Home > Travel > Travel – By Eurostar and TGV to the French Riviera

Travel – By Eurostar and TGV to the French Riviera

This is just the most wonderful trip. Just make sure that you treat the – very – long 12hr travel day as part of your holiday. It’s all extremely relaxing and you might never want to fly again! It probably takes longer than by air door-to-door but you’ll see so much more of France on the way. There is space to stretch out and breathe (unlike on the airlines) and plenty of time to just sit and ponder.

The best website for planning your rail trip to Europe is http://www.seat61.com. You can book your entire journey here online – for all Eurostar and French TGV services.

One money-saving secret gleaned from the Man-in-Seat-61 is the availability of low-price tickets for any UK connecting service to London International (CIV) at any time, even on those crowded early morning commuter trains. These tickets also include underground travel. Go to http://www.raileasy.co.uk for more info.

If you can afford it, book Leisure Class on Eurostar. An ‘at seat’ meal service is provided and the food is of very good quality – we enjoyed a cooked breakfast with champagne to celebrate the trip.  It’s good fun drinking bucks fizz and eating good ole Cumberland sausages 246ft under La Manche! You are in the Chunnel for just 20mins and it all seems slightly surreal, particularly if fish is on the menu.

It’s best to buy your Metro tickets at St Pancras before you leave. We didn’t and the queue in Paris for ticketing was really long and could be a bit of a concern if your time is short getting across Paris. BTW – the queue for taxis in Paris was even longer than for the Metro tickets!

Avoid going to Paris altogether by connecting to the SNCF TGV services at Lille Europe. We didn’t do this on the way south and had to cross a rather drizzly and busy French capital using its somewhat smelly Metro system.  Note – it can take a good 40mins to travel from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon.

Most TGV’s on this route are Duplex (double-deckers). When booking, try to sit upstairs as its lighter and the views are far better. If there are just two of you travelling, ask for ‘Duo’ (side by side) or ‘Club Duo’ (facing each other) seating.

Go first class on the TGV if you are able (some really good value tickets are available if you book ahead); the seats are wide and beautifully upholstered. It’s almost like sitting in your comfy armchair at home! The view is ever changing and you soon realise just how big a country France is to cross. After the TGV, the Eurostar seats and carpets felt ever so slightly tatty by contrast. However, the food service is better on Eurostar.

It’s quite acceptable to take your own picnic onto the TGV. After all, you’ll be on the train for a long while and the buffet car seemed expensive (especially with the present Euro exchange rate). However, this being France, the coffee on board is really good and the wine drinkable! We watched a number of French people unpacking some exciting goodies and eating a substantial meal – all carried on board in a variety of bags and boxes!

Oh – and make sure you ‘composte’ (validate) your ticket in the yellow or orange machines situated on the platform in French stations before you get on board. In the rush, we forgot – this is regarded as wholly unacceptable and could incur a fine. In our case, we survived the penalty but learnt the lesson!

To give some idea of how long the journey from the south of England to the south of France takes, here is our timetable (March 2010).

It was 12 hours door-to-door (including the one-hour clock change).

Out 06.40 – 08.15      Hampshire to London Waterloo, then via the underground

09.32 – 12.46      Eurostar – London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord

13.46 – 19.30      TGV Duplex – Paris Gare de Lyon to Nice, Cote d’Azur

Return 10.28 – 17.35      TGV Duplex – Nice, Cote d’Azur to Lille Europe

18.35 – 19.05      Eurostar – Lille Europe to London St Pancras

19.45 – 21.15      Via the underground to London Waterloo, then on to Hampshire

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