Travel: €10 tickets go on sale for France’s new slow train service

Some 60,000 tickets have been snapped up for SNCF's two-year trial of low-cost slow train services between Paris and Lyon and Paris and Nantes, which started running on Monday.

A train at Paris Austerlitz railway station
Ouigo Classique services will operate between Paris Austerlitz and Lyon (Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP)

The Paris-Nantes route offers three daily return trips, for a travel time of between 3 hours 30 minutes and 4 hour 15, compared with 2 hours 20 on a TGV.

The Paris-Lyon route, meanwhile, has two daily round trips, with a travel time of between 4 hours 45 and 5 hours 15, compared to two hours by TGV.

Tickets for the trial Ouigo Classique service cost between €10 and €30 – and €5 for under-12s – and are being offered as an ultra low-price alternative to Inoui and Ouigo TGV services.

And tens of thousands of tickets have already been snapped up, as travellers with time to kill took advantage of the low prices, suggesting that there are many people out there who are happy to take a little extra time to travel from A to B if they are able to do so.

SNCF has said the trial will run for two years, after which it will decide whether to continue the service.

READ ALSO OPINION: France’s ‘slow train’ revolution may just be the future for travel

In return for the ability to enjoy more of the French countryside for longer, passengers on the slow, low-frills service will travel on older Corail trains, which date back to the 1980s. They have been given a fresh coat of pink paint and spruced up inside, but have not been modernised.

This means that there are few electrical outlets and no wifi, so it’s probably not an ideal mode of transport for commuters or business travellers. On the other hand, those on a budget and with time on their hands may find it very useful.

And SNCF Voyageurs subsidiary Oslo, which is running the new venture, has promised to look again at interior renovation if the services prove a success.

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What to know when visiting France’s lavender fields this summer

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year. Here is what you need to know about visiting them:

What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the French region where the fields can be found. Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside of Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Even the washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were referred to as les lavandières in France. 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses – as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is even an AOP (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) in France. 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August. However, depending on the weather, especially if there is a drought or hotter temperatures, the lavender might flower sooner than normal, which is likely the case for this year.

This is unfortunately also a side effect of climate change, which might be pushing up the lavender flowering season.

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provencal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

Sault is perhaps a bit less known, partially because due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a bit later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a bit of a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields.