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Trains in South of France.

  • 16 December 2022
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Just starting research for a few days in the South of France, and would like to get as close to some of the smaller old towns by rail.  Is there a site where I can access a list (or legible map) of rail stations throughout the region?

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Best answer by Schelte 16 December 2022, 21:22

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Userlevel 6
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You can see a sort of schematic map of the TER Sud on their site: https://www.ter.sncf.com/sud-provence-alpes-cote-d-azur/se-deplacer/carte-reseau though the Wikipedia-map might be more helpful.

If by South of France you also mean Occitanie or Nouvelle Aquitaine, they have their own maps. Regions are responsible for the regional trains in France (even though they are run by SNCF) and they publish each their own map.

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Thank you, very helpful.  Would be easier if I could find an English version, but think I’ve got most of what I need.  

Userlevel 6
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I don't see these maps in English, sorry. Press on the "Voire la carte" or "telecharger le plan" buttons to download pdf maps.

 

You do have a map of the whole French network on the supposedly English speaking site (notice the "en" in the URL) of the network manager (SNCF Reseau), but that specific page is in French too: https://www.sncf-reseau.com/en/carte/carte-reseau-ferre-en-france. This map provides no information on services, just on the rail network - might still be useful though in that case the interactive and English openrailwaymap.org might be more practical.

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Thanks again!

Userlevel 7
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Do you have already an idea of where you'll start from?

The coastline between Montpellier and Perpignan is quite interesting. The bigger cities are nice too, as is Nîmes. Unique landscape, with a lot of salt marshes "Étangs" or ponds. Quite some quaint little towns to find along there, combined with unique nature and bathing facilities. Quite accessible by rail (like Sète, Agde, Port Nouvelle,...) 

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Just starting research.  We Fly into Zurich (early May) and will have about 9 days to get a cruise out of Venice.  Was planning on some Tuscan travel, but we have seen a bit of Tuscany so trying to get some time in Southeast France.  Prefer to travel by train, but will consider a short flight.  First look is at Nice, and where we can get from there.  Really like the old villages and beautiful mountains.  

Absolutely willing to consider all options, got 4 months to figure this out.  

As an additional note:  I will be 77 when we travel, fit enough to do it by train, but not willing to rent a car in a foreign country, even if they would allow.  We just returned from 3 weeks visiting Christmas markets, and logged over 130 miles on foot, which is what we generally prefer.

Thanks,

Userlevel 7
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Oh, plenty of options by train in the direction of South East France by train from Switzerland. Head to Genève (plenty of trains between Zürich and Genève) , and take a TGV towards the south. You'll be able to make it almost directly to cities like Nice, Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes, Montpellier, Narbonne, Perpignan and all smaller towns in between them, from Genève

It might be a bit too early to see train connections in France for May, it's usually open for booking 3 months in advance. To get an indication of the travel times just pick a date a couple of days or weeks in advance. Best use local planners like SNCF connect or the Swiss SBB CFF FFS website. The Eurail planner is often wrong and gets minimal updates. 

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Great stuff, Thank You!

Userlevel 7
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Also: IN FR only the ´superfast´ TGV-which are only that fast if they run on the special hi-speed tracks, need to RES(10 or 20€ to pay for that), but on the main lines in the south there-mostly along the coast, the local/regional TER trains run ev 1 or 2 hrs and cannot even be RES. It would be best to visit those towns that are along the main coastal line, as other smaller towns can have a very bad-till just 1train/day, service, or only from 1 direction. ><f.e. Carcassonne, also known for its old roman age buildings. Think of Valence, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Nimes, Beziers, MOntpellier, Perpignan.

For Provence scenery: there is also the CP-line, CH. de Fer de Province, ends in Nice and starts from near Digne-this is NOT SNCF and hence does NOT take passes, but as senior you get at least 25% discount-just show ID.

Userlevel 6
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Oh, plenty of options by train in the direction of South East France by train from Switzerland. Head to Genève (plenty of trains between Zürich and Genève) , and take a TGV towards the south. You'll be able to make it almost directly to cities like Nice, Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes, Montpellier, Narbonne, Perpignan and all smaller towns in between them, from Genève

The connections between Switzerland and the South of France are not great. To get from Geneva to the South on a TGV, you’d have to first take a regional train to Lyon - or you could head from Zürich to Mulhouse (22 minutes from Basel on a regional train) which has direct connections to Marseille and Nice too. The fastest way to reach Nice specifically from Zürich is probably via Italy, with a direct Eurocity to Milan, then an intercity to Ventimiglia and then one of the frequent hour-long regional trains to Nice via Monaco.

