The Eurostar terminal in St. Pancras // © 2016 Eurostar
Feature image (above): Brussels’ La Grand-Place central square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site // © 2016 iStock
I was running through London’s St. Pancras International, in a mad dash to make my 6 p.m. train to Paris. It was a scone that nearly derailed my plans — I had been on a focused hunt in the central rail station, determined to not leave the city without one or two of the fluffy, buttery pastries in hand. And so I found myself haphazardly weaving through the crowd toward my train terminal with a suitcase, purse and bag of Fortnum & Mason’s finest scones in tow.
Sweating profusely, I hopped onto one of Eurostar’s new e320 trains — which operate across the European high-speed rail network and connect London with Brussels as well as the French cities of Paris, Avignon, Lille, Lyon and Marseille — and made my way to the Business Premier car to join the rest of my group (who, though lovely people, did not share my same dedication to scones). A Eurostar staff member graciously rearranged already settled guests so that I could sit with my companions, then offered me water and champagne after hanging up my jacket.
This exemplary service would prove to be just one small part of what makes traveling through Europe with Eurostar so sublime. The company’s new fleet of 17 high-speed e320 trains — which began rolling out last fall in addition to a few refurbished e300s — proves that it’s possible to combine comfort, style and efficiency.
The e320 model — named for the speed at which it operates (320 kph) — was created for Eurostar by German engineering company Siemens and Italian car design firm Pininfarina. The latter, which has designed for the likes of Ferrari and Maserati, was chosen for its ethos of elegance, purity and innovation — and, indeed, the sleek, modern trains live up to these values. Seats in all classes feature ergonomically designed reclining seats with retro-looking stitched fabric; extendable seat cushions; and U.K. and Continental power sockets.
Throughout the train, passengers will find ambient lighting; automatic glass doors between cars; repositioned luggage racks for easier entry and exit; information screens with details such as the train’s speed; and free Wi-Fi access, including a Wi-Fi portal offering entertainment, news and weather programming, as well as a curated collection of destination guides. The e320 also features a new bar buffet, Cafe Metropole, for hot and cold drinks, snacks, hot dishes, sandwiches and sweets.
According to Alfredo Palma, stylist project manager for Pininfarina, the e320 follows a “flowing concept,” where a rounded design allows for more emotional and physical space in which passengers can lounge and relax. The concept even extends into the bathrooms, which are amazingly non-claustrophobic and feature touch-free taps.
Those looking for a little more space and comfort might opt for the Standard Premier or Business Premier classes. Both have seats that recline twice as much as those in Standard class, as well as a USB plug, a mirror, a device holder and an individual reading light at each seat. Business Premier also offers passengers fully flexible tickets with a boarding guarantee; dedicated ticket offices and check-in just 10 minutes before departure; and use of Business Premier lounges.
When it comes to food, clients on a longer journey or who are utilizing Eurostar as their main transportation while city-hopping will appreciate Business Premier, where “train food” is no longer a dirty word thanks to gourmet, three-course meals designed by renowned Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc.
While in Brussels, before boarding my train to London, I sat down with Yann Bayeul, catering product and service manager for Eurostar, who explained to me the kind of care taken with the onboard menu, which rotates each week and changes every six months to stay seasonal. Business Premier guests can choose from a selection of alcoholic drinks and enjoy dishes such as smoked salmon with quinoa salad or Charolais beef with a caper and tarragon sauce, followed by poached pears or a slice of French opera cake. With 48 hours’ notice, clients with special dietary needs can be accommodated with meal options that include vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher and more. Bayeul says sustainability is incredibly important to the company as well, and it seeks to source local food as much as possible. In fact, it’s a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, a nonprofit headed by chef Blanc.
And the focus on sustainability continues with the train itself. With a nearly 900-passenger capacity, the e320s feature room for 150 more people than Eurostar’s previous models, making them 17 percent more efficient per seat. Additionally, train noses are aerodynamic to reduce energy consumption and noise, and the vehicles are fitted with high-tech energy meters to help them track and manage energy consumption en route. Drivers are even given special eco-driving training, and the e320s employ energy-saving light bulbs throughout.
Of course, passengers must eventually disembark from their tranquil Eurostar journey.
With access to the company’s routes, I was able to hop from Brussels to London to Paris in five-star style over the course of just a few days. After a day of exploring the beautiful art deco Bozar Centre for Fine Arts and noshing on delicacies at chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud in Brussels, I was on my way to London’s Tate Modern museum and chasing after that delicious scone. My whirlwind trip ended in Paris with quick jaunts to the Jeu de Paume and Centre Pompidou art museums, followed by a wine and cheese tasting at Les Caves du Louvre.
Travelers can use Eurostar to plan a Europe rail journey such as mine, and those looking to create a more extensive itinerary can also utilize RailEurope, which is connected to the Eurostar inventory as well as other rail services.