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Can the Best of France be Done Strictly by Train?

Can the Best of France be Done Strictly by Train?

Mar 11th, 1999, 11:47 AM
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Can the Best of France be Done Strictly by Train?

I have just begun to dive into my research for a September trip to France and Italy! After doing a preliminary review of places in France that sound interesting (a big thanks for the wonderful posts on this site!), I am beginning to wonder how I am going to get from one place to another in an efficient manner. After looking at some train schedules on the SNCF site, it appears that I will have to backtrack a lot, as well as spend considerable amount of time on the train. I was looking to start in Paris, then do Loire Valley, Dordogne, Burgandy, Provence, and the French Alps (not sure in what order). I also was trying to end my stay in France as close at possible to Italy, since that's where I'll be heading next. I have about 10 days for France and I know that I might need to pare down the schedule. Any suggestions would be highly appreciated. Thank you in advance!
Mar 11th, 1999, 02:09 PM
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Unlike Italy, the French trains are very expensive.
Mar 11th, 1999, 03:30 PM
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First bit of advice: buy a Frenchrail pass. You'll save money, because as the previous poster said, French trains are expensive.
Secondly, the most efficient route seems to be Paris via TGV to Tours (Loire Valley) then via TGV to Bordeaux (Dordogne Valley) then to Lyon (from there head toward Geneva and stop somewhere), back to Lyon and on to Nice which is about 15mins from the Italian border. The absolutely most efficient way to hit everything is land in Lausanne, TGV train to Dijon (Burgundy), TGV to Paris,TGV to Tours, TGV to Bordeaux, regular train to Lyon, then Nice.
In order to do this much in 10 days, you'll need to plan very, very carefully. French trains are very efficient, and the TGV trains burn up the tracks (the Frenchrail pass saves money, as these train tickets are very expensive to buy point-to-point, but they are 'free' with the rail pass - less a reservation fee of a few dollars.)
My suggestion would be to go from Paris to Tours (visit Amboise and call it the Loire Valley tour), then to Bordeaux (all by TGV) and take a train to Perigeux (trains to Les Eyzies, Rocamadour, Sarlat), then to Lyon (see the Alps in the distance)and then straight to Nice. Minimum train travel, and you'll be able to spend time seeing stuff. Paris is MINIMUM three days to really enjoy it; the Dordogne Valley is another three days; Nice/Provence is another three...there's your 10 days.
France is the same size as Texas; a lot of territory to cover in 10 days. Oh yeah the trains may be efficient, but the French go on strike for no apparent reason on the spur of the moment. This shuts down trains for a day or two, which screws up any tight itineraries. Shrug your shoulders and rearrange your plans. Sangfroid, ma chere!
Mar 12th, 1999, 05:17 AM
Neal Sanders
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Barbara, trains will limit you to France's principal cities, with the rest of the country just a blur outside of the window. And, for parts of the trip, you're looking at the underside of France -- the main line through Orange and Avignon down to Marseilles, for example, goes through some fairly gritty industrial landscapes.

By all means use the TGV to get from Paris to Bordeaux or Lyon. As Elvira accurately points out, France is the size of Texas. But once you get to any non-Paris destination, pick up a car. You can't see the Pont de Garde or Les Baux otherwise. Also, you'll miss the smaller cities that are ill-served by rail (Aix en Provence comes to mind).

Moreover, France has a superb system of back roads (those yellow and white lines on a Michelin map) that offer wonderful views of the countryside. Some of my best memories of France (as well as of Italy) are exploring those back roads.

I wouldn't worry about navigating; roads are exceptionally well marked and a good map will show you how to get back to where you want to go if you make a wrong turn.
Mar 12th, 1999, 06:15 AM
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I agree with the previous poster - a combo of rail and drive works great in either country. You can purchase a rail/drive pass for France, which is a great value, and the car pick-up is right at the train station. Unfortunately Italy doesn't have such a combo, but train fares are so inexpensive there that you can buy point to point and pre-arrange car rentals where needed (primarily Tuscany, I think - other areas are easy to visit by train).
Mar 12th, 1999, 06:47 AM
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Thank you so much everyone for some great suggestions. I have literally spent hours analyzing this using the SNCF timetables, maps, etc. and am going nuts. My husband is very hesitant to get a car - we had such a successful trip using a Swiss pass last year. However, the more I hear from you all, the more I am convinced that a car/rail combo might be the best option. Can you pick up and drop off diffent cars multiple times at multiple stations without reservations? This sounds expensive and time consuming too! YIKES!! Italy sounds like it will be no problem - rail passes for sure. Thanks again for all the great tips, I highly appreciate it.
Mar 12th, 1999, 10:48 AM
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It seems sacreligious to suggest but look at the Rick Steves books next time you are in the bookstore and check out his website. He does a lot of travel by rail and has a newsletter with lots of rail info. Have fun!

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