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Eurostar’s flagship services linking London’s magnificent St Pancras station with Paris and Brussels have been an overwhelming success, transforming London’s relationship with two close continental capitals.
So much well-justified praise is heaped on Eurostar’s capital city links that it is easy to overlook that the rail service through the Channel Tunnel is good for more than merely quick hops to nearby capitals.
Direct trains to the Alps
Last Saturday, Eurostar kicked off its regular season of direct ski-trains, serving some of France’s premier winter sports resorts from London and two other stations in south-east England: Ebbsfleet and Ashford.
Although the trains are aimed fair and square at the winter sports market, you certainly don’t need to be a skier to use these trains which are a very fine way of traveling from England to the Savoie area of eastern France. The services run through mid-April and operate to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, stopping along the way at Moûtiers-Salins-Brides-les-Bains and Aime-La Plagne. The latter, with its cottage-style stone station building, surely rates as the most rural station on the Eurostar network.
Dash South to Avignon
Tickets go on sale tomorrow (December 22, 2011) for Eurostar’s 2012 season of direct trains from London and Ashford to Avignon in the south of France. Travelers can speed from Kent to the heart of the Provence in less than five hours.
And whereas most French high-speed trains serve Avignon TGV station, the Eurostar services drop passengers at Avignon Centre, just a stone’s throw from the ancient city wall and the Old Town. For Londoners keen to catch some southern sun, the direct Eurostar service to Avignon is hugely more appealing than tackling airport crowds.
Eurostar operates a two-class service on the Avignon route (compared with the choice of three classes on their capital city services). Fares start at £109 return in Standard Class and, for passengers wanting extra space with complimentary meals and drinks, return tickets in Standard Premier are from £249.
Connections through Brussels
We traveled last Wednesday from London to Cologne, an easy 4hr 20min journey including a slick connection from Eurostar onto a German ICE train at Brussels. You can use the Eurostar website to book through journeys from London to Aachen and Cologne in Germany, as well as to any station in the Netherlands or in Belgium.
City center to city center travel times often undercut comparable journeys made by air. For example, the fastest rail connections from London to Rotterdam (changing at Brussels) take less than four hours.
We used this latter option last month on a London to Strasbourg journey, which took 5hrs 15mins. That included time for a change of trains in Paris, requiring an easy ten-minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l’Est. One-way fares on this routing start at £55.
Some travelers worry that many itineraries via Paris require a change of station in the French capital. And that is where Lille Europe station comes in handy, as it offers seamless connections between Eurostar and the French high-speed network without the need to switch stations. For example, the same lead-in fare of £55 from London to Strasbourg is also available on routings via Lille.
You can book with Eurostar from London to Lille and connect there onto direct trains to Nice, Toulouse, Marseille, Bordeaux and dozens of other destinations across France. Again, through bookings for most itineraries can be made on the Eurostar website.
The regular direct Eurostar trains from London to Marne la Vallée-Chessy are operated mainly for visitors heading to the Disneyland complex east of Paris, but can also be used to link to and from connecting TGV services.
And we have found Eurostar useful for short hops on the continent. For example, Eurostar trains can be used to travel from Lille to both Brussels and Calais.
Rail pass options
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