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Rail review: Travelling by train on the London-Paris Eurostar, Business Premier class

Eurostar train from London to Paris.

THE ROUTE London Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nord
Departs 10.26 Arrives 13.50
Coach 16, Seat 65, Train no 9018

BOARDING Eurostar advises arriving an hour before departure, and ticket gates close 15 minutes before departure. I pass through the ticket check, with security and a helpful UK passport check, and then a French passport check, with much complaining from the Brits around me. I can attest that the French check is completely humourless – my old joke that if you look like your passport photo, then you need a holiday – drops flat. I get naught but a Gallic shrug (and probably earned it, too).

Once inside, my Premier Business ticket affords entry to the lounge beneath the arches, where coffee, croissants and a little breakfast buffet of fruit and muffins is on offer. Newspapers are everywhere, it really feels like old-school train travel here in the vaults of the Victorian Gothic St Pancras railway station, which was built in 1868.

The maelstrom begins when boarding commences, as lines – regardless of your class – snake around the arches and up the stairs to the platform. Entire families, including generations of women, are dressed as Minnie Mouse. Of course! This is the fast track to Disneyland Paris , and we’re travelling right at the beginning of the Easter holidays. The group aims to transport 30 million passengers a year by 2030 – it feels like they’re all here today.

THE SEAT & LUGGAGE LIMITS Coach 16 is at the very top of the train, and I’m seated in a single, forward-facing seat. I spy a USB and electricity outlet, and the tray pulls down to reveal a little mirror to check my blood-red lipstick (on trend in this Paris-bound train). The clientele is brandishing a lot of Gucci, there’s Diptyque soap in the bathrooms, and a magazine rack.

Smugly, I have carry-on luggage only, but should I wish, I could carry three pieces of luggage up to 85cm long, and a piece of hand luggage – there’s no weight limit; if you can carry it, you can bring it. In the Standard and Standard Premier classes, that’s two pieces of luggage and a hand bag. Unlike airlines, there are no limits on liquids, if you didn’t want to visit the bar coaches 8 & 9 on the train, you can actually BYO beer or a bottle of wine to drink on the journey – though there’s no need in the generous, free-pouring Business Premier class.

FOOD & DRINKS On taking my seat, the bilingual staff offer a little bag of cranberry and nut mix, an antibacterial towel and a QR code for the lunch menu by. At 10.35am, the bar is open, would I like a glass of champagne? No skimping here on sparkling wine, I’m offered a glass of Piper-Heidsieck and water in a Eurostar-branded glass.

By 10.50, good, savoury smells are wafting through the carriage, and my tray table is loaded with glassware and silverware, a salad of such grilled root vegetables as celeriac, a crusty roll, and a pat of butter from The Estate Dairy in Somerset. Desert, a layered caramel slice, is also on the first tray. This could easily comprise the entire meal, but Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc, best known for his Oxfordshire landmark, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, isn’t finished with me yet.

When it arrives, piping hot and fragrant, the mains is a generous slab of buttery fish served with cauliflower in a rich, quintessentially French sauce. No more champagne, we drink rosé with our fish. I am served a 187ml bottle of 2021 Tourelle de Tholomies syrah rosé from Pays D’Oc and a bottle of spring water from Harrogate, “the original British spa town”, which has been bottling water since 1571.

If I was travelling in economy, I could grab a breakfast croissant with coffee and a juice for UK6/E7.70, or a lunch offer of a soft drink, a bag of crisps and a baguette for UK8/E10.20.

THE JOURNEY Advertisements flash on the communal screen overhead, while hyper-green English fields flash past the windows, but otherwise, the focus is mercifully on letting guests travel in peace. Most people are plugged into their own devices, reading newspapers or the magazines on offer, or simply watching the scenery, which disappears for about 25 minutes while we’re in the 50.45 km Chunnel, the sea tunnel that delves beneath the English Channel. I’m on dessert when we emerge to kilometers of razor wire, the train flashing past stations too fast to read their signs – the overhead screen tells me we are travelling at 214km/hr, “en tranquillité” and the train reaches top speeds of 300km/hr.

SUSTAINABILITY It’s no surprise trains’ carbon emissions are significantly lower that of airplanes – Eurostar states that its trains emit more than 90% less CO2 than flights. It calculates its CO2 output at 10g per passenger per kilometer, and is working to cut its carbon footprint by a further 25% by 2020. Independent calculations state my journey emitted 2.4kg of CO2, compared with 66kg if I’d flown.

BOOKING My ticket was booked before I left Australia with Rail Europe. Later, if you use the Eurostar app, you can use mobile tickets to pass through the ticket gates, get travel updates and discounts to top attractions in the city of your destination.

AND ANOTHER THING If you had time, you could get your photo taken (for free!) at Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station, which is joined to St Pancras. Otherwise, take a wander around to discover St Pancras’ surprising history in the many plaques and statues dotted around the station – well worth it. And if you wanted to stay close by the night before, you could splurge on Marriott’s gorgeous St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which was actually part of the historic railway station. If it’s out of your price range, you can still drop in for coffee, a drink or a fabulous afternoon tea, and take a sneak peak at its stairwell, which featured in the Harry Potter films.

TO BOOK Fares cost from A$97.30, to book, visit Rail Europe
https://www.raileurope.com/en/trains/eurostar m

Disclaimer: I travelled from London to Paris as a guest of Rail Europe.


ABC Radio interview: luxury train travel in Central Asia

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan: how romantic are the names of these Central Asian countries? Travelling in them has been a long-held dream of mine.

I travelled along the legendary Silk Road by luxury train, visiting these three, historic countries- exploring their history, their food and their glorious architecture. I don’t use the ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’ phrase lightly, but Golden Eagle Luxury Trains certainly steps up to the description. Take a look at their fabulous instagram account at www.instagram.com/goldeneagleluxurytrains/ or visit their website, goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

Click here to listen to my interview with Philip Clark on ABC Radio’s Nightlife program.

 

20 June 2022


Journey through three ‘Stans

I have just spent six days on the Golden Eagle – a private train travelling along the web of Silk Road routes, from Almaty in Kazakhstan though Uzbekistan and to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

I’ve long wanted to visit the ‘Stans, but as the song goes, it was just that the timing was wrong. So the chance to visit aboard a luxury train couldn’t be passed up.

Travelling along the Silk Road, my journey from Almaty to Ashgabat.

Of all the stops on this journey – Almaty, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Ashgabat, the winner of the beauty prize is Samarkand.

Its Registan Square, pictured above, is just so big, and so awe inspiring, it’s almost overwhelming to try to take in all its beauty in one day, let alone in one photo.

However, it was the quieter, more secretive streets of Khiva that possibly caught my attention. Even though its historic Old City isn’t lived in anymore, it just seemed to have more life. Maybe it was the fact it had more scarf and textile shops, each tucked into a picturesque niche lined with Uzbekistan’s trademark turquoise tiles.

This part of the world is no stranger to travellers – these oasis towns have been receiving new ideas, cultures, languages and religions since time began.

But they’ve slipped off the radar in recent decades, only to be coaxed back on by new, more lenient visa requirements and our desire – and ability – to explore further, with international flights now into all the major cities.

A few details:

I flew into Almaty and out of Ashgabat via Dubai with its low-cost carrier, fly Dubai.

The Golden Eagle is a luxury private train that started its great rail journeys on the iconic Trans-Siberian route across Russia, www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.