Travelling overnight can get you to ski resorts all over the Alps. You sleep on the way and get extra time on the slopes because you can ski the day you arrive - and the day you leave.
What are your options?
There are two popular overnight options from London to the Alps:
|Travel option||Direct||Where to||Couchettes?||Cafe bar|
|Eurostar Ski Train||Yes||France (Tarentaise)||No||Yes|
|Eurostar + sleeper train from Paris||No||France, Italy||Yes||No|
What are the couchettes like?
Couchettes are compartments that contain beds, known as “berths” - with six or four berths in each couchette. You get freshly-laundered sheets, a pillow, quilt, and a small bottle of water. There’s a main light and also a reading light by each bed. The couchette door is lockable from inside. Upper berths have straps that prevent you from rolling out of bed onto the floor (in case you were worried or are five years old).
In a six-berth couchette there isn't much space to move about once you've got all the luggage in, but it's fine for banter and for sleeping.
Couchettes are normally mixed sex carriages, but you can request a single sex couchette too. On most sleeper trains you can convert the couchette beds to seating in the morning.
Are you a night-train sleeper?
Having been on a lot of overnight trains with a lot of different ski friends, we can safely say that most people sleep fine in a couchette, and the more you travel this way, the better you sleep - probably due to familiarising yourself with the surroundings.
The gentle rocking of the train can really get you off to sleep. Sometimes the trains pause during the night - to regulate their timings - and when you aren't used to this you might wake up once or twice. But once you know what it is, you sleep soundly.
The big difference with the Eurostar Ski Train overnight service is that it has no couchette beds - only reclining seats. That really divides people - many manage to sleep fine, but some don't. So balance this against that fact that it is direct - an obvious advantage, although you don't get to have dinner in Paris.
Dinner on the way
The Eurostar Ski Train has a cafe bar - and you can bring food on board too. There's a lively, friendly atmosphere with everyone excited to be arriving in the Alps the next morning.
If you are travelling via Paris and taking a Corail Lunea sleeper train or City Night Line, you won't find a cafe bar on board. The Corail Lunea has snack machines only, so it's better to have dinnner in Paris, or bring your own food onboard, stocking up with filled baguettes from the cafes or kiosks at the station.
There are restaurants by Gare d’Austerlitz, such as the Relais d'Auvergne is unpretentious and very reasonable.
The Eurostar Ski Train has overhead racks for skis, and space for luggage in special compartments at the end of each carriage.
On the sleeper train from Paris, in a six-berth couchette the under-the-bed spaces will fit two snowboard bags or three pairs of skis each.
There is a large luggage space for bags behind the upper couchette beds, and then space on the floor in the middle of the compartment as well. However, if the couchette is full and everyone has big bags it can feel a little pushed for room, but it does work out ok.
If you are in a four-berth couchette, there is more space still.
Most overnight trains have reclining seats as well as couchettes, but in the case of the overnght Eurostar Ski Train, reclining seats are the only option. Think carefully before you choose to travel this way – it isn’t as comfortable as a couchette and getting to sleep won’t be so easy.
Unlike a couchette, which is closed off by a door, reclining seats are located either side of the train gangway, so people will be walking past to go to the toilet etc.
Also, the lighting stays on in the reclining seat areas, so an eye mask helps.
Tips to help you sleep even better
Usually there is a small bottle of still mineral water supplied too, but it’s worth bringing an extra one so you don’t get thirsty.
Wax earplugs, which you mould to the shape of your ear, are useful and available from most chemists.
The Orient Express it certainly isn't, but it's great knowing you'll wake up in the Alps - and people normally sleep better the more often they take the ttrain, as the surroundings become more familiar.
Where’s the party?
The Rail Europe Snowtrain, with its legendary disco carriage, is no longer running, having been temporarily retired during the economic crisis. Hopefully it will be back sometime.
In the meantime, however, the next best thing is the quieter but good humoured ambience of the sleeper trains from Paris, fuelled by a glass or two of vin rouge and the antipation of knowing that the next morning you’ll be hitting the slopes.
Changing in Paris
The easiest way to change stations in Paris is with a pre-booked taxi. The driver meets you at the end of the Eurostar platform holding a namecard with your name on it ("That's you, Daddy!"). This is available when you travel independently and can be requested as part of a rail-inclusive ski package too.
There’s also a taxi rank at each train station in Paris too, metres from the train platforms.
The Metro change from Paris-Nord – Paris Austerlitz (where many Corail Lunea night trains depart from) requires going up and down stairs, so a taxi is much easier.
For more info, see our guides on How to change in Paris
Extra time on the slopes
Overnight trains from Paris usually arrive between 7am and 10am in the Alps, and the direct Eurostar Ski Train arrives even earlier. If you are travelling independently, let your accommodation owner know your arrival time in advance, so that they can arrange a room where you can store your things while you go skiing that day, and arrangements to freshen up or shower on arrival. When you return in the afternoon you can check your things into your room.
On your final day, you check out in the morning, store your things, and go off to ski. If you are in a chalet there may be some overlap with the next weeks’ guests having arrived before you leave to catch the overnight train, but this should be no problem. Then have dinner in resort or at the station before you catch your overnight train.
If you fancy spending the Sunday of your return journey exploring Paris, then Gare d’Austerlitz has shower facilities and luggage storage facilities. You can then take an afternoon or evening Eurostar back to London.
Key questions for your chalet provider
Many chalets, hotels or apartments will be used to skiers who fly, normally arriving late afternoon and departing in the morning a week later.
Travelling by overnight train instead, means arrive in the morning, and want to ski. Then on your final day you'll ski again before departing in the late afternoon or evening. However, there may stil be other guests (from the previous week) there when you arrive. So here are seven key questions to check with your accommodation provider or tour operator.
1. Will our accommodation be open when we arrive in the morning?
2. Can we get into the building to store our luggage securely and get changed into our ski clothes?
3. Will other guests from the previous week still be there when we arrive?
4. Can you pick us up from the station, and is there a charge for this?
5. What time will our rooms be available from?
6. Can you recommend anywhere for breakfast before we hit the slopes? Or could you provide some breakfast?
7. Can you arrange our lift passes in advance so we can head straight onto the slopes?
Getting the answers to these questions in advance should give you a smooth arrival in resort and maximise your time on the slopes.
One-way overnight, one-way daytime.
Many resorts that are accessible by both daytime and overnight journeys, so an interesting option is to travel overnight outbound and travel daytime inbound, or vice versa.
Skiers often think of 'daytime' or 'overnight' train travel as an 'either/or'. But as each has its own advantage, it can be well worth mixing them up into the same trip. You could also make one of the journeys a Paris stopover, for example.
Make a weekend of it
During the winter season some routes, such as between Paris and Briancon, run every night of the week. This makes them a good option for weekend skiers.
You could leave London on a Thursday evening, catch the overnight train from Paris and be on the slopes Friday morning.
Then ski Saturday and Sunday (and even Monday) and catch the overnight train back, arriving in London late morning, ready to go straight to work and irritate colleagues by bragging about how good the snow was.
Like more help and advice?
If you'd like more help and advice the best train travel options, resorts and accommodation, feel free to contact Snowcarbon's founder, Daniel.
He can help with specific advice and suggestions for the most suitable train travel options, resorts and accommodation.
Just send Daniel an email and he'll be back in touch.