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Are these the 11 best train journeys to take in France?

France is renowned for its train services and also its spectacular and beautiful scenery so one of the best ways to enjoy the country is to combine the two. We've picked out 11 of the best train journeys in France.

Are these the 11 best train journeys to take in France?
Le Train Jaune. Photo: AFP

The Train of Wonders

“How to spend an unforgettable day? Take the Train des Merveilles,” said one commenter on the TripAdvisor site.

Le Train des Merveilles, which literally translates to The Train of Wonders, begins at Nice in the south east of France, and runs inland to the village of Tende, north east of the Riviera resort.

The train ride is distinguished by a succession of viaducts, overhanging canyons and countless tunnels dug through the mountains.

At a cost of €16 for one person and then a further €10 for anybody else in the same group, passengers will pass by Breil-sur-Roya, a small village bordered by the river Roya just a few kilometres from the Italian boarder, the medieval village of Saorge, home of the seventeenth century Saorge monastery, and finally, the medieval fortified city of Tende, where you can visit the Musée des Merveilles, which translates to the Museum of Wonders.

The museum houses a collection that dates back to the Stone Age as well as other historic artefacts from the Mercantour National Park. 

Photo: Train des Merveilles website

The highest train route in Europe

In the south west of France near the Spanish border, the Artouste train ride follows the highest route in Europe at almost 2,000 metres high.

And it's certainly an unusual route to boot, with passengers required to take a gondola to reach the station in the Ossau Valley, where the train departs. 

Once there, you can hop on one of the train's colourful red and yellow open-air carriages for a 55 minute magical train ride with spectacular views over the valley of Soussouéou. 

During the journey, you'll even be able to spot the Pic du Midi d'Ossau — one of the most distinctive peaks in the French Pyrenees which stands at 2,884 metres high.

Finally, before heading back, a 20 minute walk along a path from where the train stops will give way to a panoramic view of the Lac d'Artouste which is situated 1,997 metres above sea level.

This train route was originally built to facilitate the construction of the dam at the Lac d'Artouste back in 1920 and started taking passengers in 1932. 

Tickets cost around €25. For more information you can check out the official website


El #Tren más alto de Europa #Pirineos #artouste

A post shared by Ximena Medina (@xilimeme) on Jul 14, 2018 at 8:01am PDT

Take a train ride in Belle Epoque style

Fancy taking a steam train ride along the stunning Baie de Somme? If so, this is the train ride for you. 

The 27 kilometer Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme train ride runs along a beautiful bay on the Picardy Coast in the north of France, with the English Channel on one side and salt marshes on the other.

Passengers will discover the area's popular towns of Cayeux-sur-Mer, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Le Crotoy, as well as enjoy wonderful views of the diverse landscape.

The train itself will take you back in time with its Belle Époque design and it’s even possible to dine on-board on weekends from May to September.

Photo: Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme website

Le Train des Pignes (or the Train of Pine Kernels) takes passengers from the southern French city of Nice to the picturesque mountain village of Dignes-les-Bains. 
The journey, which lasts three and a half hours, offers spectacular views over the Provencal Alps and its name comes from the scented pine forests that the train passes through on its trip.
A one way ticket will set you back €23.30.

Journey through the French Alps

Departing from Chamonix in the French Alps, this famous railway takes you to the Montenvers site, home to the France's largest glacier, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice).

The Montenvers Railway was the first custom built tourist attraction in the Chamonix valley and started operating in 1908.

The funicular railway makes its way up the sides of the Aiguilles de Chamonix to an altitude of 1,913 metres.

Photo: Montenvers train website

The 5.3 km long Panoramique des Domes railway allows passengers access to the very top of the Puy-de-Dome, the highest volcano in the Chaîne des Puys region of Massif Central in central France.
The Auvergne range is situated west of the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand, and has only recently been granted a UNESCO World Heritage status.
The train, which runs all year round, takes you to the top of the volcano from the foot in just 15 minutes.
Prices vary throughout the year, with return tickets from June 15th to September 15th costing €14.30.

The Vapeur du Trieux train ride in north west region of Brittany takes passengers on a journey through the Valley of Trieux between the towns of Paimpol and Pontrieux.

For about €23, passengers pass by some beautiful scenery, including the Penhoat Forest, the Roche Jagu Castle, and the Frynaudour Bridge.

And there are plenty of activities to take part in at the train's various stops, including mini boat trips along the Trieux River, visiting the Roche Jagu Castle with its 73-hectare park, and attending exhibitions and workshops at the Traou Nez manor on the banks of the Trieux River.


A taste of the south

The little known train journey from the city sometimes to referred to as the French Rome, Nimes to Le Grau-du-Roi, a resort on the French Mediterranean coast, is the perfect way to experience some of the best elements of the south of France all from the comfort of your carriage. 

Make sure you time your journey well and you'll see luscious vineyards, the medieval city walls of Aigues-Mortes and the stunning natural landscape of the Camargue. 

