Bargain of the week: Europe from your local station
At last, passengers from locations outside London and Kent can book through tickets from their local station via St Pancras International to Eurostar destinations in Europe and connecting services deeper into the Continent. Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com) has linked up with Virgin, First Capital Connect, National Express East Coast, East Midlands Trains, Chiltern Railways, Hull Trains and London Midland to offer a proper connecting ticket. Previously, the traveller had to make two separate bookings, and getting the lowest fares proved problematic.
The system is not perfect a search for trains from Glasgow to Grenoble and from Birmingham to Lyon in four weeks' time reported back that "there is no availability for your outward journey for the date and time you have selected", but other test bookings were more successful. In tests for travel in January, King's Lynn to Paris is available for 79 return, while Preston to any station in Belgium starts at 90 return.
One key advantage of through ticketing is that if one leg of the journey is delayed, you can transfer to the next available service without penalty.
Warning of the week: Reaching Heathrow
Usually, the Heathrow Express is the only train running in Britain on Christmas Day. This year, because of "essential engineering works", the service will be suspended on both 25 and 26 December. Instead, a bus connection from London Paddington will be provided to Heathrow Central (serving Terminals 1, 2 and 3).
The journey time will be "40-60 minutes depending on traffic conditions", according to the operator (0845 600 1515; heathrowexpress.co.uk). For passengers heading to Terminal 4, the journey is longer still, and more complicated: they will need to change from the bus to the inter-terminal train service, which will operate every 15 minutes between Heathrow's Central area and Terminal 4. Normal service resumes from 27 to 31 December inclusive, but the New Year gets off to a tricky start: the first train from Paddington leaves at 3.55pm, and before that a replacement coach service will be provided. Heathrow Express is giving a discount on its normal fares to compensate: "All customers buying tickets on the 25 and 26 December and 1 January will pay a reduced rate. Customers who have already pre-booked tickets for these dates will be given a 5 refund voucher."
Tube travellers face slower journeys to and from the airport from 27 March, when Terminal 5 opens. At present, Piccadilly Line trains from central London serve all terminals every five minutes, but from March those will split evenly between Terminal 4 and Terminal 5, with the interval between trains doubling to 10 minutes.
Better news for passengers using Stansted airport: the rail link with Liverpool Street in London is getting extra early-morning and late-evening trains.
Finally, the East London Line, connecting Shoreditch and Whitechapel with Surrey Docks and New Cross, closes tomorrow for refurbishment until 2010, when it reopens as part of London's overground network.
Destination of the week: The lodge at Verbier
Virgin Limited Edition, Sir Richard Branson's ultra-exclusive hotel group (0800 716 919; www.virginlimitededition.com), opens the doors of its first Alpine offering to paying customers from 6 January.
Situated in Verbier, the location of choice for many well-heeled Brits, The Lodge will sleep up to 18 adults (in nine double bedrooms) and six children (in three bunk beds) as long as they can afford the minimum weekly price tag of 35,000.
Guests will not want for pampering the nine full-time staffinclude a beauty therapist, a chef and a driver on call 24 hours. Woody splendour is the order of the day, from the building's imposing, balconied faade to the interior, with beams of reclaimed timber overhead and heated floors underfoot. The rooms, which vary in size from large to enormous, are kitted out with Bose music systems, vast double beds and curiously open-plan bathrooms (at the insistence of Sir Richard himself). There are indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, an ice-rink, a swimming pool, a steam room, gym and a "party room" with bar, a vast range of wines, 50-inch plasma television and a continent-sized sofa.
Peak-season prices top out at 59,000 per week for block bookings but if The Lodge isn't hired out in its entirety six weeks ahead of time, bookings open for individual rooms from around 2,000 per week. Rates in summer start from 555 per person for a three-night stay.
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