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France is one of our favorite countries in Western Europe and living in London, we were able to hop on over for a French getaway. Once we even went just for the day, leaving London in the dark, early morning in our rental car, hopped on the car ferry and docked in France just after 9am, which gave us a full day to explore the country side, enjoy some French crepes and stock up on French cheese and wine.
Our favorite way to see France, however, is by train. With one of the best rail networks in Europe, France has over 32,000 kilometers of railway, and 14,000 trains running every day. The trains are comfy and fast, especially the TGV, France’s high speed train, which hits speeds over 300 kilometers per hour, and even at those speeds it is easier to relax and take in the scenery instead of maneuvering a car and paying expensive highway tolls. Not only is rail travel more comfortable, it is also pretty cheap – you can always find great deals for the TGV.
Here are our top five train routes in France:
Paris to Nice
The train ride from Paris to the Cote d’Azur in Southern France passes by some of the country’s most remarkable scenery, from the Rhone valley, quaint little villages dotting the countryside, and in the spring, the beautiful purple lavender fields in the Provence region, to the beaches of the Mediterranean. Many of the trains on this route are double-deck Duplex TGVs which offer the best views from the upper level.
Nimes to Clermont Ferrand
This 5.5-hour train journey takes you through the Cevennes, a mountain range in southern France, and with 106 tunnels and 1,300 bridges (including the 41-arch Chamborigaud Viaduct) it makes for a spectacular ride. Passengers can barely put their cameras down, thanks to the magnificent viaducts and bridges.The train connection has been built in 1870 – a notable construction achievement at the time. The Cevennes Railway is also known for its popular hiking path that follows the rails.
Villefranche to Latour de Carol
This train journey through the Pyrenees – the highest train tracks in France – is covered by Le Petit Train Jaune, a little yellow train that travel high up in the mountains. In the summer months open carriages are used which offer stunning mountain vistas and passengers can enjoy the impressive gorges, river valleys and viaducts along the way. The distance between Villefranche-de-Conflentand La Tour de Carol is only 63 kilometers long, but takes three hours – enough time to truly enjoy some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the way: the historical town of Villefranche and Mont Luis – we recommend you get off at these two stops and wander around the beautiful mountain town and France’s highest fortress.
Le Petit Train des Combes
Le Petit Train des Combes is also known as the Two Valleys train and still uses steam and diesel locomotives on a 60cm narrow gauge railway. The train operators between Les Combes and Le Creusot in the Burgundy region of France. During the 1.5 hour train ride passengers can enjoy scenic views of the town and the natural park it goes through.
Nice to Digne-Les-Bains
Even though this is a very touristy train ride, it is well worth the experience since the train passes through some of France’s most marvelous scenery. It starts in Nice on the Cote d’Azur and travels 3.5 hours up the Verdon Valley to an altitude of over 1000 meters. You start with palm trees in and around Nice, later on passing through the lavender fields, vineyards and finally steep-sided mountain valleys, before pulling into Digne-Les-Bains. Most of the stations along the way are the original ones from the beginning of the 20th century, when this rail line opened.
Have you taken train rides in France? We would love to hear your recommendations for train journeys in the comments below.