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Trains to the Alps.... please oh chosen ones, what's your secret?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I looked at the photos of families playing card games on the TGV zooming to their ski holiday. I could see their smugness oozing out - the train takes the same time as flying, is faster than driving, and you can have a glass of Vin en route. I thought - yes! That's the life for me! I too can win at snap with my angelic children smiling next to me, save the environment and arrive rested for my holiday.

But alas, despite spending hours and hours on the project I have FAILED to get suitable tickets. So, we've booked the Chunnel instead and will drive down having marital tiffs along the way and braving the Farmer autoroute blockade instead.

I would love to have a checklist of How To Get the Trains for next year from people that have managed it - especially any families.

My checklist this year was:
1. Read lots of Snowheads forum posts about trains. Read Seat61, read Snowcarbon, get familiar with all the train ticket websites. Convince myself it's a great idea.
2. Chat to my friend who went on the train last year with her family but found the changes of train really hard work, and the Chambery -> Moutiers train incredibly packed meaning standing room only cos they couldn't physically get to their seats. Feel a bit disheartened.
3. Convince my husband. Agree we'll get trains which only change in Paris with no extra changes. We'll go down on the Friday daytime and come back on the Saturday daytime.
4. Decide on the trains and discover because we want tickets in April the French ones aren't available yet - and their timings may change.
5. Debate whether to book the Eurostar now and the French tickets later, but eventually I decide not to because the French train times might change. Someone somewhere on the web said it was better to book it all together instead. Read Seat61 with lots of reassuring messages about not to worry about waiting to book train tickets.
6. Go down a rabbit hole as to whether getting Interrail Global 5 day tickets would save us money. Feel undecided. Decide to wait and see when the SNCF issue their tickets.
7. Look at getting an Advantage carte but think - OK I need to decide on the Interrail question first.
8. Book an Airbnb at Moutiers for the Friday night - finally, something is booked!
9. Research Altibus vs private transfers from Moutiers. Don't book anything just in case. (Ha! It's like I knew!)
10. Sign up to SNCF alerts. Feel worried it's now after Christmas and it's not sorted.
11. Whatsapp SNCF using my bad French and discover any tickets after 25th March would be available from Jan 24th. Download the SNCF app.
12. Jan 24th is a really busy day, my kids are late for school, work is busy, busy in the evening, I don't manage to book anything. Feel stressed. Ditto Jan 25th.
13. Jan 26th I try to book the trains. Drum roll please! It looks like Interrail would be the cheapest way (total of £1120 including the passes) and has availability for seat reservations. I pay £565 for Interrail passes.
14. I try and book the Interrail seat reservations. I fail. It turns out the Eurostar seat reservations via Interrail were in fact not available after all. Would I like the 7am Eurostar instead of the 11am Eurostar from London? No thank you! I request an Interrail pass refund.
15. Never mind, I buy the SNCF advantage card and look up the cost for the Eurostar with it (£950 return for a family of 4 just between London and Paris!!!! another £550 for the French tickets) Urgh. Check the flights. They're >£1000 not including transfers. Go back to the train pages.
16. I'll just check the French train availability again... they all seem available on RailEurope, Trainline and SNCF. OK deep breath.
16. I try and buy tickets from London to Moutiers return from RailEurope using the Advantage carte. The tickets are there to be clicked, get to my basket, then an Error message. I try and buy the tickets on Trainline. They seem available but no - Error message.
17. I try and buy just the French tickets from SNCF directly, then I'll get the Eurostar separately. No, not possible - no tables of 4 for a family on the TGV one way, and on one leg no tickets available at all.

I give up!!

To all those that say it's easy - tell me what you do!!!!!!
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I travel by car
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Oh... we're driving this year but the above was basically my plan for next year! May need a rethink.
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davidof wrote:
I travel by car
Me too, sometimes with a plane for part of the journey.

