10 Paris Stop-Over Rail Journeys to the French Alps

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    10 Paris Stop-Over Rail Journeys to the French Alps

    SNCF in the Alps
    Getty/Ludovic Gra

    Don’t hurry to your ski resort, says Daniel Elkan.  Instead, leave the day before, enjoy a night in Paris and have a more relaxing journey.

    • If you're arriving from the USA in Paris, stay the night in Paris then get off early in the morning for your ski resort.
    • If you're traveling to the French Alps from the UK, think differently. Most people think of travel to the French Alps from the UK as something to get out of the way as quickly as possible.  For years, I shared this philosophy, and even when I discovered the joys of rail travel instead of airport queues, I was still always plotting the fastest route. 

    Try a new and different way to get to the slopes

    I recently tried a different way of travelling to the slopes by train: the ‘Paris stop-over’.  The idea came to me when I realised how many fast TGV trains leave Paris each morning bound for the Alps.  You can’t start out from London on Eurostar the same day and catch these trains, but if you head to Paris the night before and stay over in a hotel there, you can. By doing this, you get to enjoy some of Paris and still arrive in your resort earlier than you would have done if travelling in one go, on the same day. In many cases, arriving in a resort around midday means that you can sneak a first afternoon on the slopes too.

    For skiers with holidays starting on a Sunday in the popular Tarentaise region of the French Alps, stop-over journeys are particularly useful because there is no Sunday-to-Sunday daytime Eurostar Ski Train service.

    When I suggested this to friends, they rallied to the idea quickly – especially once I’d promised that we’d be hitting the slopes for a ski on the day of arrival – something rare in ski travel. En route, we crossed Paris by pre-booked taxi, which made things very easy, and our hotel was 200 metres from Gare de Lyon, with plenty of nearby restaurants to choose from for dinner. I filmed our journey, which you can see here.  

    There are so many TGV trains that leave from Paris to all corners of the French Alps. In the following pages, I’ve included some great resorts you can reach travelling this way, some well known, others well worth looking at:  Méribel, Val Cenis, Peisey-Vallandry, Saint Gervais-les-Bains, Serre Chevalier, Val Thorens, Alpe d'Huez, La Plagne and Les Gets. On the final page, there's information on rail bookings, on recommended Paris hotels and tips for saving money. 

    Happy skiing in the French Alps!

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    Méribel with a Paris stop-over

    Meribel
    Getty/Ellen Rooney/robertharding

    Sitting in the middle valley of the vast 600km Three Valleys ski area, surrounded by 150km of its own varied local slopes, Méribel offers an incredible range of on and off-piste terrain. From the centre of the village, the lifts shoot off in all directions, making the resort a great base from which to explore:  Courchevel to the east, Val Thorens to the south, St Martin and Les Menuires to the west and southwest. The whole Three Valleys is your oyster from here.

    Much of Méribel’s accommodation is in traditional chalet style, making the place very pleasant to the eye. Further down, there’s the rustic traditional Savoyard village of Les Allues, with it’s old farmhouses; another option for good slope access is quiet Méribel Village, the hotels, apartments and chalets in Méribel centre (1450m) and the abundant apartments of Méribel Mottaret, located at 1750m.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Moutiers at 11:07; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:12; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:12; from there it’s 20-30 minutes by bus or taxi.

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  • 03 of 12

    Val Cenis with a Paris stop-over

    Val Cenis
    Getty/ Martial Colomb

    Val Cenis is a resort in the beautiful Haute Maurienne valley, with spectacular, scenic ski terrain, on the Italian border south of Val d’Isère.  

    Many British skiers haven’t heard of it, but in-the-know French families love this place – and with good reason. There are excellent, varied pistes and fairly reliable snow – with most slopes facing north.  It’s brilliant for children and families, with high-altitude beginner runs that mean even those just starting out can feel the exhilaration and enjoy the views. Termignon and Lanslevillard have excellent beginner slopes right by the villages too, the latter with long green pistes that run the length of the lifts.

    The resort recently took a small step upmarket with the opening of its first 4-star hotel, in addition to a variety of high-quality self-catering residences that are already there.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:29 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Modane at 10:48; or the 08:27 TGV, arriving 13:07; from there it’s 30 minutes by bus or taxi.

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  • 04 of 12

    Peisey-Vallandry with a Paris stop-over

    Peisey
    Maxime Demule

    In the heart of the 425km Paradiski area, is Peisey-Vallandry.  The resort might be far less famous than its neighbours, Les Arcs and La Plagne, but it has plenty to offer, particularly to families and groups. 

