Forget flying, with its long airport queues, to the French Alps for a skiing holiday, the train is now the easiest and most stress-free way to travel to the mountains for fun on the slopes
Eight separate villages make up the resort La Plagne, which in turn makes up one half of the Paradiski area – a vast and varied 425km playground for skiers and boarders, whose popularity is fuelled by the diversity of slopes on offer. This is a place where beginners are amply catered for, with dedicated learning zones in Plagne Centre, Aime La Plagne, Plagne Bellecôte and Montalbert.
For intermediates and above, the plethora of red runs is appealing and the Vanoise Express cable car – an experience in itself – gives access to weaving treelined pistes above Peisey. For cross-country there’s a wonderful, winding 22km track in the valley at Chamagney-le-Haut.
The resort also has plenty of entertainment here apart from the skiing, including an igloo village at Dou du Praz, where you can go for a Savoyard fondue feast – and even stay the night.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:39 Eurostar Ski Train to Aime la Plagne, arriving at 18:30. From there it is a 25-minute bus or taxi ride.
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 09 79 79; www.la-plagne.com
St Gervais The pace of life is very relaxed in St Gervais, both on slope and off slope – and all the better for it. The ski area is shared with neighbouring Megeve and offers 445km of exceedingly attractive terrain. And yet, happily, the slopes remain remarkably quiet, and the plentiful, accessible off piste stays relatively untouched for days after a snowfall.
This is the place for long mountain lunches too. Rustic eatieries are found in abundance on the slopes here, perched on a terrace or tucked away in the trees. Le Terrace du Freddy is one such hut, famous for its thick hot chocolates which delay skiers from clipping back in.
The four villages that make up the resort have a tranquil feel. Le Fayet, at the base, is home to Saint-Nicolas de Véroce, a beautiful Baroque church – and the natural spa centre, Les Thermes de St Gervais offer a grand setting for relaxation.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 17:31 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 23:12 Corail Lunea sleeper train to St Gervais, arriving at 08:43. From there it is a 10-minute taxi or bus ride.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 47 76 08; www.saintgervais.com
Made up of four villages, Serre Chevalier combines character with plenty of wooded runs. Indeed the trees here reach higher up the mountain than in the norm in the Alps.
The base village, Briancon, is actually a town – the highest in the Alps at 1,200 metres, and Briancon’s old town is actually a Unesco World Heritage site. The ski slopes will suit intermediates particularly, with long red runs such as Cucumelle and simple off-piste temptations either side of it, while up at Chantermerle there are quite slopes for relaxed cruising. And for beginners, there are specially dedicated learning zones and a range of good ski schools.
When you’ve tired your legs, there are plenty of choices of spas and saunas, particularly the large themal spa complex in Le Monetier – with indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms, music grotto and waterfalls.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 16:22 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 21:50 Corail Lunea sleeper train to Briancon, arriving 08:30. From there it is a 20-minute bus or taxi ride.
Tel: (Fr) 4 92 24 98 98; www.serre-chevalier.com
Centrally placed in the huge Trois Vallées – as well as being only 20 minutes from Moutiers train station, Meribel makes a great base for skiers who love clocking up the ski miles. A high proportion of the holidaymakers and owners here are British, so it’s no surprise that it was founded by a Brit, Peter Lindsay, in 1938.
Chalets abound in the lively village, which is one of France’s busiest for après ski and to which the mountain party-restaurant La Folie Douce, located at the mid station of the Saulire gondola, is a recent addition. From Meribel you can access Courchevel and Les Menuires, along with historic village St Martin de Belleville And for scenic, glacial views , you can head to Vallon. Meribel village also has an Olympic ice rink, where you can watch hockey matches, an excellent public swimming pool and a separate public spa.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 10:00 Eurostar Direct Ski Train to Moutiers, arriving at 18:13. From there it is a 20-minute taxi or bus ride.
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 08 60 01; www.meribel.net
Friendly and unpretentious, Les Gets’ lively resort is part of the vast Portes du Soleil ski area, which spans 650km of piste. Chalets abound in the village, which is full of ambience and has a cute road-train shuttle to ferry skiers and is popular with children. There’s a weekly market selling regional produce, an ice rink and a quirky Mechanical Music Museum. There are also 12km of cross country slopes here, and a range of snowshoe trails, husky rides and sleigh rides.
Arguably the best local slopes are on Mont Chery, which has sweeping red runs that remain nicely quiet due to its location at one end of the huge ski circuit. Once a week the English family-run Ours Blanc restaurant offers candlelit dinners at night, high up on the mountain and on clear nights the views over the Portes du Soleil are spectacular.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 18:01 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 23:12 Corail Lunea sleeper train to Cluses, arriving at 08:15. From there it is a 25-minute taxi or bus ride.
The size of Alpe d’Huez’ 250km ski domain comes as a surprise to first-time skiers here. This is a place where you can ski all week and barely feel you’ve touched the sides. The terrain in the central Alpe d’Huez area has plenty for beginners to build their confidence on, and , because the outlying sectors of Auris en Oisans and Vaujany are wonderful places to explore, with miraculously quiet, treelined slopes.
There’s also an excellent choice of cosy mountain eateries – none more than La Bergerie, tucked away near the base of the Villard red run – which on a snowy day will welcome you in to an ambience fuelled by the smell of steaming stews, steaks and cheese.
Well worth a visit is the Grotte de Glace, above the DMC cable car at 2,700 metres, where you can explore some skilfully crafted ice sculptures before emerging back onto these scenic slopes.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 11:01 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 15:37 TGV to Annecy, arriving at 18:40. From there it is a 65-minute taxi or bus ride.
Tel: (Fr) 4 76 11 44 44; www.alpedhuez.com
Set between the Maurienne Valley and the legendary Col du Galibier, Valloire is a traditional, year-round mountain village with some 150km of excellent skiing, shared with its near-neighbour Valmeinier. At the heart of Valloire’s friendly, traditional village is the 17th-century church of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, whose sturdy outline of local stone conceals an astonishing extravaganza of lavish Baroque decoration.
The slopes might be of great quality, but there is a lot more than skiing here. There are snowshoe walks to discover the valley and investigate the wildlife, with a weekly programme of activities organised by the Bureau des Guides.
There is also the Ferme de la Borgé, where you can see cheese-making and the Asinerie – a donkey farm which not only offers rides but sells products made from donkey milk. Meanwhile, there are dog-sledding outings with huskies – and even walks with llamas – unique in the Alps.
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 06:18 Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 11:49 TGV to St Michel Valloire, arriving at 16:17. From there it is a 30-minute bus or taxi ride.
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 59 03 96; www.valloire.net
Insider travel tips
1. Changing station in Paris is easiest with a pre-booked taxi, or otherwise a taxi from the taxi rank – which is 50 metres from the Eurostar platform.
2. Most indirect journeys are bookable approximately 90 days before the date of travel – so diarise the opening of the booking window to get the best fares.
3. If you are taking a Eurostar and then at TGV, book the journey as one ticket, to take advantage of lower “Connection Fares”.
4. You can increase our rail-journey options by staying overnight in Paris at a hotel by Gare de Lyon and then taking a TGV to the Alps in the morning.
5. There are no weight restrictions on Eurotar or European trains, so stock up on food and drink and have a picnic on board.
6. Some independent chalet companies will pick you up from the train station for free – and most tour operators will automatically include the transfer in the cost of the holiday.
7. For parties of 10 or more, preferential group travel rates can apply – so check with your tour operator or train company.
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