Planes, trains and automobiles — how to fix your summer holiday

·11-min read
 (Evening Standard composite)
(Evening Standard composite)

Summer 2022 was billed as a return to normality; with festivals, holidays and outdoor events back on the menu. But, after a slew of train strikes, flight cancellations, fuel spikes and staffing shortages, it’s looking more like a summer of discontent than the summer of love we all hoped for.

Last week, holidaymakers were further besieged by news that British Airways were cancelling another 1,500 flights in July, making airline travel even riskier than a game of Russian Roulette with Valdimir Putin.

If your flight hasn’t been cancelled already, the propect of finding yourself in an airport plastic chair with your head in your hands and your holiday in tatters is still very real.

But, fear not! Planes are so basic anyway, who wants to spend four hours queuing in line for a soggy tuna sandwich from Pret? Alternative travel doesn’t have to be a pain in the derriere. Make like Poirot and catch a train, bringing as much baggage as you want — as long as it’s not a revolver and a capsule of cyanide sewed into your undergarments.

In the event of a flight cancellation nightmare, here are some of the best, alternative ways to get to your dream destination this summer - to be used in an emergency, or indeed as a smart new plan to enjoy a slower but more sophisticated, and infinitely less stressful, travel experience. Holiday hell? not on our watch.

London to France

Lavender in the Luberon: the medieval hilltop town of Banon, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (Alamy)
Lavender in the Luberon: the medieval hilltop town of Banon, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (Alamy)

The South of France is known for its old school glamour, fields of lavender and bottles of chilled, pale rosé. It seems fitting therefore, to forego planes and travel avec style dans un train. Replace the indignities of cramming all of your pants into one pencil-case size carry-on bag and running through peak rush hour crowds to catch the Stansted Express, with a leisurely train ride to Nice. And perhaps a brief sojourn in Paris en route.

Sure, the headlines about Eurostar haven’t been great this week, but wait until the school holiday chaos has settled and you should be in for a treat. Watch the English countryside give way to French corn fields from the comfort of your leather Eurostar seat, while sipping on a flute of champagne and nibbling on a three course tasting menu, designed by Raymond Blanc. It’s a nine hour journey from London St Pancras to Nice, but you can easily break this up with a night or two in Paris first.

We recommend splashing out on a night at the eclectic Sinner hotel in the chic haut-marais district and gnawing on confit de canard with dauphinoise gratin at the quintessentially Parisian bistro La Fontaine de Mars. Picture red gingham table cloths, striped awnings and a lot of red wine. For more modern fare - think creative small plates and natural wine - Le Grand Bain in cool Belleville is the place to be seen.

Eurostar from London St Pancras to Nice Ville, prices from £269.78. Price per night at Sinner from £358. (Prices vary depending on season and availability).

Journey essential:

Make sure you pack a hat in your best hat box, after all burning n’est pas chic! Embrace you’re inner Cowgirl with Gucci’s black cowboy hat or follow Hailey Bieber’s lead and opt for a striped crochet bucket hat like Acne’s pastel Kimma hat.

London to Portugal

“The California of Europe”: like San Francisco, Lisbon boasts an iconic bay bridge (Shutterstock / M.V. Photography)
“The California of Europe”: like San Francisco, Lisbon boasts an iconic bay bridge (Shutterstock / M.V. Photography)

Peter Bieri’s famous novel, Night Train to Lisbon, follows the story of a Swiss Professor abandoning his stuffy, scholarly existence in pursuit of a thrilling adventure. I’m not saying taking a train to Portugal will solve all your problems, but it might? This is not a quick in-and-out job, expect a 31-hour journey with six changes. On the surface, yes, it’s a slog, but also plenty of time to discover the European panorama from a unique perspective, chiefly on the ground.

