In December 2022, Iain Martin, presenter of The Ski Podcast and founder of Ski Flight Free, travelled from the UK to Orelle – the secret fourth valley of Les 3 Vallées – by train.

London to Paris

As with all train journeys to the continent, my day started at London St Pancras.

Although on arrival the pre-Christmas crowds had gathered for their journeys to Paris, Amsterdam and Lille, the system at Eurostar’s UK hub is so efficient that it only took 20 minutes from joining the queue to reaching the ‘departures’ lounge.

If you’re looking for a coffee and a croissant my advice is always to avoid Pret a Manger and aim for the very similar, but non-brand coffee shop, located furthest left hand side as you come through passport control. The queues are always shorter, plus there are tables reserved for their customers.

Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon

Unusually, I have to admit that my Eurostar was delayed by an hour. This wasn’t an issue for me as I had a three hour gap in Paris until my train to the Alps. The train was stopped at good spot for Wi-Fi, so I was able to work. Sometimes I leave only an hour to transfer to Gare de Lyon, so I was perhaps lucky this time.

Crossing Paris is really very simple. I outline it in this video, but it’s two stops on the RER and the whole journey from stepping off the Eurostar to arriving in Hall 2 in Gare de Lyon usually takes me 20-25 minutes in total.

Even with the delay I had two hours to wait before my train south. I decided to move away from the station, principally because I knew I was going to spend most of the day sitting down, so I wanted to stretch my legs.

The Seine is just five minutes’ walk from Gare de Lyon and while not the most scenic section of the river, does offer views of Notre Dame.

The other advantage of leaving the station is that there’s a much larger choice of restaurants that offer better value. I had an excellent Poulet Milanese Rigatoni in an Italian restaurant, populated by locals enjoying a long lunch, rather than tourists being overcharged.

Gare de Lyon to Modane

‘Paris-Lyon-Turin-Milan’ – now that is a list of destinations to get excited about. I was only travelling to Modane, which is the final stop before the train leaves France, burrowing through the Alps to appear in Italy on the other side.

It was almost exactly four hours to Modane. This TGV service ran exactly to time, with excellent Wi-Fi throughout the whole journey. My only issue was that for some reason the charge point would not power up my laptop (wrong voltage?), so for the second half of the journey I simply read my book and watched Netflix on my phone.

Modane to Orelle

There is no bus service to Orelle, but it is only 10 minutes and a €25 taxi fare from Modane. You can book taxis in advance with Remi Croin on 06 6038 0123 or via email.

Orelle is a charming, small village that links via its new and upgraded gondola to the Val Thorens ski area.

It’s not the place to go if you want a big apres-ski scene, or indeed any apres-ski scene – there is just one restaurant at Le Hameau des Eaux (but with great service and excellent value) However, if you’re looking for inexpensive accommodation and quick access to the world’s largest ski area, then it’s an excellent choice.

There’s a choice of apartments and residences, but I went for their quirky igloo pod, La Cabouette. It’s a eco-friendly hideaway about 10 minutes’ walk from the gondola. There’s no TV or Wi-Fi, so it’s the perfect place to disconnect and enjoy connecting with the mountains instead.

Cost (money)

I knew my dates for this trip well in advance, so I secured some good fares (see below) and a total cost of £109.

If you are comparing this to flying, make sure you take into account your transfer from the airport to resort.

Eurostar (London-Paris)               £59
SNCF (Paris-Modane)                   €33
Taxi (Modane-Orelle)                   €25

Cost (time)

I left St Pancras at 0755 GMT and arrived in Orelle at 1855 CET. That’s 10 hours journey time, which included a walk along the Seine, lunch in a lovely restaurant in Paris and enough time to get my normal day of work done. It’s probably longer than flying, but I know which I prefer.

Cost (carbon)

And the final – and for me, most important – reason to travel by train, is that my the carbon footprint of travelling by train is typically around 15% of flying.

Methods of calculation vary, but the approximate carbon generated by train is 13kg CO2e, compared with 81 CO2e when flying. Typically, if you fly, this represents 50-70% of the carbon cost of a ski holiday.

emissions of a ski holiday