Beyond Paris and Brussels, here are five high-speed train trips you may not have considered, from hot springs with history in Germany to skiing in the French Alps.

It’s not just Paris and Brussels – here are five high-speed train trips you may not have considered, from hot springs with history in Germany to skiing in the French Alps.

Antwerp: The one for history and architecture
If Bruges is the medieval jewel of Flanders, then Antwerp is the city that stole its trade and its thunder. The home of one of the earliest stock exchange buildings in 1531, and today the place where four in every five uncut diamonds are traded, it’s no surprise that Belgium’s second city has plenty to show for its wealth. The neo- Gothic splendour of the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station is merely the welcome mat.

The first stop should be the city’s medieval core around the cobblestoned Grote Markt. With its Renaissance-style City Hall bedecked with colourful banners and the 123-metre spire of the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, or Cathedral of Our Lady, looming above, this pedestrianised square is the city’s showcase.

Moving on to the Baroque period, Antwerp’s favourite son makes an appearance – the painter Pieter Paul Rubens, whose former home and studio, the Rubenshuis, is furnished in early 17th-century style and houses dozens of his paintings and those of his contemporaries (admission £6.50). Another Rubens portrait is found in the World Heritage-listed Museum Plantin-Moretus, along with a printing works and library dating from 1640 (admission £6.50).

Finish with a swing by the Stadsfeestzaal for a spot of browsing in a magnificent Neoclassicalstyle shopping mall dating from 1908. The second-floor champagne bar matches the opulent mood perfectly. Antwerp likes to dine out in style, and one place you can do so in old-world, candle-lit intimacy is Le Zoute Zoen (mains from £14).

Getting started
Emperor’s 48 is a stylish b&b featuring striking black and white photographs by Bart Michielsen (from £75). ‘T Sandt Hotel is an elegant place to stay, with swish broad-beamed guestrooms, neo-Rococo touches and a patio with a fountain (from £160).

The Eurostar takes 2¼ hours to reach Brussels from London's St Pancras International station (from £70, including onward rail travel in Belgium).Changing at Bruxelles-Midi/ Brussel-Zuid station, it’s another 35–45 minutes to Antwerpen-Centraal station.

Rotterdam: The one for modernity
On 14 May 1940, at the height of the German Blitzkrieg, the Luftwaffe missed an order to turn back and destroyed most of Rotterdam. Unlike many other Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Delft, you won’t find much in the way of medieval streets here. But Rotterdam has salvaged something from its destruction, creating bold and inventive architecture to match its status as one of the world’s busiest ports.

Get your bearings on an architecture tour (from £3 per person). The itinerary might include Rotterdam’s two signature bridges – the bold, red Willemsbrug and the Erasmusbrug, nicknamed ‘The Swan’ after the spread-eagled stance of its 139-metre pylon. Striking buildings abound, from Toren op Zuid, which seems to rest against a long pole, to the Willemswerf, with its diagonal slash. The most eyebrow-raising is the Overblaak development, whose upended, cube-shaped apartments seem to have tumbled out of a JG Ballard novel.

You can continue in the architectural vein at the Nederlands Architectuurinstituut, whose admission price includes a visit to a perfectly preserved Functionalist-style house from 1933 (admission £8). Alternatively, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen is among Europe’s finest galleries, where paintings by the Dutch masters and 20th-century surrealists can be found next to a 1970s bubble TV or vibrating table (admission £10, free on Wed).

Amid the bold architectural statements, Rotterdam does have one more surprise in store – the eminently strollable Delfshaven district, which survived the bombings with its quaintness intact. And since this is a port city, you owe it to Rotterdam to have a seafood dinner – Zee Zout has waterfront views as well as superbly prepared dishes (mains from £19).

Getting started
The Hotel New York Rotterdam is an original Art Nouveau-style building with stunning city views (from £80). The Pincoffs Suite Hotel offers boutique style in a late 19th-century building (from £130).

The Eurostar takes 2¼ hours from St Pancras International to Brussels (from £60). Changing at Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid station, it’s another 75 minutes to Rotterdam (from £45). Eurostar tickets to ‘any Dutch station’ are £5 cheaper, but the connection may be slower.

Champagne-Ardenne: The one for wine
The countryside around Reims and Épernay is a tableau of low hills with neat green rows of vines in their folds, marked here and there by a church spire or the turrets of a château. So far, so French – but these vines have a special destiny that will set them apart from others in equally bucolic corners of this wine-obsessed nation. In an area 129 square miles in size, white wine grapes are grown, the product of which will be fermented a second time inside the bottle to create the fizz that is the hallmark of champagne.

This ‘king of wines’ got a head start in the prestige stakes because of the royal connections of Reims – one of the main cities of the historic province of Champagne, and the place where the kings of France were crowned. Today, the pageantry is reserved for the eight local ‘maisons’ (champagne houses), such as Taittinger and Mumm, whose musty cellars can be visited as part of engaging guided tours followed, of course, by tasting sessions (tours around £8;, For dinner, one sterling choice is Le Boulingrin, a genuine, old-time brasserie from 1925 (mains from £11).

A half-hour train ride south from Reims is Épernay, lying deeper in the heart of champagne country. More champagne houses offer tours here, including Moët & Chandon, Mercier and De Castellane. But the draw of Épernay is as a base for heading out into the surrounding vineyards. Champagne Domi Moreau runs vineyard tours by minibus from Épernay, or by bicycle starting from the nearby village of Mancy (cycle tours £12, minibus tours £16). You can find other suggestions for exploring the area by bicycle at

Getting started
Le Clos Raymi, in Épernay, is a refined hotel with seven Art Deco-themed rooms (from £90). Grand Hôtel des Templiers is a neo-Gothic extravaganza in central Reims, with stained glass and period furnishings throughout (from £175).

Reims is between four and five hours by train from St Pancras International, including the connection time in Paris or Lille – Paris has more frequent services than Lille, but requires a 10-minute transfer on foot between the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est (from £90).

Aachen: The one for spas
What did the Romans ever do for Germany? The people of Aachen might have an answer – their city was kickstarted by legionaries who took a fancy to the area’s steaming, mineral-rich waters. Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus in Latin), founder of the Carolingian Empire, made it his capital in 794, and other conquerors followed, from Napoleon to Casanova. Today, the city is known by a multiplicity of names – Aix-la-Chapelle to the French, Aken to the Dutch, Aquisgrana to the Italians – that testifies to the fame of this one-time centre of political power and remedial bathtime in Western Europe.

Many of the spas today are clinics offering serious-sounding treatments for aches and complaints. One very accessible place, however, can be found at Carolus-Thermen, which is not afraid to use words such as ‘relaxation’ and ‘indulgence’ (spa visits from £8.50). Its elegant indoor and outdoor pools are kept at a pleasantly warm 32–34°C, with steam baths, hammams, and saunas for those who prefer something a bit hotter.

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).

Getting started
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; 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 ( 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).

Getting started
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.

The article 'Five original Eurostar breaks' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.