Just picture this: stretch your legs on your first stopover in Paris with a brisk walk around the Tuileries gardens, before hopping back on the train and making it to Barcelona just in time for dinner at Bar de Pla (tip: order the mushroom croquettes). Next stop is Vigo, on the Galician coast, where you can stay a few days, bathing in the crystalline waters of the nearby Cies islands. Next stop, you’re finally in Portugal and in the hip city of Porto, spend a night on the (famous blue) tiles sipping on local Douro wines in the Capela Incomum bar, a converted chapel. Finally disembark just in time for a breakfast of piping hot pastéis de natas at Lisbon’s original custard tart purveyor Pastéis de Belém.

From Lisbon it’s a speedy two and a half hour drive to the Algarve, so if that’s your destination, rent a car or jump on a coach to Lagoa.

Eurostar from London St Pancras to Lisbon from £269 (prices vary depending on season and availability).

Journey Essential:

This is a long train journey so bring several books to keep ennui at bay. Once you’ve finished Night Train to Lisbon, get stuck in to Hanya Yanagihara’s follow up to A Little Life, To Paradise. Yanagihara is not known for her brevity, so this should keep you going all the way to Portugal.

London to Greece

Athens (Getty Images)
Athens (Getty Images)

You might feel slightly like Odysseus embarking on his ten year odyssey back to Ithaca with this journey. But the crucial difference is that, instead of sea monsters and vengeful gods, the journey will be littered with white-sand beaches, ancient ruins and several tonnes of hummus. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.

To get to Athens from London the best and easiest route is to take the trusty Eurostar to Paris and from there to jump on an overnight train to Milan or Venice. From Milan you can catch a train to Bari on the Puglian coast and stay by the sea for a few days, slurping on ice cream and pasta before getting a ferry to Patras. In Patras the world (or ancient world) is your oyster, with ferries to a plethora of Greek islands or another train to Athens.

Without stopovers the whole journey takes about 48 hours - we recommend spending a night in Milan or Bari so you don’t look like an ancient ruin by the time you arrive. Vico MIlanois is the perfect, bijou pied-à-terre to crash in and is only a short walk from bustling Via Tortona, for a spot of last minute holiday shopping. Meanwhile in Bari, Palazzo Calò is a hop skip and a jump from the ferry and a stroll away from the beautiful old town.

Eurostar from London St Pancras to Bari from £148, ferry to Patras from £62 (prices vary depending on season and availability).

Journey Essential:

Leave your Sunday best at home for this journey and optimise ultimate comfort in a tracksuit and trainers like this sunshine yellow, retro style Wales Bonner x Adidas two piece. Keep any fruity body aromas at bay mid-journey with Diptyque’s Philosykos hand and body gel inspired by Greek fig groves. When the going gets tough, just close your eyes and take a whiff, you’ll be instantly transported to Mount Pelion...even though you’re technically still stuck in Dover.

London to Italy

Bari coast (Luisa Denu/ Unsplash)
Bari coast (Luisa Denu/ Unsplash)

There are many routes through Italy by train, you can either go the traditional London to Paris and Milan route, before heading to the coast or to the south. High speed trains will get you to Lake Como or Garda in a day, connecting via Paris or Lille and then Milan or Turin. From these industrial northern cities you can get anywhere easily, but it’s best to stay the night before whizzing down south to Amalfi, Florence or Umbria, after all Rome wasn’t built in a day (sorry).

Alternatively you have, what I like to call the scenic route, taking a ferry from Harwich to Rotterdam and then a train to Milan and onwards. Whether you take the fast or slow route, it’s imperative you take a day to sample some Piedmontese gastronomy; northern Italian cuisine is known for its Barolo wines, meaty dishes and nutty desserts, it is also the birthplace of nutella. It would be a crime not to stock up on the iconic, chocolate spread to bring home as “presents”.

Eurostar from St Pancras to Milan from £172. Ferry to Rotterdam from £106, train from Rotterdam to Milan from £42 (prices vary depending on season and availability).

