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Coach travel in France: is it cheaper than the train?

PUBLISHED: 16:49 25 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:00 25 July 2018

FlixBus has hubs in most major towns and cities across France © FlixBus

FlixBus has hubs in most major towns and cities across France © FlixBus

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Getting from one destination to another in France can often take a big chunk out of your travel budget, due to the cost of last-minute train tickets or domestic flights. So could travelling by coach be a cheaper and more convenient option?

I decided to find out, in the hope of having more money to spend on the good things in French life: fine restaurants and quality hotels. I travelled by coach from Paris to the northern cities of Amiens and Lille in the Hauts-de-France region, and with no single fare costing more than €10, I had more cash to spend on the important things like great food and drink!

PARIS TO AMIENS

Cost: €7

Journey time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Starting at Paris Gare de Bercy coach station in the 12th arrondissement, I boarded the Ouibus to Amiens. The bright pink bus was hard to miss but with a ticket costing €7 even just a few hours before departure, I was not complaining. Usually, I would take the train, but for around €23 for a train ticket on the day, the coach offered a significant saving, although at 2hr 30min, the journey was twice as long.

In the network of autoroutes on the periphery of the capital, it is easy to get caught in traffic, especially during peak hours. This is probably the main downside of coach travel, although you get delays on trains and planes, too. On the plus side, I had plenty of time to practise my French, chatting with my fellow passengers.

Arriving in Amiens by coach ensured that I was well-placed to make the most of the city centre. The capital of the Somme département is one of my favourites, with its canals and floating gardens, tightly packed cobbled streets, and historic boutique hotels.

I used the money I’d saved on travel for a fantastic lunch at La Table du Marais. My pork fillet, coated in caramelised tomato, and accompanied with potato mousseline and fried baby onions, was both smoky and sweet, and the most succulent I had ever eaten.

Riverside dining in Amiens © vofpalabra Getty ImagesRiverside dining in Amiens © vofpalabra Getty Images

Where to eat in Amiens

La Table du Marais

Upmarket restaurant with menus from €28.50

Les Orfèvres

Award-winning gourmet restaurant specialising in local dishes. Menus from €32

Where to stay in Amiens

Hôtel Mercure Amiens Cathédrale

Central hotel with cathedral views. Doubles from €112

Hôtel Marotte

Five-star boutique hotel in a central location. Doubles from €165 including breakfast

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The Grand Place in Lille © jorisvo Getty ImagesThe Grand Place in Lille © jorisvo Getty Images

AMIENS TO LILLE

Cost: €10

Journey time: 1 hour 30 minutes

From Amiens to Lille I travelled with FlixBus, larger than Ouibus and serving more destinations across the continent. The comfortable bright green coach did not take long to get out of the city along the wide boulevards, and was soon on the autoroute, surrounded by fields and woodland. I was making the most of my time. The in-seat power socket came in handy, because I was quickly using up phone battery taking photographs through the large windows, and the on-board Wi-Fi allowed me to follow my journey live on my map app.

Soon, I spotted the colourful multi-storey buildings of Lille, capital of the Hauts-de-France region. Once we left the autoroute, narrow congested roads meant it took a while to reach the FlixBus station on Boulevard de Turin, just around the corner from Gare de Lille Flandres.

The journey had taken just over 1hr 30min, only about 10 minutes longer than the train, but considerably cheaper at €10.

One of the aims of travelling by coach was to seek out restaurants offering the best local dining; venturing into the historic centre, I strolled through the main square, Grand’Place, where the bars and restaurants were bustling with students. The traditional feeling bistro La Petite Cour was worth tracking down. Propped on a stool against the counter, I treated myself to the day’s special, a succulent grilled steak with freshly cooked chips, a creamy pepper sauce and roast onions.

Where to eat in Lille

La Petite Cour

Historic restaurant in the heart of Lille. Menus from €19

Restaurant Grill Sainte-Anne

Traditional bistro specialising in northern French dishes. Menus from €31.90

Where to stay in Lille

Hôtel Mercure Lille Centre Grand Place

Chic hotel in the centre of Lille. Doubles from €85

Couvent des Minimes Alliance Lille

Centrally located hotel with 75 rooms. Doubles from €89

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Ouibus is the coach subsidiary of French state railway operator SNCF © OuibusOuibus is the coach subsidiary of French state railway operator SNCF © Ouibus

The benefits of coach travel

E-tickets with both operators entitle passengers to an assigned seat, as well as two items of hand luggage and two items of hold luggage.

Coaches include in-seat plug sockets and USB ports, free Wi-Fi, reclining seats and a toilet.

The operators’ phone apps store tickets and provide a route planner.

Tickets can be cancelled or exchanged for free up to 30 minutes before departure.

Five more coach routes

Nice to Marseille – from €9

The journey along the south coast of France provides almost unbroken views of the Mediterranean

Strasbourg to Lyon – from €19

Follow the marching routes of the Roman legions who controlled Gaul, while travelling from the political capital of Europe to the gastronomic capital of France

Saint-Brieuc to Brest – from €5

See the rugged landscape and historic towns that lie between these two contrasting ports in Brittany

Angers to Metz – from €24

Get a flavour of French history in microcosm as you journey from the Renaissance châteaux of the Loire Valley to the battlefields of the Western Front

Bordeaux to Périgueux – from €5

This route takes you through the vineyards of France’s wine capital and the lush countrside of Dordogne

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