Although not necessarily a cheaper option than the bargain basement airlines, such as easyJet, Ryanair and Flybe, Eurostar is comparable when booked in advance. It can also be faster, considering you take the journey to the airport and two-hour checking in time out of the equation. Plus the countryside views are vastly more pleasant than clouds.
Eurostar began operating fast trains from London Waterloo to Paris and Brussels in November 1994. In November 2007 the UK terminus moved to the capital’s St Pancras International station, and a fast new line through north Kent called High Speed One reduced journey times by an average of 23-25 minutes. St Pancras, served by trains from Paris, Brussels and Lille (as well as Luton, Derby and Sheffield), is only a short walk from Euston and King’s Cross stations.
Belgium-bound readers should also note that a Eurostar ticket to Brussels covers onward national train travel to elsewhere in the country (including Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp), for no extra charge.
It’s almost unbelievable anyone still flies or ferries to France, when you can go by Eurostar for less than 60 quid. For that quick romantic getaway, a weekend in the city of love, especially in spring or autumn, still delivers in terms of candlelit bistros, afternoons in cafés and boulevardiering in the Marais. Get yourself in the mood by having some bubbly on board the train.
Route London St Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nord (2hrs 15mins).
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See the bridge that inspired the song, as well as the many other treasures of Avignon and the wider South of France area. Enjoy the changing scenery of France as you head south to lavender country. A direct Eurostar service runs on Saturdays between July and September, but the rest of the year you need to change at Paris on to the high-speed TGV service, adding maybe half an hour more on to your travel. Go in July for the annual performing arts festival (www.festival-avignon.com).
Route London St Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nord – Avignon TGV (5hrs 55mins).
Pack light for this one; the necessary change between north and south Paris is a good 30-minute metro ride, although if you book through Eurostar it will allow you plenty of transit time. Once en route to Bordeaux, relax with the knowledge that you’ll soon have a good glass of local wine in your hand, to be drunk overlooking some magnificent Atlantic coastline, possibly while staying in one of Bordeaux’s many châteaux.
Route London St Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nord – Bordeaux St-Jean (6hrs 30mins).
Gaze out of the train window as the nondescript French countryside morphs into Jacques Brel’s mythically flat Flemish landscape as you near Brussels. The city has something for everyone: a well-established night scene for the party animal; Magritte’s artwork for the creative; and, for the power hungry, Europe’s political centre. Quicker than a trip to Paris, and with much friendlier locals.
Route London St Pancras International – Bruxelles-Midi (1hr 59mins).
Got a day to spare, but feel like you’ve done Paris to death? Underappreciated Lille can be reached in less time than a football match. So you can easily make it for lunch in a brasserie, followed by an afternoon wandering La Piscine Museum of Art, and still have time to browse one of the many stores at the Euralille mega-mall.
Route London St Pancras International – Lille (1hr 20mins).
From Britain to the Belgian beach with minimum hassle. Natives call Ostend the ‘Queen of the Belgian seaside resorts’, which is a rather long-winded way of saying that the Flemish town has some lovely sandy shores, a sweet old fishing harbour and pleasant coastal promenades. Route London St Pancras International – Bruxelles-Midi – Ostend (3hrs 43mins).
Although not yet a direct route, this may still be one of the easiest flight-free journeys you’ll encounter. At Paris (Gare du Nord) it’s a mere 800-metre-switchover to the Gare de l’Est station, where you hop on to a TGV train. In Strasbourg, the city centre is minutes from the station, meaning all the more time to peruse the city’s historic streets and Gothic spires, or even to stop for a bite at La Cloche à Fromage, the only all-cheese restaurant on the planet.
Route London St Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nord – Stasbourg (5hrs 15mins).
Getting to Germany’s liveliest city requires just a quick platform change in Brussels. Once there you can enjoy a cruise down the Rhine, see some modern art at the Museum Ludwig or simply take in the city’s Romanesque architecture and towering cathedral, Germany’s largest. The other advantage of taking the train? Cologne is known for being Europe’s party city, so you need all the rest you can get on the way.
Route London St Pancras International – Bruxelles-Midi – Koln Hauptbanhof (Cologne Central Station) (4hrs 11mins).
Unless you’re a teetotaler, it’s hard not to find something to do in Rheims. The town is at the heart of champagne country, and visitors can tour les grandes marques – the headquarters of the famed champagne houses. You should also visit the famous cathedral of Notre-Dame de Rheims, former coronation spot of the French monarchy. The return journey is just long enough for the hangover to wear off.
Route London St Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nords – Rheims (4hrs 10mins).
Eurostar’s Ski Train service runs every winter between December and April, giving you more than enough time to hop on a train and hit the slopes. With three direct Alpine destinations to choose from, plus easy connections to a host of other ski resorts, this is an easy way to travel. Maximise your time on the piste by booking evening trains both ways.
Route London St Pancras International – Moûtiers (7hr 05mins)/Aime-la-Plagne (7hrs)/Bourg-St-Maurice (7hr 20mins).
The Deutsche Bahn website (www.bahn.co.uk) provides information about European timetables.
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