I had to check my watch three times to believe it: just six hours from London to the South of France without moving from my seat (buffet car trips excluded). My partner and I had arrived at St Pancras International a rather risky 35 minutes before our train was due to leave, crawled through security and found our platform, train and seats with about three minutes to spare.
But that was where the stress with Eurostar’s new direct route from London to Marseille (via Lyon and Avignon) ended. Opened very recently in May, the line – which is used solely by Eurostar trains – saves you from airport faff and altitude, replacing it with the soothing rock of a fast train as you race through a small corner of England, one tunnel and a lot of France. What’s more, as you journey to your destination you can enjoy the quiet satisfaction that this, though still fast and energetic, is a more eco-conscious choice than jumping on a plane.
For me, it was a no-brainer. Not only is it arguably now faster to take the train rather than fly to Provence, but we can do it in a more mindful way. The inevitable and marked disparity on a plane between time passing and distance travelled has a tendency to leave me feeling discombobulated for longer than the flight itself. But this is much reduced on the train, even one as speedy as Eurostar, which allows for a softer adaptation to one’s new environment, while still getting you there tout de suite. Book far ahead and it’s remarkably good value too. Really, the most difficult bit is choosing where to get off – Lyon, Avignon or Marseille?
Eurostar’s new year-round service starts at £89 return for Lyon and £99 return for Avignon and Marseille, with up to five services a week, depending on the time of year. The best journey times from London are 4h41 (Lyon), 5h49 (Avignon TGV) and 6h27 (Marseille St Charles). For more information or to book: www.eurostar.com or call 03432 186 186.