A train passing by the medieval city walls of Aigues-Mortes. Photo: Florian Pépellin/Wikicommons

Discover Corsica by rail

If you happen to be in Corsica and want to see more of the island, a great way to do that is to take a cross island train ride.

There are several interesting routes, however a trip from the city of Bastia in the north east to the capital Ajaccio in the west takes a little under three hours and costs about €21.

The line was the first line of the Corsica train network to be built back in 1878, and the journey takes you through the mountains, with no shortage of spectacular views. 

Those who prefer the sea however should opt for the line from Calvi to Ajaccio, where the train runs along the coast and crosses the white sand beaches of the island of Rousse.

The Red Train

Le Train Rouge or the Red Train is 100 years old and connects the Mediterranean with the Pyrenees along a route that stretches from the town of Axat in the southern Occitanie region of France with Rivesaltes in the Pyrenees.

The route comes with commentary and takes in an extraordinary range of landscapes, including vineyards, valleys, deserts, and forests.

Passengers can also choose to visit the villages on the route, including the picturesque Espira de l'Agly, Cases-de-Pène, Estagel and Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet.

Photo: Le Train Rouge website

The Ligne de Cerdagne is a triumph of engineering. Built in 1903 the gauge railway serves some of the high cantons of the Pyrenees in the high Cerdagne valley.
The line usually referred to as the Train Jaune (Yellow Line) is 63 kilometres long and climbs to 1,593 metres at Bolquère-Eyne – the highest railway station in France.
The line serves 22 stations and there are 19 tunnels and two bridges along the way. Take the train while you can as its future is in doubt.
The views aren't bad either. The train traverses many bridges and viaducts and offers dramatic views of national parks and historic walled cities, best viewed from the open-air carriages. Tickets can be bought on the SNCF website.
Photo: AFP

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France to expand low-cost Ouigo train services

France's train operator SNCF has announced the expansion of its budget Ouigo services, while creating a new 'pink Ouigo' with a maximum price of €30 for any journey.

France to expand low-cost Ouigo train services

SNCF, which recently celebrated 40 years of the high-speed TGV train, is now focused on developing a more recent innovation: its budget offer. The low-cost Ouigo trains were first launched in 2013 as a cheaper alternative to the TGV, and have already transported 70 million passengers.

New destinations

SNCF hopes the low-cost service will account for 25 percent of high-speed traffic by 2025, and that means bringing the Ouigo to new destinations, it announced on Thursday.

From 2023, the Ouigo will connect Brest (via Saint-Brieuc, Guingamp and Morlaix) and Quimper to the centre of Paris, while Perpignan too will serve the capital.

La Rochelle will also get a low-cost service to central Paris from Friday to Monday. “This offer will be strengthened during the summer holidays, and will serve Poitiers, Niort and Surgères,” the group said.

SNCF has promised even more destinations from 2025 thanks to the addition of up to 12 new trains.

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Low cost, low speed

SNCF also announced on Thursday the creation of the “Ouigo vitesse classique” (Ouigo classic speed) – trains which will take longer and serve more stops than regular Ouigos. They will use old Corail trains, currently used on many TER and Intercité lines, painted pink to differentiate them from the blue high-speed Ouigo.

Starting next spring, the trains will link 14 destinations across two lines: two different Paris-Nantes routes, both serving Paris Austerlitz; and a Paris-Lyon service starting at Paris Bercy.

The new ‘classic speed’ Ouigo routes. Graphic: SNCF.

The low prices will however come at a different kind of cost.

The Paris-Nantes line, which will see three return trips every day, is estimated to take between three-and-a-half and four-and-a-quarter hours, compared to two to two-and-a-half hours on TGV trains. The Paris-Lyon line, running twice a day in each direction, is set to take between four-and-three-quarters and five-and-a-quarter hours, compared to just two hours on the TGV.

The idea is to attract customers away from cars and long-distance coaches by offering low prices which never change right up until departure.

Prices will start at €10 and go no higher than €30, while children under 12 will pay €5 as is already the case on high-speed lines. Tickets will only be available to book 45 days before departure, compared to nine months for high-speed Ouigo tickets.

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Passengers will also have the possibility of paying extra for bike storage, or extra luggage, and since journey times are longer there will be on-board catering.

The airline model

SNCF has also chosen to adopt a new options-based offer on all of its Ouigo services, similar to those used by low-cost airlines.

The operator has announced that from October 6th, passengers will be able to choose between “Ouigo essentiel”, which will include one cabin bag and hand luggage, or paying €7 extra for “Ouigo Plus”, which adds the possibility of choosing your seat, access to wifi and a selection of multimedia content, and priority boarding. This option will apply to trains running from December 12th, and children under 12 will be offered Ouigo Plus at no extra cost.

You will also be able to select any of the optional extras on their own. The option to choose year seat was introduced earlier this year, and SNCF says almost a quarter of passengers chose to pay extra for this over the summer.