Travelling by overnight sleeper train can get you to ski resorts all over the Alps, including some that are too far by daytime travel.
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 the couchettes like?
Couchettes are compartments that contain beds, known as “berths”, with 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!
Couchettes are normally mixed sex carriages, but you can request a single sex couchette too. On some trains, such as the City Night Line, the couchette beds can convert to seating in the morning.
Are you a night-train sleeper?
The seats on the Eurostar are comfortable in Standard Class but much more roomy in Standard Premier (Eurostar’s equivalent of First Class), where every seat is a table seat and you get a meal served too.
If you are booking Standard Class, request a table seat if you can.
There is space to store skis and luggage in the overhead rack and space for larger cases at the ends of carriages.
Dinner on the way
Most overnight trains don’t have restaurants or cafe bars, only snack machines. The Eurostar Direct Ski Train has a cafe bar.
However, there are restaurants in and around the stations for dinner. In Gare d’Austerlitz, a good place is Cafe Austerlitz located opposite the train platforms. Gare de L’Est has Brasserie Flo, a pleasant choice for dinner inside the station.
Another option is to stock up on filled baguettes from the many cafe-kiosks at the stations and take a picnic on board.
In a six-berth couchette the under- 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.
If you are in a full four-berth couchette, luggage space shouldn’t be any issue.
Most overnight trains have reclining seats as well as couchettes, but in the case of the Eurostar Direct Overnight 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.
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 Corail Lunea or City Night Line trains, 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 from British taxi-transfer company Paris City Line. Their drivers meet you at the end of the Eurostar platform holding a placard with your name on it. This is available when you travel independently and often as part of a rail-inclusive package too.
There’s also an ordinary taxi rank at each station, metres from the 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.
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. 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.
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.
Make a weekend of it
During the winter season, overnight trains run between Paris and the Alps 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 in the morning, ready to go straight to work and irritate colleagues by bragging about how good the snow was.