Nicole Carmichael hopped on Eurostar’s fast train from London to Avignon to discover some fabulous food, art and culture
London to Paris by Eurostar is one of the most popular train journeys in Europe but I was keen to see if the journey from London to Avignon in the south of France was just as great.
I love the idea that you can jump on a train at St Pancras and arrive in the South of France a few hours later, stopping at Lille, Lyon and Avignon before going to Marseille. As my husband and I live close to King’s Cross, this was one of the easiest ways of us getting to France.
You still have to factor in security and passport control, of course, so you can’t just turn up 10 minutes before departure time. But it’s a lot less hectic than travelling by plane.
We travelled economy, while wishing we had invested a bit more for the chance of more leg room as our journey was jam-packed. If you’re thinking of travelling long distance on Eurostar you might want to treat yourself to an upgrade.
As always, it felt as though we had barely set off before we were crossing beneath the Channel and arriving at our first stop, Lille. Then we cut swiftly through great swathes of countryside before arriving at Avignon, just over five and a half hours after leaving London.
As it’s a high-speed service, the Eurostar operates on the TGV line, so the station is outside central Avignon and perfect for picking up a hire car before heading off into the countryside.
We’d decided to visit Provence and the Luberon area, firstly staying at the gorgeous Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Van Gogh painted several of his most famous works here during his ‘stay’ at the nearby sanitorium and, like so many towns and villages in Provence, there’s a weekly market day, delicious patisseries, boulangeries and street cafés. Saint-Rémy is a wonderful place to unwind with a chilled glass of rosé (the region’s favourite tipple) before a visit to Avignon to see the famous partially collapsed bridge and the impressive Palais des Papes.
We then drove to the Luberon area, where we stayed at the incredible Couvent des Minimes in Mane, the official L’Occitane spa. This former convent was founded in 1613 and transformed into a luxury hotel and spa in 2008.
Everything is sublime, from its 46 stylish, luxurious rooms and eight suites (we loved the chest of drawers built like a stack of suitcases) to the statement artwork in the cavernous lobby. Gourmet food and the spa with its L’Occitane products all added up to a taste of heaven.
From the super-chilled to the super-busy, we enjoyed an overnight stay in Aix-en-Provence before catching our train from Marseille.
The only slight niggle to what had been a lovely holiday was that passengers have to leave the train – with their luggage – at Lille to go through passport control. It’s a bit of a pain, but a minor hassle in the grand scheme of things. So a big thumbs up to travelling to France by train.
Eurostar fares to Avignon start at £49.50 one way. To book, call 03432 186186 or visit eurostar.com. For rates at Le Couvent des Minimes Hôtel & Spa and to book, call +33 492 747777 or visit couventdesminimes-hotelspa.com.
About the author
Nicole Carmichael has written travel features for the Sunday Express and Fit & Well magazine. Her favourite train journey is Kandy to Ella in Sri Lanka.