Although Ski Flight Free is a resource for skiers, I thought I’d share my experience of travelling by train to Nice last summer.

I’m hugely aware of the carbon cost of air travel and have significantly cut down on the number of flights I take in the last few years (and have pledged not to fly at all in 2024).

That hasn’t stopped me travelling to Europe. As well as skiing, I’m a keen trail runner and have run ultra marathons in France and Switzerland travelling by train each time.

Not only is the carbon footprint so much lower than flying, but the journey is more enjoyable than when taking a flight. No rushing from security customs to gate, then squeezing into a tube of recycled air, before a rush to baggage claims and long post-Brexit customs queues.

(c) Clodagh Kilcoyne

Are you a ‘Green Triathlete’? 

However, if like me, you are also a ‘Green Triathlete’, you’ll know that travelling to overseas triathlons is more complicated than simply sticking some trail shoes and gels in a backpack.

Wetsuits don’t take up much space, but a bike (especially a decent time-trial triathlon bike that needs to be safely boxed) can be challenging to get to your race by train.

But it can be done!

Nice by train

I wanted to do a ‘big’ European Ironman triathlon and chose Nice principally as it’s easy to get to by train.

I travelled out in the day by Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris, then took the RER two stops south to Gare de Lyon.

This is a journey I’ve done many times before, as while running is my hobby, skiing is my business. I work in the snowsports industry and travel to the Alps five or six times a year by train.

Overnight from Gare d’Austerlitz

The overnight train was from Gare d’Austerlitz, a short walk across the Seine from Gare de Lyon, and I had enough time to enjoy a Parisienne dinner and views of Notre Dame before boarding at around 9pm.

SNCF ‘Intercities’ trains divide each carriage into ‘couchettes’ – compartments with two rows of triple bunk beds, all made up for the train’s departure.

Each bed is supplied with a pillow, sheet, eye patches, ear plugs (potentially invaluable) and a bottle of water. I took my own sleeping sheet.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I found it easy to sleep. The constant motion of the train rocked me gently, and as far as I know my companions didn’t snore. When we arrived in Marseille at 6am I felt like I’d had a decent night’s sleep.

A tour of the Cote d’Azur 

The next three hours to Nice was a free tour of the Cote d’Azur as the train hugged the coast, with views of Toulon, Cannes and the millionaire’s yachts of Antibes before arriving in Nice exactly on time.

Bike shipping by courier

So, all simple enough…but all made simpler by not having a bike with me!

The truth is I paid to have the bike shipped direct to my hotel and I knew it had already arrived before I’d even left the UK.

It wasn’t cheap (about £300 return), but it was simple and saved me having to navigate the bike through the Paris metro. When it came to leave, I booked in a collection from my hotel and it arrived back in the UK about a week later.

I used a company called SendBike. They were excellent getting the bike there, less good at getting it back. There are other companies who offer this service, including Sherpr, and etribike cover specific triathlons in Europe.

There has been a change since I travelled that does allow you to do this differently. At the time, Eurostar were not accepting bike on the London-Paris route. They have since changed their policy and allow boxed bikes, booked in advance. The cost is £90 return.

French trains will let you take a bike onboard and these can also be booked, but I’ve seen many people take bikes in boxes onto TGVs just as luggage.

Moving a bike across Paris on the Metro could be tricky, but there are lifts which will make it easier, plus you could get a taxi across the city if necessary.

Iain at Ironman Nice

Portugal by train, ferry and car

At present, I don’t have any plans to test taking my bike by train, but I am racing in a duathlon in Portugal in June 2024…and taking my race bike me this time.

It has been quite complicated to find a non-fly solution. I tried to see if it was feasible to travel by train, but the required route of London-Paris-Madrid-Porto-Coimbra was just going to be too difficult and too long.

However, I have now found a better solution that still creates significantly fewer emissions than flying. I’ll take the train to Portsmouth, then the overnight ferry to Santander, where I’m picking up a car to drive to Coimbra.

It’s not what you’d call a straightforward route, but it is going to be an interesting journey!