Rails to trails

Few skiers realise how many resorts you can reach easily from the UK by train. In fact, there are plenty. You can ditch the airport queues, tedious transfers and long drives and gain space and scenery instead. Here is our pick of some of the best destinations in the Alps by train – and how to get there.

ICE train - photo courtesy Deutsche Bahn

Serre Chevalier

Serre Chevalier - © Serre Chevalier Tourisme If you like your ski resorts to come with bundles of heritage, Serre Chevalier, located in the Southern Alps, is a wonderful option. At Briancon, which is the highest town in Europe, there is a UNESCO World Heritage fortress, designed by Vauban, a world-renowned military engineer from the 17th century. The four bases that make up Serre Chevalier access some fantastic skiing, with 80% of its slopes above 2,000 metres and a high proportion of wooded runs. You’ll find the friendly ambience here that you might look for on a relaxed summer holiday, and plenty of classic stone buildings housing small, family-run hotels and restaurants.

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:22 Eurostar to Paris-Nord, change station by taxi and take the 14:41 TGV from Paris-Lyon to Oulx, arriving at 19:23. From there it’s 40 minutes by bus or taxi.

Les Gets, France

Les Gets - ® D. Bouchet Minutes from Cluses station is the pretty village of Les Gets, with chocolate-box chalets and restaurants lining the streets and dotting the hillsides. The resort is part of the huge 650km Portes du Soleil ski area, giving close access to Morzine and Avoriaz too. The local slopes at Mont Chery always stay blissfully quiet, and the views over the Alps from there are magnificent. In the evenings, the tourist office organises lantern-lit snowshoe walks through the local woods. For the ultimate Savoyarde restaurant, try Les Chevrelles, located in the heart of the mountain village of Mont Caly, with a sumptuous view onto Mont Blanc.

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras 07:52 by Eurostar to Paris-Nord; change station and take the 12:45 TGV changing at Bellegarde to arrive Cluses at 16:35; from there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi.

Alpbach, Austria

Alpbach skiers - photo courtesy Alpbachtal Seenland Tourismus It’s no surprise that Alpbach attracts a loyal following of British skiers. The resort is dripping with rustic, Tirolean charm, and is certainly one of the Alps’ most beautiful villages – with some fabulous slopes. The combined area now has 145-kms of piste and 47 lifts – tailor-made for intermediates. Tantalising tree-lined runs and a great network of red and blue runs make it a great place for honing your carving skills. Oswald Parish Church, built in 1420, takes centre stage in the village, and has incredible architecture. In the evenings, you can stroll past old wooded chalets to friendly restaurants and bars, such as Restaurant Postalm or Gastof Jakober.

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras 15:04 by Eurostar to Brussels; from there take an ICE at 18.25 to Koln, and then the 21:21 NightJet to Worgl, arriving Cluses at 08:26; from there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi.

Les Contamines, France

Les Contamines Restaurant - © Gilles Lansard Many British skiers haven’t heard of Les Contamines, but this is a resort worth getting to know. The slopes are quiet and the off piste even quieter. Indeed, even at February half term you can still find yourself carving empty slopes in spectacular scenery. On once side you face an unparalleled view of Mont Blanc and on the other you ski down into into Haute Luce, with fluffy cloud bowls swirling below you in the valley above the lake. It’s no wonder that the resort has attracted a loyal following. The quiet village has some very welcoming restaurants, a local market and a very unhurried feel. 

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras 07:19 by Eurostar to Lyon; from there take a local train at 13.40, arriving St Gervais at 16:53; from there it’s 20 minutes by bus or taxi.

Sauze d’Oulx, Italy

Sauze d’Oulx Nestled just over the French border, on the TGV route from Paris to Turin, lies the resort of Sauze d’Oulx. Somehow the village deftly combines lively nightlife with a relaxed, ambience in a village with a quaint historic centre. Here, you can amble the cobbled streets, perusing some of the many village restaurants such as del Falco, L’Ortiche and Il Canton del Barbaruc. The 400km of slopes, part of the Milky Way ski area, are best suited to intermediate skiers. Up on the mountain, there you’ll find rustic mountain huts tucked away in the woods, such as Ciao Pais, renowned for it’s homemade desserts.

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:22 Eurostar to Paris-Nord, change station by taxi and take the 14:41 TGV from Paris-Lyon to Oulx, arriving at 19:23. From there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi.

Val Cenis, France

Val Cenis Lanslevillard - © Pierre Huart Deep in the beautiful Maurienne Valley, Val Cenis is a very family friendly resort blessed with magnificent scenery, with vistas over the Lac Du Mont Cenis and onwards into Italy. The Haute Maurienne valley, which is part of the Parc National de la Vanoise, is a historic setting and the resort has a very French, Savoyard flavour. This is a great place for families to learn to ski, with L’Escargot, the Alps’ longest green run – and plenty of blue runs to progress to. There’s far more than just skiing here, and at 2000m altitude on the Mont Cenis Col you can explore a 4km heritage trail on foot or with snow-shoes – or try husky-dog sledding.

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:22 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Change to Paris-Lyon and take the 14:41 TGV to Modane, arriving at 18:45. From there it’s a 30-minute taxi or bus.

Peisey-Vallandry, France

Peisey-Vallandry - photo courtesy Peisey-Vallandry Tourisme Located at the heart of the the 425km Paradiski, between its more famous neighbours, La Plagne and Les Arcs, Peisey-Vallandry is made up of several attractive villages. There’s a relaxed, personable ambience and attractive architecture. As well as the skiing, the resort has a variety of Nordic trails too and offers workshops in activities that include cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowshoeing, dog, reindeer and horse- drawn sleds, ski Joëring, electric Fat Bike and wildlife watching. For lunch, try the Blanche Murée, with its sunny terrace; in the evenings, La Bergerie de Raphaël will delight you with Savoyard gastronomy.

Example rail journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:45 Eurostar Ski Train to Bourg St Maurice, arriving at 19:03; from there it’s 45 minutes by taxi.

Rail-travel information and booking


Voyages SNCF (rail-booking agents)

Loco2 (rail-booking agents)

Ffestiniog Travel (rail booking experts 01766 772 030)

Ben’s Bus new Paris Ski Shuttle – connecting Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon stations.

The new European Rail Map (£10.99 + p&p) from European Rail Timetable is a useful companion for international rail journeys.

More information about rail travel to ski resorts can be found at independent guide, Snowcarbon.

More about Daniel

Daniel Elkan is a freelance ski, travel, science and environmental writer who has travelled to more than 50 ski resorts by train from the UK.  He has written ski features for The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, National Geographic Traveller, Food & Travel, Snow, InTheSnow, Ski+board and others. He has created a website, www.snowcarbon.co.uk, to help skiers find out how to travel to ski resorts by train.

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Daniel Elkan

Freelance ski, travel, science & environmental writer

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