    Peisey village itself is full of traditional charm, with old working farms, chalets and a Baroque church and the skiing here suits intermediates particularly well. Panoramic views take in the valleys of the Isère and Ponturin rivers, and the child-friendly nature of the villages and slopes make it popular with families.  There are plenty of large, beautiful, old wooden chalets, many of them run by small independent companies. There’s also a 43km Nordic ski area, on the gateway to the Vanoise National Park. These pistes, mostly in the forest, crisscross the Rosuel plateau, and pass through picturesque villages and hamlets.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Landry at 11:38; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:39; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:38; from there it’s 15 - 30 minutes to the resort’s villages by bus or taxi. 

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  • 05 of 12

    Saint Gervais-les-Bains with a Paris stop-over

    Saint Gervais
    Getty/Catherine Leblanc/Godong

    Saint Gervais-les-Bains has a relaxed vibe, both on-slope and off-slope. The ski area, shared with neighbouring Megève, has a sizeable 445km of terrain, and beautiful scenery overlooking Mont Blanc.

    The slopes tend to remain pretty quiet – a special plus for those who love accessible powder, which often remains untracked longer than in other resorts. The altitude of the skiing isn’t that high, but the terrain is on grass-covered slopes (as opposed to rock) makes great skiing as soon as the snow falls.

    There are plenty of cosy mountain restaurants, such as Sous les Freddy’s. In the evenings, you won’t find people partying, more going for a nice chilled drink. Off-slope activities include horse riding, ice-climbing, snowshoeing and paragliding.  You can also go for a soak at the natural spa centre – Les Thermes de St Gervais.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:11 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at St Gervais at 11:33; from there it’s 10 minutes by bus or taxi.

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  • 06 of 12

    Serre Chevalier with a Paris stop-over

    Serre Chevalier
    Getty/nejc bole photography

    Serre Chevalier, in the Southern Alps, has a friendly unpretentious ambience that has given it a loyal following. The resort has pretty, tree-lined pistes and charming, well-priced restaurants – both on and off the mountains.

    Serre Chevalier’s ski area is has more trees than many – even at high altitude – and 80% of the ski area is above 2000 metres, making it a fairly snowsure bet.

    There are 250km of pistes, so it’s a big area, and if you are a good skier and went for it, non-stop, it might still take you a couple of hours to go from one end of the resort to the other. This is an excellent resort for first timers and families too, because there are dedicated beginner zones at each village and plenty of childcare facilities, so even toddlers can be kept entertained.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:29 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Oulx at 11:23; or the 10:41 TGV, arriving 15:43; from there it’s 50 minutes by bus or taxi.

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    Val Thorens with a Paris stop-over

    Val Thorerns
    Getty/JACQUES Pierre/hemis.fr

    The highest ski resort in Western Europe, nestling at 2300m, Val Thorens is an increasingly swish ski-in-ski-out village, which has seen an influx of upmarket hotels and restaurants in recent years.  The latest, La Datcha, is the first building in a ski resort to be built entirely using ‘Passivhaus’ approved eco-friendly construction.

    The skiing is endless here, with the resort well located in the huge 600km Three Valleys ski area, with almost all the local slopes located above 2,000 metres.

    This year, the resort’s slope-maintenance team has created the ‘Ski Flux’ system, giving skiers real-time information about how busy the runs are. 

    And there’s plenty more than skiing here:  Val Thorens has France’s longest toboggan run; and there’s fat biking, gyro copter flights and ice climbing. If you want to party, this place has it: starting from early afternoon at the Folie Douce and later on in the buzzing village.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Moutiers at 11:07; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:12; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:12; from there it’s 45 minutes by bus or taxi.

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    Alpe d’Huez with a Paris stop-over

    Alpe d'Huez
    Getty/Ross Woodhall

    Set in the most breath taking scenery you could wish for, Alpe d’Huez has 250km of superb and varied skiing, shared with five villages.  In the main sector there’s a large network of easy blue runs, making it a good place for beginners to learn. The variety of the terrain means that there’s something for everyone here, and the extent of the slopes mean that you can go off in a new direction each day, to try something different.

    From many points as you ski, you’ll look onto magnificent views of the Oisans Valley.  And for those who love powder, the off-piste on offer in Alpe d’Huez is incredible. Head up early, before the crowds, over to the ‘Sarenne’ run, which has some beautiful lines a short traverse away from the main piste – on either side. 

    The runs tend to stay beautifully quiet too, especially at the outlying sectors of Vaujany and Auris en Oisans.  When you’ve gorged on the terrain, there are plenty of mountain restaurants –  charming places like Le Bergerie, where you can clamber inside to find steaming plates of tartiflette and beaming faces.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:41 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Grenoble at 10:42; or the 09:45 TGV, arriving 12:46; from there it’s 50 minutes by bus or taxi.

