Two ways to Turin

By Toni Hedley, Daily Mail

Last updated at 12:17 21 October 2002

British people took more than 42 million trips into Europe last year but only about 300,000 travelled farther than Paris or Brussels by train. We seem to have lost our appetite for the railways.

Yet in France, the number of passengers travelling on SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), the company that owns much of the nation's rail network, was up 12 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2001.

This sharp increase in passenger numbers is largely due to the highspeed TGV Med service, which travels at speeds of more than 180 miles per hour from Paris and Lyon to the Mediterranean.

The popular Paris-Marseille route now takes only three hours to complete by rail and 60 per cent of people now make this journey by train rather than air.

The train companies point out that the European rail network is continually expanding, something that may make rail travel more attractive.

Turin by train

The journey began for me at the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo. Eurostar has been criticised for its delays and chaos, but I was fortunate - we left London on time.

A meal and wine is included in the price of first-class tickets; in second class, you have to buy snacks, and legroom can be tight. Three hours later, I arrived in Paris.

From Gare du Nord I had to catch the RER (Reseaux Express Regional - trains much like the Metro but run over-ground in the suburbs), then the Metro, to Bercy.

This entire journey took only around 20 minutes and was child's play for anyone who has had to navigate the London Underground in peak hours - provided you have packed light and you don't have small children in tow. There are plenty of stairs and tunnels between changes.

From Bercy Metro station it is only a short walk to Bercy railway station, where I boarded the overnight service run by Artesia, a consortium of the French and Italian railways.

The train leaves Paris just after 10pm and arrives in Turin the following morning a little before seven.

I travelled in an Excelsior car, which contains seven cabins - single or double, all with en suite shower room and toilet.

The price tag on this mode of transport is a hefty £364 return, but at least the company does attempt to lighten the blow by offering complimentary champagne as you board. Breakfast is brought to your cabin the following morning.

The Artesia night service has a good range of cabins - from the Excelsior suite to double, triple or quad sleepers (£114-£165), and four or six-berth couchette cabins (£96).

Be warned, however, that the couchette is nothing more than a fairly sturdy-looking bunk bed. Even first-class cabins can be noisy - my sleep was fitful and often disturbed by the sound of shower doors slamming.

However, I did manage to drop off, and arrived in Turin on time - which will no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to most British train passengers.

What it cost

Eurostar: from £79 return.

Travel across Paris: approx £2.

Paris to Turin return: from £96 to £364.

Total cost: £177-£445.

Total time from home to hotel: approx 13 hours.

London by plane

I stayed in the centre of Turin so it took just over 15 minutes to get to the airport by taxi.

Ryanair is now the only non-charter airline with direct flights between London and Turin and seats are not assigned, so I sat down close to the gate in order to make a run for the exit row seats with added legroom.

Instead of the plane taking off as scheduled, I had to wait an extra hour and a half. I don't recollect what the reason for the delay was, or if indeed we were even told.

After finally boarding and settling into my exit row seat, I sat back and read. There was no meal or complimentary drink, but nevertheless time certainly did seem to fly.

Around two hours later, I landed at Stansted and played the waiting game for my luggage, which tumbled on to the conveyor belt 20 minutes after I got there.

I then caught the Stansted Express into Liverpool Street, and from there transferred onto the Underground.

What it cost

Taxi to and from the airport in Turin: about £30.

Flight: from about £35 - but can be more like £300 return.

Stansted Express: £23.

Total cost: £88-£353.

Total time from hotel to home: approx 8 hours.

The verdict

If you are planning to go any further than northern France or Belgium simply for a long weekend, do jump on a low-cost flight - it may not sound as adventurous as taking the train but it will give you a bit more time in your destination.

However, if you are taking a longer break, consider the train. In terms of price, if you book at least 14 days in advance and don't mind travelling standard class, the European rail network can offer some competitive fares.

Rail Europe: tel: 0870 584 8848.

Ryanair: tel: 0871 246 0000.

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