Iconic train journeys in France
- Credit: Archant
The excellence of the French railway network isn’t only down to the TGV. You can slow things down and hop on a slower train to enjoy breathtaking scenery that no high-speed train, car or bike can reach. Bon voyage!
This 100 year-old train line, also known as ‘la Ligne de Cerdagne’, runs from Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol-Enveitg in the Pyrenées. It’s famous for the little yellow train that ploughs through stunning mountain landscapes in the regional park of the Pyrénées Catalanes and even trudges up a steep track that leads to France’s highest railway station, Bloquère-Eyn, reaching an altitude of 1593m. With sometimes hair-raising drops on either side of the tracks and gentle curbs revealing little villages and narrow valleys, this train journey is emblematic in every way.
Deemed one of France’s prettiest train journeys, la ligne des Hirondelles links Dole to Saint Claude in the Jura. The tracks cross 36 tunnels and 18 viaducts so the ride is exciting in itself! The 123km journey is a great way to experience the Jura’s natural and cultural heritage as the train whizzes past forests, vineyards, vast plains and valleys alike, all in 2h30 and comfortably sat in one of the SNCF’s modern TER trains.
The train that links Miramas to Marseille is named after the stretch of coast it follows, the Côte Bleue. This picturesque train line treats passengers to incredible views of the sea that you cannot enjoy when driving, including cute little ports and hidden calanques beaches. With the turquoise blue sea to one side and pine wood landscapes to the other, it’s a fun journey for everyone and a great way to explore this beautiful part of France. Bonus: in the summer, you can enjoy unlimited travel in a day on this line for as little as €6 per person or €10 for two with the Pass Bermuda!
Linking Clermont-Ferrand to Nîmes, this line crosses a variety of natural landscapes including the spectacular Gorges de l’Allier and the peaceful Cévennes national park. It was built in the 19th century and is probably one the country’s most astonishing engineering accomplishments, if only for the number of bridges and viaducts on the line. Several trains take on the journey each day, including the tracks very own ‘Cévenol’ train.
The dramatic and beautiful coastline of the Côte d’Azur is made all the more attractive by the amazing train ticket deals the region offers. Not only can you enjoy fantastic views from your train wagon – the train hugs the cliffs to one side as the sea washes up towards the tracks to the other – but you can do it on the cheap. The Carte Isabelle is a great option for families: for €35, a family of four (including up to two adults under 16) can travel any number of times the same day in the same department. The Zou! pass works the same way for single users for €15 during the summer.
If you want to reach the stunning ‘petite Camargue’ and its beaches, the seaside resort of le Grau-du-Roi and Aigues-Mortes, then you should hop onto this historic train departing from Nîmes which will take only 50 minutes to get you to the lush sandy beaches. You’ll skip the busy traffic and endless queues and will see some of Camargue’s prettiest countryside. The best part? The ticket is only €1...
This train links Orléans to Croisic several times a day and therefore serves as a perfect shuttle that cuts through the whole Loire Valley, passing through well-known cities such as Nantes and Angers. It also follows the Loire à Vélo path and, naturally, is a popular line for cyclists. In the summer, you’ll even find an extra wagon where cyclists can deposit their bike for free while they travel comfortably in a regular seat. Nifty!
For a step back in time in Ardèche, board a 120 year-old train called Le Mastrou for a fun day trip. Its open, panoramic carriages are pulled by an old-fashioned steam engine and the journey takes you through the raw but beautiful Ardèche landscape as it crosses the Gorges du Doux before reaching the little town of Lamastre in the mountains. The all-day trip lets you wander around Lamastre for lunch before returning to Tournon-Saint Jean in the early afternoon.
For more than 100 years, this bright red snow train has been transporting passengers through the Chamonix valley, climbing steep, snow-covered summits and winding around craggy precipices of the Mont Blanc. After the slow, 20-minute ride, the track reaches an amazing vantage point of the Mer de Glaces, France’s largest glacier. As well as the breathtaking panoramas, passengers have the opportunity to explore ice caves carved into the glacier.
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