Posted on 15 February 2010 by Dan Johnson
Perhaps the most relaxed way of travelling to France for your holiday is by train. Rail buff Ant recently posted details of the best routes to France on the parenting website Mumsnet, and kindly agreed to me reproducing his findings here.
For full information on train travel to and in France, the best resource is the excellent website www.seat61.com
Cheap fares are available but BOOK EARLY, as fares only go up as you get nearer the date, not down.
Look at going via Lille or via Paris — the former is easier but there is far less choice, so cheap fares are harder to find.
Prices vary by destination. La Rochelle, half way down France’s west coast, can be done for as little as £400 from London and back for two adults and two children travelling via Paris, but these fares need to be dug out and will be more difficult to find at popular times, such as Saturdays in summer.
Onzain, in the Loire Valley, is more like £300 (via Paris) with the Paris to Onzain bit being easy to get cheaper fares as it’s not on the TGV (France’s high speed rail network). It’s the Eurostar part of the journey that you need to book early for.
Advantages of taking the train
The main advantages of train versus flying are the much better general experience, especially with kids (it feels like part of the holiday!), the transparent pricing with no extra ‘add-ons’, the lack of baggage restrictions, no security hassles and, of course, the environmental benefits.
Also, the reliability and punctuality of the trains is probably better than many short haul flights.
Main disadvantages of trains are the length of time it takes to travel anywhere other than Paris/Lille and from anywhere outside south east England. It’s likely you will face a whole day travelling, changing once or twice (especially if you need to cross Paris with luggage and kids). You have to put in a lot of effort and pre-planning to find cheap fares, especially compared to the airlines who make it easy to book flights.
Trains aren’t perfect, strikes do happen and SNCF customer care can be variable, ranging from quite good to the verbal equivalent of a Gallic shrug of the shoulders.
Proximity to siblu parcs
None of the siblu parcs are within walking distance of train stations, so you need to plan in car hire as part of your journey.
The nearest parcs are Le Bois du Valmarie, l’Hippocampe and La Sirène (all in Languedoc) and Le Montourey (Provence), Domaine de Dugny (Loire Valley) – all of which are a few kms from train stations. Siblu parcs in La Carabasse, Lac des Reves and Sables du Midi (Languedoc), Le Bois Masson and Le Bois Dormant (Vendée), Les Charmettes, La Pignade and Bonne Anse Plage (Charente Maritime) and La Réserve (Aquitaine) are all 15-20 kms from the nearest stations.
If you are travelling to Brittany or south west France you will have to transfer from Paris Nord station (destination of Eurostar) to Montparnasse, where you can catch the TGV for part two of your journey. It is easiest to take a taxi, or to leave yourself lots of time, as you have to travel 14 stops on Metro Line 4 and then make a frustrating journey from Montparnasse metro station to the mainline station.
If you are taking a TGV to Languedoc or Provence on the south coast of France you have to make the much easier connection from Paris Nord to Gare de Lyon, which takes just two stops on RER line D and involves much less walking.
If you are travelling to Onzain in the Loire Valley you have to get from Paris Nord to Austerlitz, which means taking Line 5 and does not involve too much walking.