You could also head south from Geneva on regional trais. It’s quite a journey along the French alps, all in regional trains - but there might be some nice villages to stop for a day. It’s supposed to be a scenic route according to my rail map (https://www.europeanrailtimetable.eu/rail-map-europe-3rd-edition-revised-folded-1111-p.asp - this map unfortunately doesn’t show all stops and the South of France is only on the less detailed map).

Overall, there are plenty of places to see in that broad area - either in Switzerland, the North of Italy (Torino, Genua, Lago Maggiore, also nearer to Venice: Verona, Vicenza,... ), the French Provence (Nice, Cannes, Grasse, various coastal towns, ...), it’s really up to what you feel like doing. I don’t think not renting a car would be an issue, plenty of places that can be reached by train.

I would suggest not heading too far south in France, as you’ll need to return all the way to get to Venice. From Nice, the fastest journey to Venice by train is already about 8 hours (also via Ventimiglia and Milan), so it might also be nice to break up that journey somewhere.

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If you only have a couple of days I would suggest you concentrate on the Cote d Azur around Nice. The key rail service around here is the routine service from Ventimiglia, which services all the resort villages and towns as far as Cannes. These include Menton, Monaco, Nice and Juan le Pins amongst its gems. To get to it from Switzerland I would suggest via Milan and then onto Ventimiglia for the local train. Otherwise you either have to find a route through the Alps into Nice or Ventimiglia or a big diversion via Marseilles. Note the Nice - Marseilles line runs inland from the coast until Cannes and is not high speed.

This is a map of the rail lines in that area:

https://ontheworldmap.com/france/region/provence-alpes-cote-d-azur/provence-alpes-cote-d-azur-rail-map.html

Venice is a reasonable transit from Nice, back via Ventimiglia and Milan. If you are staying in Venice I suggest staying in Venice Mestre (about 10 mins from Venice Islands and better hotels at reasonable prices. 

We were there a couple of months ago for 3 days and stayed in an aparthotel just above Monaco station (technically in Beausoleil but 10 mins downhill to the Casino) - fortunately we found the free elevators just outside the station, so it was easy to walk up there as Monte Carlo is very hilly but has several more elevators. I would suggest you visit Cannes and Juan le Pins as these have easy access from their stations straight into the towns. Cannes has an open top bus along the promenade and a large market. Nice is a bit too big for us. Menton is also a nice place, 

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Love all this input.  This is gold!

Userlevel 7
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The connections between Switzerland and the South of France are not great. To get from Geneva to the South on a TGV, you’d have to first take a regional train to Lyon - or you could head from Zürich to Mulhouse (22 minutes from Basel on a regional train) which has direct connections to Marseille and Nice too. The fastest way to reach Nice specifically from Zürich is probably via Italy, with a direct Eurocity to Milan, then an intercity to Ventimiglia and then one of the frequent hour-long regional trains to Nice via Monaco.

True for the current time of the year, but there are a couple of handy TGV’s from Geneva to the South of France in summer season. Although I’ve no idea when they start operations exactly. May is a bit of an in between month. Hence my suggestion to wait a bit longer to see if they’re already there in May :)

But plenty of scenic, nice little towns and village on whatever route you take. Although high-speed traffic usually skips it. Choosing is losing, as we say here ;)

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If you want a sea front view at a reasonable for the area price you could try the Hotel Victoria in Carnoles, their deluxe sea view rooms have phenomenal views, it is a 10 minute walk to Carnoles station and there is a mini bus service outside direct to Menton and Monte Carlo. For the really energetic walker there is a marked footpath around the pointe de Cap Martin, but the full circuit to the next rail station is only for the really dedicated walker. There is no reasonable full circle back to the hotel.

.https://www.hotel-victoria.fr/

Carnoles is on the regional line to Ventimiglia (next station to Menton) for your onward journey.

I will though advise you that the whole of this coast is not typical France, more a multi cultural hybrid.

If you have never been to Monte Carlo I put it on my list of somewhere you must see at least once. Also on that list are Venice, Las Vegas and New England in the fall (with a side visit to Salem at Halloween) 

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