It used to be so easy with Eurostar's direct service to Bourg Saint Maurice, but now seems to require the skills of an experienced travel agent just to book the tickets. Madness and maddening.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Commiserations, @jellyspoons, but also thanks for a very entertaining post. I have a daughter in law who lived in France from the age of 13, is bilingual, has worked in Paris, travels extensively by train and knows all about French trains and how the ticketing works. And she still struggles. Personally, I've never tried (if I did need a train I'd ask her to sort it out for me).
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@Origen, Does she want a job????!!!!
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You have one, @Niederau aged 4?
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Aw thanks for the commiserations, @Origen, glad you enjoyed it. The funny thing is, my husband is a complete train buff and spends all his time on train websites. For some reason or another he seemed happy to let me lead on the project...... I wonder why!! Shocked

I honestly feel a million times lighter now we've booked the Chunnel and hotels for driving there and back.

On the plus side we can now stop to let my daughter vomit multiple times on the trip up to 3V, rather than being in the back of the Altibus with an overflowing sick bucket. Laughing
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Try flying to Lyon, then getting the train to moutiers. Or maybe geneva?
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@Origen, sounds like there’s a business opportunity in there!
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My friend and I also looked to book the train for our April trip to La Plagne.

We came across much the same issues as you - potentially rushed train changes in Paris combined with long waits in Chambery to pick up the train to Aime La Plagne. Combine the aforementioned with a major problem in that there were not any trains that would get us into London early enough on a Sunday morning to catch the Eurostar meaning an overnight stay in London on the Saturday night. At a projected cost of £450.00 pp we abandoned the idea and are now driving !
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
https://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=166241&highlight=

Feel free to ask any additional questions on there.
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How to book French trains in French school holidays by gorilla (aged 46, who should know better than to do stupid things like this).

1. Book Eurostar when it comes out to travel on the Friday and back on the Saturday (i.e. 8 days later).
2. Line up accommodation on the Friday night in Paris. This will probably cost me a couple of bottles of something decent, which will be a fair slice of the cost of an Airbnb.
3. Look at Snowcarbon blog. This will tell me when I need to book SNCF tickets.
4. Two days out from SNCF booking opening, buy carte avantage and add to personal profile. It is imperative that you do this before booking day or it will slow you right down when it comes to step 6.
5. Tickets are released at 05.00 GMT. Set alarm for 04.50
6. Get up at 04.50 on day of release and buy tickets.
7. Go back to bed.

You have about 25 minutes on ticket release day to buy tickets if the French are also on holiday. If you do not manage this then the trains will sell out and you will be screwed. I appreciate this sort of fun and games is not for everyone.

If it's any consolation, I made a total hash of it this year and had to eat the cost of first on the outward leg.

Final point, text alerts about the release of tickets from RailEurope etc are totally useless as they will arrive after the trains you want have sold out.
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 You know it makes sense.
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@Griggs, …it is a complete ffffffffup.

Latest price of a mid week flight to geneva = 20 gbp then train to Sierre 90chf return.

Latest calc of train c500 gbp.

It’s just stupid. Massive subsidies to airlines. Failure to link up ticketing across nations combined with irrational protection of national railway identity. Empty trains at many times.

Bonkers.
We have to get in the Yeti and driiiiiiiive.
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Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@jellyspoons, an entertaining read - think I'll stick to the car!
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Fly and book a (private) transfer.
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@jellyspoons, commiserations, but thanks for the huge entertainment. I loved the postscript about your daughter's vomit opportunities too. (I feel for her: as a child I used to decorate more or less every lamp post and tree between London and the Swiss Alps on our annual family summer holidays.) Laughing
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Out of interest, what is the cost difference, for say a typical family of 4, to fly, train or drive it??

I'm flying to Geneva with wife and 4 children for £1k return with a private transfer at £500 return.

What's the driving cost with fuel/tolls/channel tunnel/hotel night/etc?

Same with the Train?
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@Griggs, cheaper to stay in Paris and then allows you to catch the direct trains to the Tarentaise in the morning.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Going by direct train tomorrow (brussels-BSM). On previous occasions saw direct eurostar trains saying London. There must be a direct seasonal service from London to BSM as well then
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@Roscoe, The answer is that if you book early and get reasonable priced flights it will almost always be cheaper to fly. But - if you are unlucky or late flight prices get absolutely crazy for HT week, in which case it will always be cheaper to drive.

We are around £1600 for 6 of us to fly to Milan including luggage and a bunch of skis and boots. £1100 to hire a 9 seater for 10 days. There is no way I could do that more cheaply by driving, and no way would I get 8 full days and one morning skiing.

