Of course, Eurostar is just one of the trains that you will travel on – depending on how far afield you are holidaying, you may travel on two, three or even four different types of train.
France’s sleek Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV) are well known and well liked. They commonly race across the French countryside at a top speed of 186mph, but on the line across eastern France into Germany they can reach an impressive 198mph.
We always book seats for you, in your choice of standard or first class – by upgrading, you benefit from more space and reclining seats. On TGV there is plenty of room for luggage, with generous overhead racks, plus space at the end of each carriage for larger cases.
All but the shortest-distance of the TGVs have buffet cars where you can purchase (either with cash or credit card) sandwiches and light, hot dishes such as quiche, plus a selection of hot and cold drinks including alcoholic beverages. You can take your purchases back to your seat or, for a break, you can eat them in the standing area near the counter. Of course, you can bring your own picnic if you prefer, including some wine to sip as the countryside slips by outside.
Intercité trains are similar to British Intercity trains. Refurbished to offer comfort for longer journeys (not to mention ample space to stow luggage), these trains run at up to 125mph and have a buffet car. Again, we reserve seats for you on these services. Prices for first class compare very favourably to those for standard class, and give you the benefit of reclining leather seats and a power socket.
French regional rail services
Just as in the UK, trains that run on local lines are functional first and foremost. Luggage space is more limited, on-board catering is rare, and, on trains operating on shorter lines, there may not be any toilets, so please bear this in mind before boarding. We cannot reserve seats on these services, but it is unlikely that you’ll struggle to find somewhere to sit.
AVE stands for Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed), and these trains whisk you along Spain’s rapidly expanding network of high-speed lines at a top speed of 186mph. So confident is Renfe (the Spanish rail operator) in the AVE’s punctuality record that it offers compensation if your train is more than five minutes late.
There are three options to choose from when it comes to booking seats: turista (standard class); turista plus class, with wider, reclining seats; and preferente class with greater leg room. Preferente class passengers can make use of the Club Sala lounges at Madrid Atocha and Barcelona Sants stations, with complimentary tea, coffee and soft drinks. For standard-class passengers there is a buffet car selling a selection of drinks and snacks. As you would expect, there is plenty of space in which to stow luggage, both above the seats and at the end of each carriage.
As you would expect of a renowned rail system, Switzerland’s InterCity trains are modern, clean and punctual, travelling at up to 125mph. Some have two decks, and most trains offer a choice of standard and first class, although seat reservations are not usually required. Catering facilities vary, and range from an at-seat trolley service to a proper restaurant car.
Swiss local rail services
The trains which operate on Switzerland’s local lines and narrow-gauge railways are simpler than the InterCity trains, but clean and reliable nonetheless. There are no catering services on these trains.
Frecciarossa, Frecciargento & Frecciabianca (Italy)
Frecciarossa (‘red arrow’) is Italy’s answer to the French TGV, and they have answered with gusto. With a top speed of 200mph, these stylish trains boast a good punctuality record and several different classes of seating.
Standard 2nd class is comfortable, with a pair of seats on each side of the aisle, all equipped with power sockets. There is a café bar and some long-distance services have a full restaurant car with table cloths and waiter service. Premium 2nd class offers similar seating to standard, except that the seats are leather and passengers are served a welcome drink, a choice of an espresso, soft drink or prosecco. Business 1st class affords you more spacious seating with more legroom and elbow room, with a pair of leather seats on one side of the aisle and a single seat across the aisle. Meals are not included in the fare but a welcome drink is offered, again a choice of espresso, soft drink or prosecco.
The Frecciargento (‘silver arrow’) is Italy’s other high-speed train, which runs at 186mph on the high-speed line but is also a tilting train so it can also travel on non-high-speed lines and some Alpine routes. There are two classes of service (1st and 2nd). 1st class on Frecciargento is similar to Business 1st class on Frecciarossa.
The Frecciabianca (‘white arrow’) completes Italy’s ‘Freccia’ fleet. These are comfortable modern trains with two classes of service, usually running on the non-high-speed lines.
The Italian Intercity trains are older, more traditional trains, sometimes with compartments, but are air-conditioned and comfortable, with compulsory reserved seating. They run at a more sedate 125mph on the slower conventional tracks, some of which are scenic coastal routes, including the Genoa to Pisa line along the Ligurian Coast. The Intercity trains also serve the slower route south from Naples to the tip of Italy’s toe, where the train is driven onto a ferry to cross the Messina Strait to Sicily. These routes are popular, especially during the summer months, so it is worth booking early to be assured of a place. Catering facilities are not always available on Intercity trains, so be sure to collect picnic provisions before leaving Turin.
Thalys (Brussels to Cologne, Amsterdam and Rotterdam)
Similar to TGV but with a distinctive dark red livery, these cross-border, high-speed trains link the key northern European cities of Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam. Relax in your red plush reclining seat and watch the varying landscapes unfold. There are convenient power sockets (European 2-pin) and a café bar on board so you can enjoy lunch. On Thalys you can upgrade to Comfort class for more spacious seating, or choose Premium class which includes a meal served at your seat.
InterCityExpress - ICE (Germany)
Germany’s high-speed train is one of the most comfortable in Europe, with a café bar on board. On some long-distance ICE services there are full restaurant cars with waiter service. Second class is comfortable but you can also upgrade to first class for more spacious leather seating. Most of the seating is in the modern, open-plan layout but there are also some traditional compartments.
While bikes are allowed on Eurostar and most other services, only a limited number are allowed on each train and space must be pre-booked at a supplement. This, along with varying rules relating to whether or not they must be dismantled, means that the logistics are so complicated that we recommend hiring a bike locally. (Bicycle hire is included in the price of our cycling holidays.)