Travel essential:

Even the strongest stomachs’ among us have occasionally been floored by the nausea-inducing swell of the sea, so prevent any wobbly sea-legs on the Harwich ferry by popping a Seaband Ginger Capsule an hour before setting off. Obviously, Italy is known for it’s mouthwatering olive oils, wines, biscuits, ice creams, pastas...I could go on, make sure you bring some roomy luggage to bring home your favourite treats. Floyd’s shell suitcases would do the job nicely and come in a selection of super cute pastel shades.

London to Spain

Barcelona (Shutterstock / Georgios Tsichlis)
Barcelona (Shutterstock / Georgios Tsichlis)

Once again, the best and easiest way to get to Spain is on the Eurostar to Paris and then a train to Barcelona; you’ll be there in a super speedy 10 hours. If you fancy getting away from the crowds you can also head to the beautiful mediaeval city of Girona or Figueres from Paris before speeding on down the coast to eat loads of carbs in Marbs.

To get to the Balearic islands just hop on a ferry from the harbour in Barcelona straight to Ibiza Old Town or Palma, you’ll be there in five hours. Whether you’re heading to the Costa Del Sol or Amnesia, conserve your energy by spending the night at the visually stunning Seventy Hotel, just a few minute’s walk from La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. Alternatively, hire a rental car and drive thirty minutes down the coast to Sitges. Known as the Saint Tropez of Spain, the coastal town is known for its higgledy-piggledy streets, artistic community and frenetic nightlife, beloved by the LGBTQ+ community. Stay for a few days and recharge on the beach before heading further afield, just make sure you order the paella at  El Trull before you leave, it might be the best thing you ever eat.

London Eurostar to Barcelona from £216. Ferry from Barcelona to Palma from £67.

Travel Essential:

Whatever route you plump for you can be sure you’ll pass at least one fiesta on the way, give even the dourest of travelling ensembles some va va voom with a lick of Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture Lipstick in Le Rouge. After an impromptu night at the discoteque banish a throbbing head with a Phizz Orange Multivitamin & Hydration tablet dissolved in your water.

Heathrow Airport has introduced a cap on passenger numbers this summer as the aviation sector struggles to cope with demand for travel (Adam Kent/PA) (PA Media)
Heathrow Airport has introduced a cap on passenger numbers this summer as the aviation sector struggles to cope with demand for travel (Adam Kent/PA) (PA Media)

What can you do if your flights get cancelled?

According to the Citizen’s Advice website, if your flight gets cancelled you have three options:

You can claim compensation if the delay is the airline’s fault if they have overbooked the plane or there was a technical fault. If the delay was caused by external forces like a terror threat or bad weather it is unlikely you will get compensation. To claim compensation visit the airline’s website and contact their customer services line.

You do not have to take your flight if it has been delayed over five hours. If you choose not to take the flight you are entitled to a full refund for the flight and any interconnecting flights. If you are already on your journey you are entitled to a free flight back home. The refund should be processed within seven days.

If you do take the flight you can claim up to £520 in compensation if the delay is the airline’s fault.

If your flight is cancelled

In this instance you have a legal right to a full refund or a replacement flight. Ask at the airport for a refund or a replacement flight or contact the airline’s customer services from home. If you opt for a replacement flight the airline is legally obliged to provide you with food and drink, phone and email access and accommodation until the flight.

What to do if your luggage is lost

You have the legal right to claim compensation from the airline if your checked-in luggage is delayed, lost or damaged. You only have the right to claim for a problem with cabin baggage if it’s the airline’s fault. If your luggage is delayed or missing, the airline has 21 days to find it and get it to you. If you get your luggage back within 21 days, you can still claim compensation for delayed luggage.

Contact details for major airlines serving Europe

British Airways: 0344 493 0787, @British_Airways

EasyJet: 0330 5515151, @easyJet

Ryanair: 0871 246 000, @askryanair

Head to the Citizens Advice website for further details.

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