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VIDEO: 7 of the most beautiful train journeys in France

From Alpine valleys to the Mediterranean coastline via viaducts, gorges and vineyards - France boasts plenty of stunningly beautiful train journeys. Here's our pick of some of the most spectacular.

VIDEO: 7 of the most beautiful train journeys in France
Enjoy views of the Mediterranean coast as you travel by train. Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

There’s no doubt that train travel is having a bit of a moment, as travellers shun planes for the greener and more relaxing alternative of the railways – French rail operator SNCF has added an extra 500,000 seats to cope with soaring demand this summer.

With its high-speed TGV network, France is particularly good at train travel. But as well as being better for both the planet and your sense of adventure, railways have one extra advantage – great views.

Here’s our pick of seven breathtaking rail journeys in France that will show you way train travel is still the best travel.

The Côte d’Azur

A – very affordable – train journey along the coast of the Côte d’Azur is one of the great French travel experiences – the train hugs the cliffs on one side, as the sea laps against the coast on the other. 

Head from Marseille to Nice – and perhaps on to Monaco, Menton and Italy – on the Marseille-Ventimiglia line – passing through the glamorous Riviera resorts of Cannes and Antibes, as well as Juan-les-Pins, and Villefranche-sur-Mer and Cap d’Ail if you opt to head towards the Italian border.

La Ligne des Hirondelles

This two-and-a-half hour, 123 km journey between Dole and Saint-Claude in eastern France on a typically comfortable TER train passes far too quickly.

It goes through the forest of Chaux, the Jura vineyards, the valley of Grandvaux, the Valley of Bienne… not to mention crossing 36 tunnels and 18 viaducts.

A joy from start to finish.

La Ligne de Cerdagne

If you haven’t heard of the train jaune, you’re in for a thoroughly pleasant surprise.

A true emblem of the south west, the yellow train travels the heights of the Pyrénées-Orientales through forests, chasms, gorges, viaducts, past old fortresses and a precariously perched monastery on a 63k m picture-postcard journey between Villefranche-de-Conflent and Latour-de-Carol, nearly 1,600m above sea level.

Two types of trains operate on this route, a modern enclosed train as well as an older historic train that sometimes runs with open carriages when mountain weather allows.

Le train de Montenvers

Not to be outdone by those upstarts in the Pyrenees, the Alps has the bright red train de Montenvers, which climbs from the Chamonix valley around Mont Blanc, before stopping at the Mer de Glaces all year round.

In winter, you can watch skiers doing their thing on the slopes. In summer, the stunning scenery will just have to do…

La Ligne des Cévennes

The 304 km journey from Clermont-Ferrand to Nîmes never looked so good, passing through astonishing landscape including the spectacular Gorges de l’Allier and the peaceful Cévennes national park.

The train route also crosses numerous equally astonishing 19th-century bridges and viaducts – including the twin curved 433m Chapeauroux Viaduct, and the 409m Chamborigaud Viaduct.

Le Mastrou

The age of steam still has the power to get rail travel lovers all emotional.

The 130-year-old Le Mastrou train travels from Tournon-Saint Jean through the stunning Ardèche landscape, crosses the Gorges du Doux for a relaxing lunch in the picturesque town of Lamastre in the mountains. 

Interloire

One for cyclists – the link between Orléans and Le Croisic, on the Atlantic coast, cuts through the painfully pretty Loire Valley and passes through Nantes and Angers, following the Loire à Vélo path. In summer, cycles can be safely stored for the journey in a dedicated wagon.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work. 

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