But if I lived in the South of England I would probably see it as an adventure/mission and would definitely at least try driving once. I would definitely enjoy the planning, and being able to load everything once for the trip!

One thing I do find strange is that many who do drive claim they get an extra day skiing as they can ski on the final Saturday before driving to a hotel somewhere along the route for Saturday night, and then back to blighty on Sunday. It's not "extra" as anyone who flies and hires a car can do the same, staying at an airport hotel on Saturday and flying home on the Sunday. We have often flown late on Friday, hired a car and driven to a hotel somewhere on route to resort on that night. Full(ish) day skiing on the Saturday of arrival. Full(ish) day skiing on the final Saturday and drive to airport hotel for Saturday night. So 8 days skiing and home for lunchtime on Sunday, not exhausted. I have done the same with private transfers which allows a long and boozy lunch on the final Saturday, but prefer the flexibility of being able to visit other ski areas that hiring a car affords.
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Hurtle wrote:
@jellyspoons, commiserations, but thanks for the huge entertainment. I loved the postscript about your daughter's vomit opportunities too. (I feel for her: as a child I used to decorate more or less every lamp post and tree between London and the Swiss Alps on our annual family summer holidays.) Laughing

On a serious note on this, there are plenty of ski resorts that don't involve a car or bus journey up a twisty mountain road, or where that can be avoided. Examples that spring to mind include:
- Arc 1600 (train then funicular)
- Pila, staying in Aosta
- many Austrian resorts, e.g. SkiWelt or Mayrhofen
- many Swiss resorts
I'd be avoiding the high mountain French ski stations that involve twisty mountain roads.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
mooney058 wrote:
Going by direct train tomorrow (brussels-BSM). On previous occasions saw direct eurostar trains saying London. There must be a direct seasonal service from London to BSM as well then

Not any more.
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Wow, ok @gorilla that's a bit of a reality check! Thank you! Seems like I was about 2.5 days too late. I just checked on the European school holiday chart and yep, our dates of 5th / 13th April are indeed French school easter holidays - including Paris. D'oh! I hadn't realised that for some stupid reason.

Thanks so much @sugarmoma666 for highlighting that super useful thread - I'd read it a while ago but then I'd lost it in the months between thinking about buying the tickets and actually trying to buy them. Noted for next year!!

I think a big issue was I totally indecisive about choosing whether to use Interrail passes or NOT interrail and do the Advantage carte instead. I just couldn't work out whether getting Interrail passes would be cheaper until the SNCF tickets became available so I gave up on the decision until then, and then it was too late.

Does anyone know if it's possible to work out in advance if Interrail is worth it? If you're looking at starting booking things 6 months in advance will it always be cheaper with Interrail passes? (It seemed it would have been about £500 cheaper for our family with Interrail if I'd managed to actually get the tickets at 3 months in advance).

Also, when I was trying to book the tickets, with the Interrail option I couldn't find a way to add my Oxfordshire -> London ticket onto the whole journey - any idea on how I actually do that?

Also, if I was to use interrail, do I still need to wake up at 5am on the date the SNCF tickets become available (but instead use the Interrail seat reservations website or the Rail Europe site to book the seat reservations for the SNCF bit?). Is it more likely that a table of 4 would be available if try and get SNCF tickets with Interrail or without interrail?

I think one worry for me is that if I book the Eurostar bit directly 6 months in advance (without an interrail pass), then I'll have already shelled out quite a lot of money for the Eurostar tickets if it then turns out I sleep through my 4.50am alarm or the SNCF Advantage tickets have somehow all been booked / no tables left. At least if I do interrail it seems I can get a refund if I can't get the trains I want (although maybe not if I've already booked the Eurostar seat reservations with it...)

Puzzled Puzzled Puzzled

I feel like the Interrail is a whole lot more complicated, but the non-Interrail feels riskier. Although actually that feels risky too.

Either way it doesn't feel as easy as booking a Eurotunnel and driving! rolling eyes
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sugarmoma666 wrote:
mooney058 wrote:
Going by direct train tomorrow (brussels-BSM). On previous occasions saw direct eurostar trains saying London. There must be a direct seasonal service from London to BSM as well then

Not any more.


Shame. Love direct train. Task for today - pack and dowlo d netflix movies for a 6h ride
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> Also, when I was trying to book the tickets, with the Interrail option I couldn't find a way to add my Oxfordshire -> London ticket onto the whole journey - any idea on how I actually do that?

