As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, don’t retreat to the sofa, take to the rails and discover the best of Europe this winter. With fares from Voyages.sncf.com starting at £27 return, it has never been a better time to travel by train to France and beyond.
From Christmas Markets to New Year’s Eve celebrations and winter escapes, here are our top five European things to do this winter.
Christmas Market… with a difference
As we head towards the festive season, a feast of Christmas Markets spring up all over Europe, in Provence however, something a little different takes place. The Provençal market features a unique nativity scene or crèche which shows the Biblical characters assantons or little saints. These ornamental figurines are often hand decorated and each one represents various characters from Provençal village life such as the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man and of course the chestnut seller – each scene has 55 village characters. Between the 10 – 24 December, an annual market dedicated to the traditional Santons is held in Carpentras. This year will mark it’s 30th anniversary and a whole host of fun events are planned, including special demonstrations, workshops for the children, 150 performances and 40 different shows.
Fares to Carpentras start at £134 for an adult standard class return ticket and takes 7 hours from London.
The final count down – where to spend New Year’s Eve
For New Year’s Eve revellers, the German capital Berlin is often the top party destination, and this year is no different with over 1 million party goers set to visit the city on 31 December. Berlin has a reputation of being a party town and the go-big or go home attitude means they don’t do things by halves! The highlight is the Party Mile, actually a two kilometre stretch between the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate, lined with bars, pop up food stalls, stages for musicians, party tents and laser shows. After the fireworks and the Berlin Silvesterlauf – a traditional New Year’s Eve pancake race – everyone takes to the dance floor.
Fares to Berlin start at £304 for an adult standard class return ticket and takes 10 hours from London.
A winter short break to…
Lake Lucerne: With its remarkable moorlands, the rugged karst formations and other natural wonders, the first biosphere reserve to open in Switzerland is simply stunning. Everything on the ‘Culinary Winter hike’ is set to make winter walkers gasp in amazement, from the breathtaking panoramas to the heaving dining tables at the inns along the Rossweid – Salwiidli – Rischli – Sörenberg route where they indulge in a local delicacy in each restaurant. Fares start at £166 for an adult standard class return ticket and takes 8.10 hours.
Antwerp: Often overlooked as a short break destination, Antwerp is not just the place to go to to buy diamonds, there is so much more on offer. The newest attraction is the unusual architectural gem of the Port House and the MAS – Maison aan de Stroom – a new museum which links the land between the port and the city centre. There’s also a visit to The Rubens House which takes you back to through time to the 17th Century when this master painter was in his prime. For more casual pleasures a boat trip on the Scheldt is always a treat. Obviously there’s also the lure of the diamond district which brings a twinkle to everyone’s eye. To finish the day in true Belgian fashion, a delicious plate of mussels with fries and a beer is surely on the cards. Fares to Antwerp start at £69 for an adult standard class return ticket and takes 3 hours from London.
Le Mans: Everyone has heard of the famous 24-hour Le Mans car race but the town itself is absolutely charming. Set on a hill surveying the surrounding countryside, the Plantagenet City, as it is known, is twenty hectares crammed with tiny winding streets and lanes, filled with half-timbered houses dating back to Renaissance times, all surrounded by a Romanesque wall. The Cathedral of St Julien is breathtaking with its famous ceiling depicting angel musicians. It is also one of the largest religious buildings in France – over 5,000 square metres in area and 134 metres long. There is a wealth of museums, galleries, boutiques and restaurants to choose from and all just an hour from Paris on the train. Fares to Le Mans start at £86 for an adult standard class return ticket and takes 4 hours from London.
Photo credit thanks to: Alain Hocquel – ADT Vaucluse / iStock: Karnizz / iStock: Reform Boehm / iStock: AndreasWeber / iStock: svetikd / iStock: EunikaSopotnicka / iStock: Musat
About voyages-sncf.com: Voyages-sncf.com is a subsidiary of the French National Railway Company SNCF and an expert in railway travel to Europe and French destinations. It is a key player in the European tourism industry employing up to 1,000 people across its European business. In 2015, the group sold 78 million tickets with annual sales revenue of €4.2 billion, across more than 30 countries. Voyages-sncf.com comprises 15 websites in 8 languages, mobile sites and apps and an integrated call centre service.
About SNCF: Present in 120 countries, SNCF is a world leader in mobility and logistics. Its total workforce of 250,000 generated revenue of €31.4 billion in 2015, with 33% of revenue from markets outside France. A public sector group dedicated to public service, SNCF builds on its foundations in rail to offer a broad range of services, delivering seamless door-to-door mobility for transport and logistics operators, passengers and the regional and local governments that are its organizing authorities. www.sncf.com