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TRAIN TRAVEL

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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TOURISM

How to find cheap train tickets in France

Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see France - even with a mandatory mask on. Here - from railcards to sales - is how you can make it even better by cutting the cost of your ticket.

A blue high-speed Ouigo low-cost TGV train arriving at  de l'Est railway station in Paris, with the the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the background
From cheap services to railcards, here's how to save money on train travel. Photo: Joel Saget / AFP

Railcards are the most common way to cut the cost of a ticket. In some cases, the card can even pay for itself in one journey. France’s rail operator SNCF has a range of cards available for everyone from impoverished students to regular business travellers with an expenses account to burn.

But if you’re not a regular traveller there are also a range of offers plus cheaper services to opt for.

Let’s start with the railcards.

Liberté card

This one’s really for business travellers, who use the TGV or Ouigo and Intercite trains regularly. And it comes with a price to match – €399 for a year. This guarantees cardholders 60 percent off SNCF’s Business Première fares when travelling standard class, and  45 percent off Business Première fares when travelling 1st class. Plus, there’s between 25 percent and 50 percent off TER fares in certain regions, and it’s valid for use in other European countries.

Forfait pass

Effectively a season ticket, this one’s for commuters who regularly use TGV INOUI or Intercité services to get to work. Prices vary based on how much you travel, and you can get annual, monthly or weekly passes. Click here for a calculation of how much you will have to pay.

Avantage Senior 60+ card

SNCF relatively recently rebranded its railcards under the Avantage umbrella. If you’re aged 60 or over and travel occasionally with TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER in France, you will save 30 percent on first and standard class travel, for an annual fee of €49. And there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

In fact, standard fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when you book. And that’s on top of a 30 percent guaranteed discount on 1st- and standard-class train tickets. 

You’re guaranteed affordable fares, even at the last minute. They’re currently capped as follows:

  • €39 or less for a short journey (under 90 minutes)
  • €59 or less for a medium-length journey (between 90 minutes and three hours)
  • €79 or less for the longest journey (over three hours)

Plus, there are savings on food and drink prices on the train – as well as other perks that are worth looking into.

Avantage Adulte Card

If you’re aged 27-59 and take TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER trains often, it’s worth looking into the Avantage Adulte card – which has replaced the Avantage Weekend and Avantage Famille cards – because you’ll save 30 percent on first and standard class tickets for the annual €49 fee.

Discounts extend to accompanying adults, and there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

As with the Senior card, standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Avantage Jeune Card

For anyone aged 12 to 27, the Avantage Jeune card will save you 30 percent on TGV Inoui and Intercité services that require booking for the annual €49 fee.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Other ways to save money

If you’re not a regular travellers and don’t want a railcard, there are other ways to save money when travelling.

Ouigo trains

SNCF’s low-cost TGV service offers high-speed cut-price travel in and out of Paris to 17 French destinations. There are drawbacks though, the trains have fewer on-board services and some of them only go to stations close to a city, rather than the city-centre station – so it’s worth checking when you book exactly where you will end up.

Children under 12 years of age can travel for €5 all year long, or €8 to or from a station in Paris.

Railcards are valid on Ouigo trains, cutting ticket prices further.

Happy Hour

Be aware of last-minute ‘Happy Hour’ deals on available on select days for selected Intercité trains to a selection of destinations around France. You could save up to 50 percent on ticket prices. And, yes, railcards are valid.

Ticket sales

Watch out, too, for announcements of when tickets are available for sale. From November 3rd, for example, rail tickets are available up to March 27, 2022 – and up to July 2, 2022, for Inoui tickets.

Early booking may get you a good deal, and SNCF offers regular deals particularly around peak travel times such as summer and Christmas. Downloading the SNCF app will get you advance notification of sales.

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