I'll never fly to Europe again!
“This March I went on a long planned, pandemic-delayed ski trip to Zermatt in Switzerland. I tentatively suggested going by train to my dad and girlfriend — which I thought would be thrown out immediately – but to my surprise they were both up for it. We started looking at which resorts would cater for our different levels (novice, intermediate and expert but feeling his age!) and settled on Zermatt. Zermatt has plenty to do for someone new to skiing and not ready to shoot down the slopes just yet. I wrote to a number of booking agents but we found the best prices on Trainline and Raileurope with the benefit of being able to explore a variety of itineraries and understand the different options better. With lots of help from both Snowcarbon and seat61.com we found an itinerary that worked for us.
“The journey both ways was beautiful and all the trains went without a hitch. I worked remotely on Friday afternoon from a cafe at St Pancras and we went to the station in time for our 18:01 departure to Paris. From arriving at the station to being in the departure lounge took us 35 minutes. Frustratingly, you have to show your passport to both the UK border police and then the French a few meters later. Why they can't agree on a protocol and do it once I don't know, but the process is relatively efficient. You must go through the ticket barriers at least 30 minutes before departure otherwise you'll be turned away, but the queue to go through them is two minutes long and once you're in, you're in.
“Given the importance of our trip though we allowed an hour and a half, which was far more than enough. We broke the journey up into two parts: to Paris on Friday evening and then to Zermatt Saturday afternoon. This gave us a bit of time to explore the Viaduc des Arts and the local market where we stocked up on delicious bread, ham and olives for our journey. We stayed in the citizemM hotel right next door to Gare du Lyon, which was ideal. We went for Standard Premiere on the Eurostar and I was quite looking forward to the food but it turned out to be very disappointing - the way out was almost inedible and the way back tasted ok but was a tiny bit of chicken and a blob of coleslaw. Nice as it is to be served dinner on the train, think of it as a snack and next time I will just bring my own meal.
“The only slight hiccup in the journey was transferring from Gare de Nord to Gare du Lyon. The 9-minute RER subway journey turned into about half an hour due to the train stopping which I think was down to a security alert down to an unattended bag. It didn't matter to us as we were stopping over but it did make me think about leaving enough time for that transfer. The French stations are quite huge and a little overwhelming, but if you do your research it's fairly simple as you just use the machine (which can be set to English) to buy your t+ tickets and follow the green signs for line D.
“The trains got better and better as we went on. From Paris to Lausanne we took a double decker TGV and I'm not sure if it's the condition of the track or the size of the trains but the ride was near silent and bump free. Eating lunch up there was as relaxed and casual as being in a restaurant. A far cry from having a meal on a plane. We stared out at the French fields and chateaus, watching the scenery change until suddenly we went through a mountain, the architecture changed to chalets and we were in Switzerland! From there another spacious, comfortable double decker to Visp which had a sort of lounge area - great for a big group. Halfway through, the Alps started appearing in the distance and we passed the beautiful Lake Geneva. The final part was by far the best though, the hour journey from Visp to Zermatt through the alpine valley on the meter guage rack assisted (i.e. it goes up some “very steep tracks!) railway built in 1891 that started bringing tourists in. You go up and up the mountain valley seeing more snow, frozen rivers and finally the Matterhorn appears. The station is right in town so it was only a 5-minute walk for us to our holiday apartment.
“Zermatt was a really good choice for our mixed range of preferences from the holiday. For train lovers there is the Gornergrat, another rack-assisted railway that goes up to the top of a mountain. Plenty of spas, restaurants and bars in town and of course the skiing is great. Though if you're going with a beginner who is keen to spend a lot of time learning, it's not the best place. The Wolli Park learning area is good but small and most of the blue runs are quite a big step up with steep or narrow sections in almost all of them. But as a compromise between a bit of learning and all the other things you can do, it was fantastic.
“The way back was just as good without any kind of delays or complications, just a relaxing journey back home. It's a long way, we got out first train at 07:37 and arrived back in London at 20:30 (really 21:30 as the time changes), but such a relaxed easy way to travel I wouldn't do anything else. We went first class which was fun and a nice splurge for such a big trip, but it's really not necessary and standard provides you with much of the same experience. I am excited about taking the next trip (a sleeper would be good next time) to France or Austria next year. If I can help it, I'll never fly to Europe again!”