There’s something disorientating about being in one country, getting into a small box with wings for a few hours, and then stepping out in a completely different place.
We’re not saying it’s a bad thing, but there’s something dreamlike about it and you can’t help but feel like you’ve missed out on something. After all, you’ve passed over countries you’ve never visited, sites you’ve never seen, and you missed all of it because you were watching Friends reruns on a screen the size of a book cover.
Train travel immerses you in the journey: you can recline in your much-roomier-than-an-aeroplane-chair seat, plug your iPod in, and watch the stunning scenery pass you by. Skiers and boarders can see the rolling fields of rural France climb up into mountains, soon to be dusted with snow as you head for your chosen Alpine resort. When you’ve arrived at your destination you already feel like you’ve seen more of the world, without spending loads of money or making much effort: it’s like the travel equivalent of window shopping. If all this sounds like a load of balls to you, you can always book an overnight train journey and save yourself on accommodation for the night. This also means you can hit the slopes as soon as you arrive. But we reckon a day-time train trip beats the hell out of a few hours in a plane. After all the saying goes ‘It is not the destination, but the journey’ – although these destinations are pretty damn cool, too…
Alpe d’Huez, France
From London to the slopes in: From London to the slope sin: eight hours, 20 minutes There’s almost always bright sunshine over the 250km of terrain at Alpe D’Huez, where four distinct skiing sectors are linked by lifts. First-timers will find the decent network of beginner slopes great to practice on, while everyone else can swish speedily down the long reds at Signal l’Homme.
Apres ski: There are plenty of bars to while away the evenings in, along with live music venues and late-night clubs. Try the friendly O’Bar (Chalet La Clé, Route d’Huez) for a well-earned tipple or two after a day on the slopes. Chalet du Lac Besson ( 33 476 80 65 37) is by the frozen lake above a cross-country track. It can only be reached on skis or by snowmobile: well worth a visit for grills over an open fire.
Recommended route: Depart St Pancras on the 7.31am Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 12.41pm TGV, arriving Grenoble at 3.37pm; then a 75-minute transfer.
photo credit: iStock
From London to the slopes in: nine hours, 15 minutes Pretty, unpretentious and good value, Montegenèvre is highly recommended for first-time skiers because of the bright and sunny nursery slopes that lie right by the village. There’s plenty of off-piste action when it snows in the Gondrans bowl, Rocher de l’Aigle and off the Col de l’Alpet – take a guide to show you the best routes. Montegenèvre has a solid boarding scene, too. Many visitors opt for group lessons with ESF Mongenevre, which start from around £124 per person (six lots of two-and-a-half-hours’ tuition, morning or afternoons). ski-school-montgenevre.co.uk
Apres ski: It’s all about old-world charm rather than hardcore partying here, so spend your evenings making the most of the local restaurants. Try Le Capitaine’s (La Praya, 33 492 21 89 84) wood-fired pizzas, or if you’ve cash to splash, gourmet grub at La Table Blanche. hotellechaletblanc.com A great place to stay is the Hotel Alpis Cottia, which is a cosy spot in the heart of the village. Rooms start from £40 per night. hotelalpiscottia.com
Recommended route: Depart St Pancras on the 9.31am Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 3.24pm TGV, arriving Oulx at 7.21pm; then a 25-minute taxi ride. Book rail travel with Rail Europe (raileurope.co.uk).
Sauze d’Oulx, Italy
From London to the slopes in: nine hours, 15 minutes Intrepid? Adventurous? Like to get off-the-beaten piste? You’ll go gaga for this area, as there are plenty of secret forest routes local guides can help you discover. Sauze d’Oulx’s tree-lined red runs are best suited to intermediate skiers, but advanced skiers can make the easy connection to Sestriere and the black runs at the top of Mount Motta and Mount Sises.
Apres ski: This Italian village with its sweetly cobbled streets used to be known as ‘Ibiza-in-the-snow’. This thought might fill you with excitement or horror, but either way, the resort is still quite a boozy fave with Brits. That said, Sauze d’Oulxis more cocktails than clubbing these days, so start off the night with a few aperitivi at Caffe della Seggiovia (Piazza Assietta 4).
Recommended route: Depart St Pancras on the 9.31am Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 3.24pm TGV, arrivingat Oulx at 7.31pm; then it’s a 15-minute taxi ride. Again, trybooking via raileurope.co.uk.
photo credit: iStock
From London to the slopes in: 18 hours If you’re planning a trip with mates of mixed skiing ability, Söll is a pretty good bet. The Ski Welt is the largest linked ski area in Austria, and has plenty of easy blues for beginners and harder reds for the more experienced. Advanced skiers will have to look a little harder to find a challenge, but there are some very steep runs at the Hohe Salve. Night skiing is huge here and the floodlit run from Hochsöll down to Söll is nothing short of exhilarating.
Apres ski: The slopes here might be gentle, but the night life is quite the opposite. This cutesy Tirolean village gets raucous later and you’ll find skiers dancing on the tables at Moonlight Bar and other spots around town practically every night of the week. There must be something in the schnapps.moonlight. bar-soell.com
Recommended route: Depart St Pancras on the 3.31pm Eurostar, change in Paris and take the 8.20pm City Night Line sleeper train, arriving Worgl at 9.41am, then a 15-minute taxi ride. Book with Deutsche Bahn from £215 return in a sixberthcouchette (bahn.com).
Great Train Journeys
Hooked on rail travel? Make your journey the whole holidayon one of these three epic train rides.
Route: Through the Swiss Alps
Just the name of this train conjures up images of Swiss peaks and dizzying scenery. A ride on the Glacier Express is just aone-day trip, taking you from St Moritz to Zermatt, but the journey offers some of Switzerland’s finest panoramas. swisspasses.com
INDIAN MAHARAJA DECCAN ODYSSEY
Route: Mumbai to Delhi
Ajanta caves photo credit: iStock
The epitome of luxury train travel, there’s a gym, beauty salon and massage centre on board, oh, and a number of well-stocked bars. The route connects Mumbai and Delhi via Rajasthan, so your journey could include cave excursions at Ajanta, a jungle safari at Sawai Madhopur and of course, that all important photo op at the Taj Mahal. theindianmaharaja.co.in
Route: Cuzco to Machu Picchu
This three-hour journey begins in Poroy (eight miles from Cuzco) before winding through the Sacred Valley, the Andean foothills, and then following the path of the Urubamba river. For the best views of the river and Inca ruins, make sure you nab a seat on the left side of the train going up to Machu Picchu and on the right when you return. perurail.com