Ski resorts by train

Licence to Lille

Wed 20 October, 2021


Daniel Elkan

Licence to Lille

“We’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond.” Perhaps, but not necessarily via Lille.

Most indirect journeys to the French Alps are via Paris. But actually, you can travel via Lille Europe. There are direct TGV trains from Lille Europe to Moutiers, Aime la Plagne and Bourg St Maurice and to Cluses, Sallanches and St Gervais.

Collectively, these routes access an array of wonderful French ski resorts.

These direct TGVs depart on Saturday mornings from Lille, so to catch them you need to travel from London on a Friday and stop over. Lille is a splendid city, with some cracking restaurants. Travelling this way, although longer overall will get you into resort earlier than if you started out from the UK on a Saturday morning — and adds another element of interest to your holiday. On a trip in January 2020, I did this with a bunch of friends for a chalet holiday to Morzine.  

If you are looking on rail-booking websites for journeys between London and the Alps, journeys via Lille often don’t show up. That’ because the algorithms that power the rail-booking websites default to the routes via Paris and the websites don’t have an easy way of selecting for stopover journeys in specific cities.

Luckily, you can book these journeys easily with a rail-booking agent, because they have sophisticated systems and can book any trains and put together whatever schedule you wish for. I thought it might be useful for you to take a look at the main schedules to the Moutiers, Aime and Bourg via Lille. I know a number of rail-booking agents that I can recommend, and will do this in a subsequent newsletter.

Outbound stopover journey via Lille

Depart London St Pancras 13:04 (Eurostar), arrive Lille-Europe at 15:26
Depart London St Pancras 15:04 (Eurostar), arrive Lille-Europe at 17:26
Depart London St Pancras 18:04 (Eurostar), arrive Lille-Europe at 20:26
Stopover in Lille (with a lovely French dinner)

Saturdays to Tarentaise valley
Depart Lille-Europe 06:45 (TGV), arrive Moutiers 13:40, Aime la Plagne 14:06, Landry 14:19, Bourg St Maurice 14:29.

Saturdays to Arve Valley
Depart Lille-Europe 07:47 (TGV), arrive Cluses 13:18, Sallanches 13:48, St Gervais 13:59.

If you are travelling out via Lille, you don’t have to come back via Lille, and vice versa.  There’s a stopover route journey on the way back, too.

Return stopover journey via Lille

Saturdays from Tarentaise
Depart Bourg St Maurice 13:51, Landry 14:04, Aime la Plagne 14:16, Moutiers 14:33 (TGV), arrive Lille-Europe 21:02

Saturdays from Arve Valley
Depart St Gervais 16:00, Sallanches 16:10, Cluses 16:26 (TGV), arrive Lille-Europe 22:39

Stopover in Lille

Sundays (back to London)
Depart Lille-Europe 09:30 (Eurostar), arrive London St Pancras 09:57
Depart Lille-Europe 13:35 (Eurostar), arrive London St Pancras 14:00
Depart Lille-Europe 18:35 (Eurostar), arrive London St Pancras 18:57

These timetables are highly likely to be consistent for every week of the season.

Tarentaise resorts include:
Couchevel, Doucy, La Rosière, La Plagne, La Tania, Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Méribel, Peisey – Vallandry, Sainte Foy, St Martin de Belleville, Tignes, Val d’Isère, Val Thorens and Valmorel.

Arve Valley resorts include:
Avoriaz, Flaine, Les Carroz, Les Contamines, Les Gets, Megeve, Morzine, Samoens and Saint Gervais.

Daytime journeys via Lille
It’s important to note that you can also travel to the French Alps via Lille in one day, travelling out in the morning from London.  Doing it this way involves an extra change of train at Lyon. Is this better than going via Paris and switching station by taxi? It’s ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’, but normally I’d go via Paris in that case, as you then just get on a direct TGV from there.

A thought about booking
I would, in most cases, suggest that people book the whole journey in one go, rather than Eurostar in advance and TGV separately when it goes on sale. This way one can benefit from through fares (composite fares), connections working out as and the protection of a whole-journey booking in the case of any leg of the journey being cancelled for any reason. (The exception to this might be if a super-cheap Eurostar was available on a stopover journey where you have plenty of leeway / flexibility in terms of booking onward trains once they go on sale).

How to research journey schedules
You might be wondering how find out these timetables. Over the years, I’ve learnt some useful ways to research timetables using various sources of information, but there’s no big secret to it. The most useful thing that I have is the Rail Map of Europe. That enables me to see where train stations are geographically, and how they connect. Without this I would be — or certainly feel – like I was trying to cook in the dark (which is never advisable).

Then what I do is take a pen and paper and start researching journeys leg by leg, picking a date in December (because both Eurostar and TGV timetables are showing for December already). Generally, I look at the Eurostar site to get the Eurostar times. Look at Trainline or Rail Europe to look at the TGV times, with trial and error to find the direct journeys. Breaking the journeys into separate legs is a way to prevent the algorithms hiding some of what’s available.

It helps that I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but the more you do it the more confidence you get. The rail map is the key to it all.

If I had the time and the money, perhaps every Tuesday I’d don a sequinned inspector’s hat and go door-to-door giving away copies of the rail map to anyone who says they like train travel. I reckon this would be a lot of fun — and bring people much joy.

Listen out for the doorbell, you never know…

Best wishes,
Daniel Elkan
Snowcarbon Founder