The high-speed practice (TGV) from Paris-Montparnasse to Bordeaux is so quick that you can simply spend a lot of the two-hour journey queuing for a croque-monsieur within the buffet automotive. It additionally implies that the Fontainebleau forest, the Loire’s chateaux, vineyards and medieval cities flash previous in a really un-holiday-like blur. On a practice tour of France, it’s finest to take the more-relaxed TER trains and some steam locomotives to benefit from the views.
This journey takes you thru a few of France’s most diverse countryside, previous hilltop villages, vineyards, pine and chestnut forests, into gorges and alongside the Mediterranean shoreline, stopping at a number of of the nation’s less-touristy cities, every with their very own explicit regional dishes.

Begin with the gradual practice from Paris-Austerlitz station to Amboise by way of Blois, the place a 12 months of occasions is underway commemorating the 500th anniversary of the loss of life of Leonardo da Vinci at his Chateau du Clos Lucé . Discover the neighbouring Château d’Amboise (a tunnel runs between the 2). Break the journey on the Château de Pintray (doubles €115 B&B) and luxuriate in a guineafowl supreme at La Pause du Temps restaurant (mains from €16).
It’s a three-hour practice trip from Amboise to Angoulême, French capital of comedian books, murals and Charente melons. Spend half a day on the riverside comic-art museum or wander around the outdated city. Keep at one of many antique-filled guesthouses in Le Plateau district: Jardins Secrets and techniques (doubles €80 B&B) or Les Jardins de la Cathédrale (doubles €70 B&B). Strive the strawberries with violet cream and licorice marshmallow (€7) at Le St André bistro, or the escargots à la charentaise on the extra formal Le Terminus (two-course lunch plus amuse-bouche, €15.50) beside the station.
The other way up, the TGV emblem appears to be like like a snail however the joke is coming to an finish. As a part of the community’s modernisation plans, the French rail operator, SNCF, is altering the identify and emblem of all its high-speed trains to InOui (premium) and Ouigo (low-cost).

Château d’Amboise and the Loire. {Photograph}: Manfred Gottschalk/Getty Pictures
It takes simply over 2½ hours to get to Montauban by InOui, rushing by the Nouvelle-Aquitaine countryside with a change at Bordeaux Saint-Jean. On the banks of the river Tarn, Montauban was the birthplace of artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – a museum devoted to him is reopening within the autumn. Strive a few of the regional specialities: duckling, cassoulet, slow-cooked lamb with lemon confit and olives at L’Estanquet (mains from €15), cease for a drink underneath the double-vaulted brick arcades of the Place Nationale and spend the night time in one of many modernised cells of the Abbaye des Capucins , a former monastery which now has a pool and spa (doubles from €97).
Sète, on the southern coast, is a four-hour journey on one of many Intercités 100% Eco trains (this service is cheaper, solely bookable on-line, there’s no onboard wifi or plug sockets however the slower journey provides extra time to view gorgeous Carcassonne and Narbonne). The monitor runs alongside a slender strip of land between the Thau lagoon and the ocean at Sète. Keep on the three-star Le Grand Lodge (doubles from €120) and if there in summer time guide a room with a waterfront balcony to observe the joutes nautiques (water jousting). Strive a dish of couteaux en persillade (razor clams in parsley, €15) or the filet de rascasse au pastis (scorpionfish in pastis, €25) at La Marine reverse the port (amongst scores of different fish eating places). Go to the Worldwide Museum of Modest Arts and watch the elevating bridges the place Sète’s canals meet the ocean.

Calanque de Figuerolles at La Ciotat in France. {Photograph}: Alamy
It takes three hours by way of Marseille to succeed in La Ciotat, scene of one of many Lumière brothers’ first movies in 1895, Arrival of a Practice at La Ciotat, the place its first viewers rushed out from the screening, believing the practice was approaching. La Ciotat’s station has barely modified since and the city’s Eden cinema, restored for Marseille’s 12 months as European tradition capital in 2013, is the world’s oldest working image home. Keep proper on the seaside on the Calanque de Figuerolles, (rooms and bungalows on the self-proclaimed “République Indépendante de Figuerolles” from €37). It additionally has a beachside restaurant, Chez Tania, serving bouillabaisse, grilled fish, vegan dishes and native Cassis wines (set menus from €41).
The railway hugs the coast eastwards till the Italian border, so sit on the ocean aspect of the practice and look out for the Delos/Palais lodge on the Île de Bendor off Bandol, the rust-coloured rocks of the Estérel and the horserace monitor in Cagnes-sur-Mer. Alight at Good the place the Lodge Aria (doubles from €77 room solely) is barely 200 metres from the practice station with rooms overlooking a sensible sq.. Eat subsequent door in L’Antica , probably the greatest open-fire grills on the Riviera (blended grill for 2 €54).

Conventional water jousting on the canal at Sète. {Photograph}: Getty Pictures
The subsequent morning, discover the Chemin de Fer de Provence station on rue Alfred Binet and take the Practice des Pignes to Digne-les-Bains. The practice is France’s final surviving one-metre-gauge line and chugs into the hills of Provence’s hinterlands. It’s a mesmerising three-and-a-half-hour journey over slender viaducts, by gorges, lavender fields and pine forests. There are 4 trains a day and a steam locomotive alternative for a part of the best way on Fridays and Sundays in the summertime.
Digne-les-Bains has two lavender festivals in the course of the summer time, thermal baths and is the gateway to Unesco’s first geopark. Keep on the 17th-century transformed convent, Le Grand Paris, (doubles from €85 room solely) or on the Lodge Villa Gaia (doubles from €84 room solely), the place they’ve spacious rooms, massive grounds and natural residence cooking. There are additionally synthetic lakes close by for swimming.
Digne is the top of the road so, as an alternative of taking the narrow-gauge again to Good, catch the bus to Aix-en-Provence (it’s a two-hour journey, bookable on the SNCF web site) after which a quick practice to Valence TGV earlier than catching a neighborhood practice to Tain-l’Hermitage, the place a steam locomotive takes passengers into the gorges of the Ardèche. Casanova, Walter Scott and Boileau all point out Tain-l’Hermitage’s glorious wine, so have lunch and a glass of purple at Le Vineum for €31 earlier than a go to to the Cité du Chocolat (entry grownup €9, baby €7.50). Keep throughout the river on the Lodge de la Villeon, an 18th-century city home in Tournon (doubles from €95 room solely).

A steam locomotive takes passengers into the gorges of the Ardèche. {Photograph}: Jason Knott/Alamy
Paris-Gare de Lyon is simply over two hours from Valence TGV on the quick practice, and no practice vacation in France is full with no meal on the station’s Le Practice Bleu . The luxurious, belle époque eating rooms serve a lunchtime menu, together with cheeseboard and two glasses of champagne, for €110 and a 45-minute traveller’s menu for €49.
Easy methods to do it
SNCF journeys are bookable three months prematurely. The mixed fare for this spherical journey is £218 for an grownup travelling in mid-July plus £20 for the Practice des Pignes and £13 for the Practice des Gorges. Interrail affords a 10-day international cross for £348 for European journey however a greater deal stands out as the one-country cross for France, the place an eight-day ticket prices £225 for adults and households (youngsters go free), £195 for under-28s and £202 for seniors. Reservations are wanted for high-speed trains and dietary supplements apply on some journeys however for these accustomed to panicking on French station platforms because the TGV is about to depart, e-tickets are exempt from punching within the yellow machines. Interrail affords a reduced Eurostar journey to Paris from London beginning at £30.
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