An expanded network, a new lounge in Paris and reliable, stress-free rail services make planning MICE excursions on the continent easier than ever
Depart London on an early Eurostar service and you could make a 9am meeting in Paris or eat bouillabaisse in Marseille for lunch. Nipping under the Channel is increasingly compelling for events and incentives organisers. And with short check-in times, low-key security, generous luggage allowances and free wi-fi, Eurostar is more efficient than flying. If you want to hold a brainstorming session en route, you can book clusters of seats together. Book a whole carriage and you’re free to brand it up and rewrite the information boards with personalised messages.
Move between London and Paris in Business Premier to access a stylish new lounge, opened in February, which serves free G&Ts plus canapés by Raymond Blanc. It also has semi-private booths overlooking the Gare du Nord concourse where you can hold intimate powwows.
Most importantly, connectivity across Europe has improved. Unveiled in July, a £6bn high-speed line from Paris Montparnasse has cut the journey time to Bordeaux to just over two hours on double-decker TGV Océane trains. This means that in just under six hours, delegates from London can be wine-tasting in Bordeaux. Cleverly, 90 per cent of the seats on these trains can swivel to face the direction of travel, or the person you are speaking to.
By the end of the year, Eurostar is to launch a route from Paris to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, with twice-daily services to begin in Easter 2018. A direct Eurostar link to Marseille was inaugurated in summer 2015.
Eurostar’s new fleet of e320 trains whizz back and forth to Brussels and Paris, and are set to serve the Dutch capital when that comes online. Below we take you on a whistle-stop tour of destinations.
Just under 90 minutes from London with up to 10 daily services, Lille is a convenient northern France stop-off. The Swam complex in the Euralille district, opening soon, will feature restaurants, shops and a hotel from boutique brand Mama Shelter. The Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art should be on every itinerary. Just 20 minutes outside the city by train is the recently restored Villa Cavrois, with 830sq m of terraces, which is available for exclusive and select hire.
The Dutch capital will soon be reachable direct in four hours. Its trendy new hotels include the Hoxton and Zoku, plus the Hyatt Regency and the W. In 2020, Maritim is to open a conference hotel with 579 rooms and event space for 5,000 delegates. Elsewhere, the A’dam Toren entertainment and hospitality hub (behind Centraal station) houses a hotel, Butcher social club, function space for 600 people, rotating restaurant Moon, and the Lookout observation deck – with Europe’s highest swing.
It’ll take just over three hours to reach the Netherlands’ number two city. We’d start at the new 230-room Room Mate Bruno, set in the Dutch East India Company’s old warehouses. For group events, Citizen M has design-led meeting rooms. A highlight of this port city is the 11,000sq m indoor Markthal, with the world’s largest artwork on its ceiling. There are three bookable venues here: Arabia restaurant can seat 45 people, and 100 could gather on the roof terrace for drinks.
Brussels is a reliable hub for the business and meetings industry, and just two hours from London by Eurostar. Key venues include Brussels Expo and the Square, while more unusual locations for hire include former mansion the Belvue Museum and the new Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art, which opened last spring in a converted canalside brewery. The former has a glass-roofed atrium ideal for day events and a garden for summer, while the latter is good for seminars and networking mixers.
In addition to trips to countless chateaux and vineyards (from Chateau Lafite Rothschild to Margaux), groups can now add an excursion to the £63m Cité du Vin viticulture museum, which opened last year. It’s expected to attract 450,000 visitors a year to dazzling interactive exhibits, wine shops with more than 800 vintages and numerous spaces for hire. In the Unesco-listed old town, restaurants such as Garopapilles and Côté Rue craft creative haute cuisine in minimalist settings.
A four-hour, 40-minute journey from London, the five-star Villa Maïa opened in March. It has 37 rooms and suites, as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant Têtedoie. The Musée des Confluences has a rooftop terrace with views of the Alps and two million artefacts, including a 1,000-year-old Peruvian mummy. The old docklands also has La Sucrière, an old sugar factory now used for concerts, exhibitions and large-scale corporate gatherings. It’s easy to escape the city for beaujolais wine tours.
According to the International Congress and Convention Association, the French capital is the top destination for international conferences. It’s also superlative for luxury. The Ritz and Hotel de Crillon have recently reopened after renovation, and 12 restaurants (including Le George and L’Orangerie at the Four Seasons Hotel George V). The hotel itself has a 465sq m ballroom, private dining rooms and a 50,000-bottle wine cellar that can be taken over for prestigious events.
Since being Capital of Culture in 2013, Marseille (six-and-a-half hours from London) has seen major urban renewal. The Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean is near the harbour and surrounded by pedestrian plazas. It has a 400-seat lecture theatre, fine-dining restaurant and courtyard. Two pedestrian bridges connect to historical Fort Saint-Jean. Across the way, Villa Méditerranée has a cantilevered 760sq m exhibition floor and underwater auditorium for film screenings.
Illustration Stephanie von Reiswitz
Now check out our full guide to international events in Brussels