Alternate Route to Europe from the UK

EUROSTAR

Forget short-haul flights, delays and the rigorous security inspections that come with it – take the train instead! Train travel is not only environmentally friendly but pleasurable and remarkably quick too. It’s easier than flying and you get to see the country you’re traveling through.

Eurostar is the high-speed passenger train from London to Brussels and Paris via the undersea Channel Tunnel. Eurostar trains leave London St Pancras station almost every hour for the Gare du Nord in central Paris and for Brussels Midi (also known as Brussel Zuid) every two to three hours. Only 20 minutes of the Eurostar journey is actually spent in the Channel Tunnel, the rest is spent speeding through the countryside of Kent and northern France at 186mph.

Eurostar operates a check-in system requiring you to check in 30 minutes prior to departure, or 10 minutes for Business Premier passengers.

Business Premier passengers have access to a dedicated lounge before their journey. On-board, they receive a full, complimentary, hot, airline-style three-course meal with champagne and wine, with menus designed by celebrity master chef Raymond Blanc.

Standard Premier includes a simple, cold tray meal with complimentary wine. All passengers have access to two bar cars, located in cars six and 13. You can eat and drink in the bar area (there is no seating here) or take your purchases back to your seat. It’s worth knowing that the bar also sells Paris metro train tickets.

All Eurostar tickets include a specific reserved seat; so be sure to book yours forward-facing and in-line with a window. The seats are arranged face-to-back, airline-style as well as in bays around a table. The seating plan is shown here.

Useful information about Eurostar:
• If you want a power socket for a mobile or laptop, choose cars 5 or 14 in standard class.
• If you’re travelling with small children, book seats in cars 1 or 18 (standard class) as these are near the baby-changing room.
• Eurostar fares vary like airline fares, increasing as the cheaper seats are sold – so book early. All the cheap fares are non-changeable and non-refundable.
• For the cheapest fares, book one to six months in advance and avoid Friday or Sunday afternoon trains when there are fewer cheap seats. Don’t buy a ticket on the day of travel unless you have to. Advance fares start at £34.50; a ticket bought on the day can cost up to £180!
• Eurostar has a year-round service to the south of France (Lyon, Avignon and Marseille launches in May); they also have a seasonal ski train to the French Alps.
The London to Paris journey via the Eurostar takes just 2¼ hours (307 miles) and to Brussels 1 hour 55 minutes (232 miles). Tickets are available here.

EUROTUNNEL

Eurostar carries passengers, not cars, so don’t confuse Eurostar with Eurotunnel. Eurotunnel is the company which owns the Channel Tunnel and whose car-carrying trains shuttle road vehicles through the undersea tunnel to France and back again. So, if you’re hiring a car in the UK and driving to Europe then the Eurotunnel is for you.

You drive up to the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone where a scanner reads your car registration plate. A machine spits out a hanger denoting a letter of the alphabet – hang this off your rear view mirror. You then proceed through both British and French passport control. At this point, you may get flagged down for a random car security check where your vehicle is swabbed for traces of explosives. There are big screens telling you when you are due to board. At your boarding time, you drive into a holding car park, like you do when waiting to get on a ferry. If you time it right, you can drive straight through to board the shuttle train. If you are early (and you’ve picked up a coffee and burger from the Victor Hugo Terminal), they may offer you an earlier departure; and if you are late by less than 2 hours, they will try to accommodate you at no extra charge. To board, you simply drive onto a train carriage, park your car and either sit in it for 35-minutes, or wander about and pop to the loo.

The journey is quick and smooth, with no feeling of motion. If you have claustrophobia fears you won’t feel any, as it’s like being on a subway train. When you get to the other side, you’ll see the beautiful French countryside through the windows then shortly thereafter, you’ll drive off the ramp and straight onto the motorway – left for Boulogne and right for Paris, and no passport control!

Eurotunnel may not be the cheapest but for speed and convenience they must rank number one. Prices start from £46 for a return journey. Click here for ticket purchasing and further information.

CROSS CHANNEL FERRIES

P&O Ferries is one of the UK’s largest ferry operators with a fleet of 21 ships serving a network of ferries to France, Belgium, Holland and Ireland.

With a choice of crossings throughout the day, P&O Ferries’ Dover-Calais service is the most serine and stately way to cross the channel. The boarding routine is similar to that of the Eurotunnel. On-board though, the variety of facilities is astounding – including tax free shopping! This is what travelling is all about; the journey adds so much more to your sense of escape. Make the 90-minute crossing for £38. This buys you boarding for one car and up to nine passengers.

P&O Ferries offer a foot passenger service too. When you get to the other side hire a budget car from Calais ferry terminal for £38/day.

Book priority boarding for an additional £12; and for luxurious surroundings with special champagne treatment get Club Lounge access at £12pp. For more information on these services and ticket purchasing, click here.

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About the author: Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a freelance writer who originates from a small farming community in Southern Africa, which possibly contributed to her adventurous spirit and led her to become an internationally acclaimed photojournalist. Her career has moved her around the world but currently she lives in a picture postcard village in England, surrounded by rolling green hills and ancient parish churches. Her work is featured in numerous international magazines, including TIME and National Geographic.

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