Sunday, 13 March 2016

French Alps - plane or train?

La Plagne

Independent ski holidays invariably present a dilemma. Should you fly or drive? I hadn’t seriously considered taking the train, mainly because my trips rarely begin and end with weekends – the only days when direct services run to the French Alps from London. But this season, despite needing to travel in midweek, my wife and I decided to bite the bullet.

We were heading for La Plagne, in the Tarentaise. Flying would necessitate a surprisingly expensive airport bus transfer or eight days’ car hire, with most of the cost wasted as the vehicle sat, unused, parked in the resort. The thought of driving from London, which we did many times when or sons were learning to ski, invoked the usual dread of having to fit snow chains. So the train it was.

An early morning taxi to St Pancras took less time than we had feared, after the that day’s threatened tube strike was called off. There was time for breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien before checking in for the 7.55am Eurostar to Paris. Panic set in briefly when 45 minute delays were announced – but the warning was quickly rescinded. Somehow the start of a rail journey conjures a comforting sensation, Newspaper, crossword, novel: time stretches out through cuttings, across embankments.

Lack of a direct service means you have to cross Paris from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon. No problem, It takes only about 30 minutes by RER train, you may buy the exact number of tickets you need at the bar on Eurostar – and you shouldn’t encounter any need to lug your bags up or down stairs. There’s a useful guide on how to go about it on the excellent website seat61.com. Our booking allowed us a generous time buffer before we boarded a TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) for a leg of about 3hrs to Chambery, at the doorstep of the Alps. At Chambery it was necessary to change platforms using stairs, which left my wife less than ecstatic. From there is was just over 2hrs to Landry, a snowy station about 15 minutes by taxi from Montchavin, where we were staying.

How did it compare with flying? Home London to hotel took approximately around 12hrs 30mins Just how long it would have taken by air would have depended on our departure and destination airports and our mode of resort transfer. Certainly it would have been several hours quicker – but it wouldn’t have created any extra skiing time.

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