Five original Eurostar breaks
The spa’s name is a nod to Charlemagne’s time in Aachen. The ruler is often called the ‘Father of Europe’, and it’s been calculated that most Europeans can indeed count him as an ancestor. So following your soak, pay a visit – or even a family visit – to the magnificent Aachen Cathedral where he is buried (treasury admission £5, tours £7). The Palatine Chapel is an outstanding remnant of Charlemagne’s palace, while the cathedral’s treasury is a mother lode of gold and jewels.
Aachen is not short on historic inns either. Hearty German cuisine is the order of the day at Am Knipp, which dates from 1698 and has a lovely beer garden (mains from £9).
Though rather anonymous from the outside, the Hotel Granus is a well-kept place close to the spa at Carolus-Thermen, with which it often has special offers (from £70). The Pullman Aachen Quellenhof is a grand hotel, set on the edge of a park just outside the historic centre (superior rooms from £120).
The Eurostar takes 2¼ hours from St Pancras International to Brussels (from £60; eurostar.com). Changing at Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid station, it’s a further 75 minutes to Aachen (from £35).
Val Thorens: The one for skiing
Take ski equipment on the train? It’s no longer such an odd idea, thanks to a direct Eurostar service from London to the heart of the French Alps, which comes as a boon for winter sports fans who would rather avoid flying (see Snow Carbon for more).
One of the pleasures of a ‘ski-train’ is to watch as you climb ever higher, to where the snow begins, and finally step out of the station into a winter’s scene. But even if it’s later in the season and the lower-lying villages are completely devoid of the white stuff, the resort of Val Thorens is about as snow-sure as they come. Lying at 2,300m, this is the highest ski resort in Europe, and skiers can take lifts up as far as the Épaule du Bouchet mountain, at 3,250m. Reliability of snow cover aside, the other big draw for Val Thorens is the sheer extent of the ski area. The resort is linked by lifts and pistes to Méribel, which in turn is connected to Courchevel. Together, the three resorts and 470 miles of pistes make up Les Trois Vallées – the largest ski area in the world (six-day lift passes £170).
Après-ski revolves around a half-dozen bars, including the cosy Rhum Box (rhumbox.fr). Dinner here wouldn’t be complete without at least one round of the cheesy mess that is fondue Savoyarde, or for something more refined, try double-Michelin-starred L’Oxalys (three-course menus £55).
Friendly Hotel Val Chavière offers tremendous mountainside views (half-board from £55). Hotel Altapura has 98 Nordic-chic guestrooms and suites, all with widescreen views of the surroundings (from £200).
The ski train runs on weekends from 21 December 2012 to 12 April 2013, between St Pancras International and Moûtiers-Salins-Brides-les-Bains (from £190). Overnight trains take 9½ hours, while daytime trains take seven hours. From Moûtiers, take a bus (tickets £12) or a taxi (around £80 each way) to Val Thorens.