As I understand it, you need to do this in person at your local ticket office and get tickets to "London CIV"
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Quote:

We are around £1600 for 6 of us to fly to Milan including luggage and a bunch of skis and boots. £1100 to hire a 9 seater for 10 days. There is no way I could do that more cheaply by driving, and no way would I get 8 full days and one morning skiing.


I suspect you could do it cheaper, if you had a suitable vehicle. 5 of us drove in a 9 seater van at Christmas and with an overnight in each direction I think it was cheaper than that. A sixth person wouldn't cost any more. How many days skiing you get doesn't really depend (as you pointed out) on your mode of transport but driving gives you lots of flexibility.
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nbt wrote:
> Also, when I was trying to book the tickets, with the Interrail option I couldn't find a way to add my Oxfordshire -> London ticket onto the whole journey - any idea on how I actually do that?

As I understand it, you need to do this in person at your local ticket office and get tickets to "London CIV"

Either that or just add it onto your electronic pass as a trip and just turn up. That gives you a QR code to scan you through the gates - from my experience and a colleague's the QR code won't actually work on the ticket gates in the UK but the staff will wave you thru' when you say it's Interrail.

The benefits of having the ticket to London CIV are covered here:
https://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=166241
TBH, I've not tried reserving a train to London CIV with an Interrail pass. I'd not bother if I was on Interrail and would just make sure I'd left plenty of time.

For clarity, the trip from Oxon to London is covered in the Interrail price - no need to prebook (unless you're desperate to see if you can get a reservation to London CIV). You'll end up paying for the tube across London, though. From my experience of the Didcot - Paddington line, there's little point prebooking, as if the train is busy enough that you need a reservation, you probably won't be able to get down the aisle to it anyway Laughing
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@sugarmoma666, the roads didn't need to be twisty for me to throw up.
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Hurtle wrote:
@sugarmoma666, the roads didn't need to be twisty for me to throw up.

Ah, that's more of a problem. Did trains create the same issues? I'm lucky, I'm fine on all sorts of transport.
so long as no-one else throws up.
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Origen wrote:
Quote:

We are around £1600 for 6 of us to fly to Milan including luggage and a bunch of skis and boots. £1100 to hire a 9 seater for 10 days. There is no way I could do that more cheaply by driving, and no way would I get 8 full days and one morning skiing.


I suspect you could do it cheaper, if you had a suitable vehicle. 5 of us drove in a 9 seater van at Christmas and with an overnight in each direction I think it was cheaper than that. A sixth person wouldn't cost any more. How many days skiing you get doesn't really depend (as you pointed out) on your mode of transport but driving gives you lots of flexibility.


No way it would be cheaper. Not least at its a 9 hour drive to the tunnel for me. Fuel plus tolls plus milage on the car. Plus I either ski in Switzerland or Italy these days, so a longer drive at the other end. I think total milage would be at least 1200 each way. And when you say "suitable vehicle" that means a very big one for us to take 6 x people, 6 x skis and boots plus usual luggage for 10 days so fuel costs would be a different order of magnitude than if an estate type car would work. Our XC90 plus roofbox could probably just about manage all the clobber but even that would be a squeeze I think. I'm guessing fuel alone would be at least £600.

I guess if you drove it in a oner with no stops the cost might get close. But that would be a minimum 20 hour drive.

And then there is the whole argument about depreciation etc. It is not free to drive 1200 miles, cars cost money as does the maintenance and it matters not where the miles are done the cost is the same. Most people simply ignore that cost as they see it is "sunk", which it is not.

I would likle to do it though. Just not at all practical from a cost or time perspective for us.
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For those keen to use train look at Austria. Innsbruck is easy to get to from Brussels (sleeper from Amsterdam too). St Anton has a train station in the centre of the village with direct trains to Zürich plus some others on weekends from further north. Booking with German / Austrian / Swiss railways fairly easy. Websites in English.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
munich_irish wrote:
For those keen to use train look at Austria. Innsbruck is easy to get to from Brussels (sleeper from Amsterdam too). St Anton has a train station in the centre of the village with direct trains to Zürich plus some others on weekends from further north. Booking with German / Austrian / Swiss railways fairly easy. Websites in English.

