Let the train take the strain to the Alps

08 February 2006 00:00

Anyone who remembers ‘Let the train take the strain’ will probably associate it with the curling sandwiches, delays and grubby carriages of the much maligned and now departed British Rail.

Train travel in the UK is sadly still far from perfect and certainly over-priced, but the good news is that snowsport lovers canenjoy superb rail services on the way to enjoying their favourite hobby.

Mid-week breaks by train
Most Natives probably already know about the Snowtrain service (out on Friday, back on Sunday), which allows you two extra days’ skiing on a week’s holiday, but did you know that you can take the train out to the Alps for your short break holidays as well?

Last week I had to go to the Alps to work on the Natives Workers Challenge in Meribel (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!). Rather than flying, this seemed like a great opportunity to score a double whammy by reducing our carbon emissions and getting more time in the Alps.

Eurostar WaterlooLike an airport, but without the stress…
My journey to the Alps started from London Waterloo. The Eurostar terminal is superb, with all the facilities of an airport, but somehow without all of the stress.

I find catching a flight means you are constantly herded and never quite settled. Check-in, passport control, security, duty free, the gate and finally the plane. Have you got everything you need in your hand luggage? Have you left your boarding card in Dixons? Will you get to the gate in time? Or will you rush to get there on time and then wait 40 minutes as it’s late…

The contrast with travel by train couldn’t be greater. The transition to the train is only a couple of hundred metres rather than a few miles, and within five minutes of finding my seat we were off.

Comfortable and spacious
Rail Europe very kindly upgraded me to first class for the journey to Paris, which I can highly recommend. The seats were comfortable and spacious, but even the regular carriages were plush by British standards. Free champagne was of course very welcome, but the delicious evening meal provided also would definitely make me consider upgrading next time.

Gare du NordEasy on the Metro
I arrived into Paris slightly apprehensive about the transfer from Gare du Nord to Gare d’Austerlitz. I needn’t have worried as the journey couldn’t have been simpler. Nine stops on the no.5 Metro line took me directly between the two in only 20 minutes.

Again I was a little unsure how the couchettes would work out the train to Moutiers (final destination Bourg St Maurice), but they were already made up when I boarded, so it was a matter of finding mine, stashing my luggage on the top shelf (for security), and being gently rocked to sleep!

Moutiers StationAnd suddenly, we were there…
The next thing I knew was the train was stopped in a station. It turned out to be Albertville and 15 minutes later we were in Moutiers. The car hire didn’t open until 0900, but the café opposite the station does a great petit-dejeuner at €7. This was fine for me and at no point was I tempted to join the mec at the bar and have an early morning demie as he was!

Ski (or work) all day
Most Natives could easily have been on the snow by 1000, going on to get three full days’ riding before heading back down to Moutiers for a very civilized 2215 departure. Unfortunately my schedule was oriented around work, rather than play, but I did manage to get a decent run in the Natives GS comp.

Iain in the GSAfter a day of working on the Workers Challenge, it was never going to be a problem sleeping on the way back. Again the journey was smooth, with the only negative being that it was an early start from Paris, arriving into Gare d’Austerlitz at 0600.

However, after sharing both the Metro and Eurostar with well dressed and slightly more fragrant commuters, I was back at my desk in Putney before 1030.

I was totally impressed with the whole experience and even if it wasn’t better for the environment, you can be sure I’ll be traveling to the Alps by train again. Apart from the time and stress saved, it just seems so civilized – a remembrance of things past perhaps?

So the next time you’re heading off to the Alps, even on a short trip, why not let the train take the strain.

Railways are the least carbon-intensive mode of transport. Figures vary, but the average emission of CO2 per passenger-kilometre by rail is between 13% and 27% of a shorthaul flight.   For more information on how to calculate your own carbon footprint and how to reduce your carbon emissions (offsetting them is only a panacea, we need to reduce),
check out this site.

A journey on the dates and time I travelled  would cost £155 including return couchette and Paris Metro tickets. Contact
Rail Europe or Canterbury Travel. There is no equivalent journey by air that will give you the same amount of time on the slopes for the same amount of net traveling time (ie traveling time less sleeping time). However, depending on your time of travel, and how you travel to and from the airport, you're likely to be looking at £100-£150.

So, travel by train is likely to be more expensive, but trust me…it’s so much more pleasant!

[Report by Iain Martin - MD at Natives] 


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