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Review: Can you do Paris in a day? Travel agent Andrea Powell jumps on Eurostar and finds out

14:36 17 October 2015

The opera house

The opera house

Copyright 2011

You’re going to Paris just for the day?” Hubby was somewhat perplexed by my latest hair-brained scheme.

Cost and time

• Eurostar fares from London to Paris or Brussels start at £36 one-way or £69 return in 2nd class, if you book in advance.

• 1st class (Standard Premier) fares start at £97 one-way, £195 return. It takes about 2½ hours to get to Paris from London, and to Lille in about 1½ hours.

• London to Amsterdam is from £98 return and London to Marseille from £99 return, for example.

• As for further afield, a single from London to Barcelona will cost from £85

But for those of you who may think there is too little time in the week for a break away, it may be time to think again!

I did have a decent taxi service to hand – yes, you’ve guessed it, that was Hubby again.

As the alarm went off at four in the morning I could see he was rueing the offer just a little. As for me, well with lunch in Paris to look forward to, I was full of beans (well, after the compulsory cuppa, that is!).

Meeting my equally bleary-eyed colleagues at the sparklingly new and smart St Pancras for our journey on Eurostar, we began extolling the virtues of rail over plane. Not only is it cheap, it is so easy. Rolling up to the station just half an hour before the train is due to leave, you can take as much (or as little – after all, it was only a day trip) luggage as you can fit into two – yes two – suitcases. (If you have more than that, how on earth are you going to carry it?) And there is no check-in required for that luggage; you simply take it with you. And for those in Business Class, you can leave it until just 10 minutes before embarking. The seating is OK – nothing bad, nothing spectacular. And it even scored OK in the Headrest Fitting Small People Test.

Quintessentially ParisQuintessentially Paris

Furthermore, to be fair to Eurostar, they are about to launch a massive rollout of new and refurbished trains. It is hard to believe they have been around for over 20 years. And it puts some of the technological advances into context.

As we were hunting around for iPhone sockets and trying to work out why we were unable to read emails (there was no wi-fi) it was subtly pointed out that when these trains were built, iPhones and wi-fi had probably only been thought of by the inventors themselves. And hence the need for such an upgrade.

Upon talking to our Eurostar host, she explained that the trains had actually been built to last at least 30 years. It therefore seemed somewhat unthinkable that although the engines and body of the trains are no doubt still perfectly sound, it is actually the carriages that have become dated and in need of an upgrade. And, even then, not for the upholstery and so on but the technology itself.

Anyway, back to the day.

Storm troopersStorm troopers

Enjoying a light breakfast and chatting happily to new-found friends, I found time soon passed and before we knew it we were back into the daylight – and into France.

Furthermore, a mere two and a half hours from London and we had arrived in Paris. It was only 10.30! Again, at this point one of our group passed comment that with the same check-in time at an airport we might just about be boarding the plane by now – as opposed to having arrived at our destination.

First up was a city bus tour of Paris (I think they were trying to break us in gently). Though many of us had been to this city before, it was lovely to just drive by the familiar sights and soak up this bustling city.

After lunch at a lovely little place in La Place Vendome (yes, we were going posh for the afternoon) it was now time for the walking tour. Only one of the group was somewhat dismayed at this. She having misread the instructions and assumed the bus was taking the strain all day, I glanced down at the inappropriate footwear and was not really surprised at her unease. I too would struggle if I had to walk for the next two hours in those. (Lovely though they were!) Having said all of that, she did look slightly less out of place than the rest of us as our bus decided to drop us off outside the Tuileries Garden during Paris Fashion Week, just in time for all the guests arriving in their finery for the Valentino Show. Personally, I could have stayed there, people-watching, all day. It was mesmerising, watching them all arrive and putting the finishing make-up touches on before emerging from their chauffeured cars. And some of the outfits! My favourite – other than the dancing dog of course – were the ones dressed up as Stormtroopers. No idea who was inside them, though – but the press seemed quite impressed.

My favourite modelMy favourite model

As we reluctantly moved on from the gardens and into the tour, the autumn sun was high in the sky. Paris was looking lovely. I decided this was not such a bad idea after all. OK, so we had to get up early and we would be back late this evening, but for those for whom time is precious, this proved it is still possible to get away from the daily grind – even if for only a brief time.

And as for Eurostar, that had been a big hit indeed. The only time I had previously used the train was to get me straight into Disneyland Paris. But with Lille and the Christmas markets less than two hours from London, or even the possibility of London-Barcelona taking just a day to reach, I really think I could get into this international rail lark!

The Paris and Lille Eurostar hubs really do open doors to Europe

For a day trip - Paris, Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges and Lille (also for Flanders) are all less than four hours from London.

Less than eight hours away - for skiers there is Aime la Plagne, Geneva and Zurich.

Other major destinations include Amsterdam (just 4½ hours by train), Basel, Bordeaux, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Marseille and Stuttgart.

Doable in a long day:

For those willing to swap the bustle of an airport for a very long, but still maybe more relaxed, day it is amazing how far you can travel across Europe on a train in a day:

Vienna (13½ hours), Valencia (11 hours), St Moritz (11 hours), Salzburg (12 hours), Rome (14 hours), Nice (nine hours), Madrid (14 hours), Florence (14 hours), Copenhagen (14½ hours), Berlin (10 hours) and Barcelona (10½ hours).

The cost for such trips starts from about £50 to £120 for a single journey.

Andrea Powell is owner and managing director of Idelo Travel in Ipswich. Contact: 01473 231181.

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