THE JOURNEY: Eurostar currently operates seven services return a day from Brussels to London and goes up to eight a day from December 11. The journey takes from 1hr 53 minutes. My particular train was due to leave at 15:56 and arrive at 16:57 but was delayed so arrived 30 minutes late.
CHECK-IN: I had decided to do the 25-minute walk from the centre of Brussels to Midi Station, which was fine except that most pavements are cobbled (so my trolley bag took quite a bashing) and I would recommend taking a taxi if arriving or departing at night as the area immediately around the station is a hang-out for drunks and drug users. The Eurostar terminal is at one end of the busy station. There was no queue for luggage security screening, where I had to remove my laptop from my bag (but hadn’t on the outward leg from London). There was a short queue for customs. Passengers go through Belgian customs and then through UK passport control, with e-gates available.
THE LOUNGE: Business Premier passengers have access to an airport-style lounge, entered through automatic sliding tinted glass doors, which make it feel exclusive. My e-ticket was checked at the welcome desk. I saw one woman, who had joined a colleague, politely asked to leave as she wasn’t booked into the right class. I left my trolley bag in a storage space opposite the reception desk and noticed there were also tiny lockers to leave valuables. There was a good selection of magazines and newspapers to choose from in various languages.
The lounge was quite full but I found a seat and then helped myself to tea and a bowl of vegetable crisps. There were also fridges with cold drinks, a selection of chilled wines, apples, other salty snacks and some biscuits. There were only two ladies toilets (and a very heavy door that everyone seemed to struggle with) and no soap – only hand cream and sanitiser gel. My seat had a power point and a small airline-style side table, separating me from my neighbour. The lounge was a mix of single seats, seats around tables and bar stalls at long bar-style tables.
THE BOARDING: An announcement in French, English and Flemmish told us our train was delayed and then, around 30 minutes later, told us it was ready for boarding. We then joined the end of the queue of other passengers who had been waiting in the main lounge. As I approached my carriage (1) my ticket was checked agin and I was politely invited to board and turn left. I left my bag in a storage area by the door and found my seat, number 55.
THE SEAT: The Business Premier carriage has single seats on one side and on the other a mixture of tables for four or pairs of seats. Mine was a single seat with a large fold away table, a decent-sized pocket for valuables, a coat hook and a tiny mirror behind a discreet cover. Most importantly it had a power point (European style plug or USB), which I was surprised to notice isn’t the case in Standard class.
THE SERVICE: The train crew were excellent, especially Sebastian who had a very good sense of humour (picked up from living in Britain for 28 years, apparently). Soon after we left Brussels I was offered an apéritif and opted for white wine and couldn’t decide between the Cote de Rhone and the Sauvignon (in miniatures) so Sebastien insisted I tried both. I was offered a bag of nuts, which turned out to be mainly dried fruit. Dinner, served on trays, started with a couscous and olive salad and a bread roll, followed by a choice of hot chicken in tarragon and tomato with potato gratin and shredded greens or cold chicken with potato salad. I went for the hot option and it was piping hot. I was a bit disappointed (from a sustainability standpoint) that water was in small plastic bottles.
FOR BUSINESS: The fold-down table was plenty big enough for my MacBook and it was handy to have the pocket to store my glasses case and phone (and my miniature bottles of wine!). The Wi-Fi was intermittent and didn’t work at all in the tunnel, which I guess is to be expected. When I arrived in the UK I found it was best to switch off the Wi-Fi and use the 4G.
THE VERDICT: Definitely more relaxing and productive than taking a plane, with very little queueing and no anxiety about my carry-on toiletries being over 100ml or whether my bag would fit in the overhead locker. It’s a shame, however, that Brussels Midi isn’t as swanky as Kings Cross St Pancreas, where I’d enjoyed browsing the shops and all the dining option on my outward journey. Most importantly (apart from the plastic bottle of water*) I felt good about my lower carbon footprint.
DETAILS: Business Premier is £490 return. eurostar.com
* In response to the use of plastic water bottles on board, Eurostar Head of On Board Services, Andy Robinson, said: “As an international high-speed rail operator we are the greener way to go and have always been passionate about taking our environmental responsibilities further, particularly when it comes to our on board service.
“The need to quickly introduce new hygiene measures during the pandemic presented quite a challenge, but our commitment to reducing waste and plastics on board has not waivered. Replacing all of the plastic cups and water bottles represents a big milestone for us, and we have not reached our end goal yet. We are meticulously going through the materials we use on board and constantly challenging ourselves to do better.”