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  • 09 of 12

    La Plagne with a Paris stop-over

    La Plagne
    Getty/Richard Nebesky

    It’s no surprise that La Plagne is one of the most popular resorts in the Alps. With 10 villages accessing 425km of ski terrain, La Plagne is able to offer a choice of purpose-built, ski-in/ski-out convenience, or old-world charm of traditional villages.

    The slopes are linked with Peisey Vallandry and Les Arcs by the epic Vanoise Express gondola, and there’s plenty of high-altitude runs, right up to the lofty 3,417m summit of Bellecôte.

    The resort is famous for it’s Olympic bobsleigh run, which you can choose to hurtle down for an adrenaline rush, and it also has a range of other non-ski activities.  These include climbing an ice tower, dog sledding, fat biking and air-boarding.

    At Easter, the resort puts on a festival called Sublicimes, featuring music and activities around six summits in the resort, with a huge ice grotto, pop-up hot tubs, magicians and other performers.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Aime la Plagne at 11:27; or the 07:49 TGV, arriving 12:29; or the 09:49 TGV, arriving 14:28; from there it’s 20 - 40 minutes to the resort’s villages by bus or taxi.

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    Les Gets with a Paris stop-over

    Hot chocolate
    Getty/Jill McAdoo Photography

    Close to Cluses train station is the pretty village of Les Gets. Charming chalets and inviting restaurants line the streets here, making the village chocolate-box cute.

    Les Gets is part of the huge 650km Portes du Soleil ski area, linked with Morzine and Avoriaz, and the skiing possibilities are endless.  The resort is also blessed with great local slopes at Mont Chery. You’ll find that these remain remarkably quiet, retaining untracked powder for far longer than other areas on the main circuit.

    After a day on the slopes, you can sample chocolate from around the world at a new tearoom, Le Chalet du Chocolat. The tourist office organizes lantern-lit snowshoe walks in the evenings, through the local woods. This winter the resort has introduced ‘Sled Dogs’ – a winter sport originating from Norway where skaters wear snow skates (called Sled Dogs) – to descend the slopes.

    Paris stop-over rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 07:11 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Cluses at 11:05; from there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi.

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    Le Grand Bornand

    Le Grand Bornand
    David Machet

    Located a short distance from Lake Annecy, Le Grand Bornand is a wonderful yet relatively little-known ski resort, sharing the same ski pass as La Clusaz. You’ll find that the slopes have some superb intermediate terrain, plenty of accessible off piste – as well as exemplary beginner zones.  The village meanwhile, is full of lovely old chalet buildings and has a lovely, family-friendly buzz about it. 

    The resort is the birthplace of Reblochon cheese, so aromas waft out of the numerous Savoyard restaurants in the village and dotted conveniently on the slopes. This season the resort has introduced ‘Snooc’, which is a new activity that hybrids ski touring and luge, giving you the chance to glide down untouched areas adjacent to the slopes. Le Grand Bornand has seen generations of French and Swiss families learn to ski here. And they keep coming back.

    Paris-stopover rail journeys: Depart from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar (choose your most suitable train time) and stay over in Paris; next morning take the 06:49 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, arriving at Annecy at 11:16; from there it’s 35 minutes by bus or taxi.

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    Information on Paris Hotels and Rail Bookings

    Fouquet's Paris
    Getty/Atlantide Phototravel

    Rail travel information booking

    Try the following train companies for rates to the French Alps ski resorts:

    Rail Europe (USA)

    Voyages SNCF: 0844 848 5 848

    Loco2

    Ffestiniog Travel: 01766 772 030

    More Rail Travel Information

    Buy the new European Rail Map: £15.99 + p&p 

    More information on rail travel to ski resorts can be found at the independent guide Snowcarbon

    A money-saving tip when booking

    One of the most important things to know about Paris stopovers is that although you break your journey in Paris, as long as you stay less than 24 hours your journey can count as a ‘through journey’ and be valid for a Connection Fare, which is where the Eurostar and the TGV journey count as one combined, saving you money over booking the legs separately.   These journeys are most easily booked over the phone, by call-centre staff or rail-booking experts who can scan rail systems easily for lower fares, for example suggesting train combinations that would save you money, or where an upgrade would cost little extra.

    Hotels in Paris near Gare de Lyon

    Hôtel Bel Oranger , 9 rue d'Austerlitz; +33 1 43 42 15 79

    Hotel Palym, 4 rue Emile Gilbert; +33 1 43 43 24 48 

    Hotel Viator, 61 ryue des Moines; +33 1 43 43 11 00