This has been very much on my radar, but haven't managed to make it work yet. In terms of the Nightjet, any idea how much luggage space there is? We normally travel with a holdall/case each and ski or board bag. Is there somewhere to stow these. I'm not a big fan of St Anton but have considered doing the Zillertal resorts via Innsbruck or alternatively travelling to Salzburg area. At present it's looking more expensive and more complicated but any help / thoughts appreciated.
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@sugarmoma666, @nbt, I’ve used interrail for Edinburgh-Kings X and Euston-Inverness before. Was fine with simply an LNER seat reservation on southbound leg and then we bought a cabin from Caledonian Sleeper for northbound. Train manager on both was fine knowing we had the interrail pass.
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@jellyspoons, We've gone by train to Austria a few times.
The most expensive part is The EuroStar of course.
We take advantage of the DBahn advance booking offer where you can book trips in and out of Germany from neighbouring countries for as little as €29 and not much more for 1st class.

i.e.
Bruxelles -> Salzburg for €29
Salzburg -> Zell am See €29

Paris -> Munchen (stop of at Nurnberg the night)
Munchen -> Zell am See

Paris -> Basel Bad
Basel Bad -> Crans Montana

Make sure you allow a significant time in Bruxelles when changing from the Eurostar to the DBahn Express, although its the same station you can get caught out by snap security hold ups.
We only just managed to board the German train about 5 secs before it pulled out.

I've spent many happy hours with spreadsheets and timetables.

That chap in Seat61 is brilliant of course.
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@sugarmoma666, I’d avoid a six bed couchette with ski clobber. I’ve been in a 4 bed with skis (and other 3 folk also had skis); we all had kitbags too. Cramped but we knew it would be and knew each other. Could be stressful if you’re in with randoms (I’ve had some jolly trips with randoms before, especially on that Innsbruck-Amsterdam sleeper, but only in the summer travelling relatively lightly).

A cabin for 2 would have space for ski stuff, but obvs more £€… they are nice tho!

IIRC OeBB are introducing new sleeper carriages with innovative pod style spaces (replacing the old couchettes?) - not sure what they’d be like with skis… guess seat61 will do a video at some point (if he hasn’t already)
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I’m not sure we’ll use French trains to The Alps again. I love overseas trains, the romantic thing of sitting comfortably whilst the countryside races by.

Last Easter we made our way using an array of pre booked tickets to Moutiers. TGV was amazing, by contrast QUIGO trains were rubbish - packed like a sardine can (not Saturdays), a young French women hogged 4 seats for herself and her cases, painfully slow stopping at every station at it seemed half the speed of Sussex commuter trains, the rolling stock is dated.

The icing on the cake was a three hour delay at Lyons, sadly someone had taken their life. We missed later flights as a result, that cost us £1,000.

By contrast German and Austrian trains going to near Schladming in December were amazing. First class cheap as chips.


Last edited by Then you can post your own questions or snow reports... on Fri 2-02-24 18:45; edited 1 time in total
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
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With regard to Interrail, my impression (though I havent checked it rigorously) is that it might be worthwhile if you are booking late such that low price fares are no longer available - otherwise its likely to cost more (unless you really need the flexibility).

On another aspect I've enjoyed travelling by train (and accepting that cost will never be close to cheap flights) - But I might take a different view if I was lugging skis as well (I think I boarded in excess of 10 vehicles each way - including local links - on my last trip!).
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@sugarmoma666, No doubt that the quickest & cheapest option for UK to Zillertal is early booked Easyjet flights to Munich & hire car. Train is going to be slower & more expensive but some folk will prefer it for a variety of reasons. I havent used the sleepers so cant really comment but I know OEBB have introduced new upgraded trains. I can see that taking train from London to Amsterdam then sleeping on train to wake up in the Tirol would work but is going to be expensive (I believe the trains stop at Jenbach for direct connection to the Zillertal). But a lot less hassle than messing around in Paris
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MoaB wrote:
With regard to Interrail, my impression (though I havent checked it rigorously) is that it might be worthwhile if you are booking late such that low price fares are no longer available - otherwise its likely to cost more (unless you really need the flexibility).


Watch out though - if you’re too late, there may not be any interrail seats left on Eurostar. There’s a limited amount on any given train.
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