxi.

 

Val d’Isere, France

Hugely popular with British skiers, Val d’Isère is snowsure from when it opens at the end of November until the end of the season in the first week of May. Perched at a lofty 1850m, the local slopes include Pissaillas Glacier and in neighbouring Tignes the Grande Motte glacier goes up to 3,456m. This season – Val d’Isère’s 80th with lifts – sees the massif de Solaise area remodelled, with some 70,000 cubic metres shifted in order to regrade the summit as a new beginner area. Val d’Isère also does après ski very well: up on the mountain La Folie Douce may well have you dancing on a table by mid-afternoon, before DJs, live music, and dancers.  Cocorico, as an alternative, is on the piste and only a 10-metre stagger 10m to the bus stop. The resort is strong on gastronomy, with Patrick Chevallot, Master Pâtissier of France, organising a popular pastry-making course at l’Atelier de l’Adroit. There are plenty of events throughout the winter calendar, including film and yoga festivals – and a three week spring-sking festival in April too.

Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Bourg St Maurice at 11:48; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:51; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:48; from there it’s 45 minutes by bus or taxi.

 

Hotels in Paris near Gare de Lyon:

Hôtel Bel Oranger (+33 1 43 42 15 79)
Hotel Palym (+33 1 43 43 24 48)
Hotel Viator (+33 1 43 43 11 00)

 

Rail travel booking and information:

Voyages SNCF (0844 848 5 848)

Loco2

Ffestiniog Travel (01766 772 030)

The new European Rail Map (£10.99 + p&p)

More information about rail travel to ski resorts can be found at independent guide, Snowcarbon

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