This is a cautionary tale for those needing to change trains in Paris en route to the Alps! I’d travelled on the overnight ski train many years ago, but February half term 2020 was the first time I’d tried the Eurostar/TGV combination. I looked at lots of options of resorts to aim for and train times to make it the easiest journey possible for the two teenagers my wife and I now have, to head off any possible complaints! Eventually I settled on Saturday morning Eurostar then train to Annecy, hiring a car there and driving the last bit to B&B accommodation in Sallanches, in the valley below Megeve.
I booked tickets for my journey on the Trainline website. Unfortunately, the website offered me the 08:31 Eurostar to Paris, which would leave only 50 minutes to change station before our TGV departure at 12:47 from Gare du Nord. In hindsight, it would have been better to get the 07:52 Eurostar, which would have given a far more comfortable 90 minutes to change station in Paris. However, this was not an option given to us online. And at the time of booking, since the Trainline website offered it as a connected journey, I imagined that our journey would include sufficient time for the change of station.
The first leg to Paris was all on time - 8:31 Eurostar from St Pancras, very comfortable trip, arriving in Paris Gare du Nord on schedule. I’d decided a taxi was the easiest way to Gare de Lyon, given the price was not much more than the cost of the RER for four people. Given we had just 50 minutes, so we went straight to the taxi queue but it was quite long – a lot of other people from our train had also joined it, and maybe another train had arrived around the same time. With four of us and several bags and cases, some of the taxis wouldn't take us once we got to the front of the queue, and there were no minibus-style taxis in sight at the time. The loading of people and luggage into taxis was also quite slow, so although there was always a queue of taxis available, they couldn't get to the passengers fast enough. Then we were unfortunate to get a taxi driver who seemed incredibly nervous of getting bumped by another vehicle, so he took no chances and let everyone out of side roads in front of him, let buses pull out and wouldn't have risked going through an amber light for love nor money. Saturday afternoon traffic in Paris is also pretty bad.
The upshot was we got to Gare de Lyon just before our train was due to leave. The station was incredibly crowded and although we soon worked out that we needed to get to a particular platform in Hall 2, it took a few minutes to do that. As it was now less than two minutes before departure time the gates were closed and we had to watch the train leave without us.
We went to the SNCF office (located between Halls 1 and 2) and found that the direct trains to Annecy for the rest of the day (there were only one or two) were full, so the only option was to go to Lyon, change to a train to Aix les Bains, then change again to a local train to Annecy. This meant we arrived in Annecy just under three hours later than planned. The only good part about this was that the helpful man in the SNCF office didn't charge to amend the journey, even though I think technically he should have, as we didn't have flexible tickets.
The other negative was having to haul bags on and off trains and to different platforms at the intermediate stations. With no weight restrictions on luggage, we hadn’t packed light – in hindsight that was a mistake!
The moral here is that even a taxi trip can take a full hour if you are unlucky – I’d reckoned 50 minutes was going to be enough, but this time it wasn’t. There were another group who’d missed the same train after having to wait for the RER for 20 minutes, so we might well have had issues with that route too.
For the return journey we had a longer gap of over 90 minutes between trains in Paris. No issues with the comfortable and punctual TGV from Annecy to Paris, but we arrived at Gare de Lyon to find no taxis at the rank and a protest involving taxi drivers happening on the concourse in front of the station! There were riot police in attendance and flares being let off, and the main road was blocked a hundred yards away by a row of taxis going nowhere. We decided to walk a few blocks north to the Seine, where we eventually managed to hail a passing taxi big enough to fit us all in. This taxi driver was bolder and happy to make space for himself on the road, so although the traffic was still bad we had no trouble getting to the Eurostar with time to spare.
As for the skiing, the nearest resort to Sallanches is Combloux, so we spent most of our time there. It’s separate from the rest of the Megeve / Saint Gervais / Les Contamines area, and a lift pass for Combloux only is a bit cheaper. With fresh snow on a couple of days there was plenty of variety in Combloux and lots of fairly safe off-piste possibilities once you know your way round. The lifts were generally not too crowded, the snow stayed in good condition and there are some lovely long red runs and enough challenging blacks for most skiers. We did go to Megeve one day, but found it more crowded, in particular the restaurants – it was a cold day, and it seemed more people wanted to be inside than outside!
Overall a great trip, but I’ve learned to play safe on the transfer times and pack lighter – you never know when you’ll need to carry your bags.
Comment on this story by Daniel from Snowcarbon:
“Thank you Phil for highlighting this issue with your story. There’s a real problem booking train travel online, in some cases, where rail-booking websites offer only the 08:31 Eurostar from St Pancras when they should offer the 07:52 as an alternative. This is something that we at Snowcarbon are campaigning to change, but whether the train companies and booking websites take action is another question. In the meantime, to get around this problem, you can Booking with a rail-booking agent (we list these on every booking page), so that you can choose the the trains you want, in order to have a comfortable change of train in Paris. Also, if you’ve missed your connection through no fault of your own, your tickets should be valid on the next available train. Also our guide to how to change station from Paris Gare du Nord to Paris Gare de Lyon has details of pre-booked taxi services, in case useful.”