France by rail: 10 of the best summer trips


If you’re considering a holiday in France by train this summer, now’s the time to book. French rail company SNCF released its summer fares on Thursday (29 March) for journeys from 29 June until 3 September. Unlike Eurostar, which puts its tickets on sale six months in advance, SNCF releases tickets only three to four months ahead of the journey time, meaning travellers have had to wait until today to book summer 2018 journeys. However, tickets sell out fast, especially on popular routes and at peak times. “There is a huge difference in price based on demand,” said Kate Andrews, co-founder of online rail booking site Loco2. “The cheapest tickets are available now. Tickets could quadruple in price nearer the time [of departure].” The prices given below (provided by Loco2) include Eurostar from London, and were available at the time of writing.

London to Montpellier, via Paris Gare de Lyon

Montpellier city centre. Montpellier. the city view from the new station car park.



Photograph: P Eoche/Getty Images

Journey time: 7 hours 5 minutes
If you had to name a French city that has it all, Montpellier would surely be it. Bathed in Mediterranean sunshine and just 10 minutes from the beach, it also has an excellent art museum, a young, student-y vibe and great restaurants. First take a wander through the splendid Place de la Comédie and on into the old town to admire the hôtels particuliers, former wine merchants’ mansions with beautiful courtyards. From 12-17 June many of them will be hosting modern art installations as part of the Festival des Architetures Vives. The city’s superb Musée Fabre contains one of France’s richest collections of European art.
Stay at the Grand Hotel du Midi (doubles from €109); montpellier-france.com; train travel £120 return

London to Troyes, via Paris Est

Timber-frame houses in Troyes.



Timber-frame houses in Troyes. Photograph: Alamy

Journey time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Visitors to Champagne usually make a beeline for Reims but Troyes, further south, is a delight. Its attractive medieval centre, with timber-framed buildings, is surrounded by canals in the shape of a champagne cork and it’s the perfect place to wander, stopping to admire churches, squares and sip champagne in pavement cafes. To explore the vineyards in the surrounding countryside, check out the tourist office’s cycling itineraries, which cover family-run vineyards, lakes and pretty villages; venture further and take a wine tour with Wine Liaisons (prices vary, depending on numbers).
Stay at La Maison M, doubles from €120 B&B; tourisme-troyes.com; train travel from £90 return

London to Nantes, via Paris Montparnasse

Mechanical elephant, Le Voyage à Nantes.



Mechanical elephant, Le Voyage à Nantes. Photograph: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Journey time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Nantes makes for a fun destination whatever your age. Its main attractions are found on the Île de Loire, an island in the river Loire where a 12-metre robotic elephant (Le Voyage à Nantes) stomps around the concourse carrying 49 people on its back. Elsewhere, the three-storey carousel, inspired by Nantes native Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, offers a ride on the back of a steampunk sea creature. The city is full of other whimsical street art installations, linked together with a green line painted on the pavements.
Stay at Welcome Home apartments (€140 a night for up to six people); levoyageanantes.fr; train travel from £110 return

London to Beaune, via Lyon

View of the vineyards in the wine-making region of Burgundy, France



Vineyards near Puligny-Montrachet. Photograph: kodachrome25/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Journey time: 6 hours 39 minutes
With its rustic cuisine and world-class wines, Burgundy is culinary heaven and Beaune is at the heart of it. Once you’ve explored the Hôtel Dieu and the Hospices de Beaune, with its colourfully tiled roof and medieval hospital, and indulged in some of the town’s fantastic restaurants, work off the calories by hiring a bike and exploring the surrounding vineyards and wine villages, such as Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Pommard. This area may be home to some of the world’s most expensive wines but to gaze upon the gentle slopes of vineyards, criss-crossed with ancient stone walls is free.
Stay at Maison du Colombier’s apartments (from €155 a night for two); beaune-tourisme.fr; train travel from £90 return

London to Strasbourg, via Gare de l’Est

Half-timbered houses in La Petite France, Strasbourg



Half-timbered houses in La Petite France. Photograph: Harry Laub/Image Broker/Rex

Journey time: 5 hours 12 mins
As capital of France’s Alsace region, Strasbourg has a unique blend of Germanic and Gallic charm. Its culture and architecture, most obviously in its timber-clad buildings, reveal a history of German and French influence that continues to this day. Crane your neck for a look at the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame – once the tallest building in the world – before strolling around La Petite France, Strasbourg’s Unesco-listed old town. Be sure to make time for a tarte flambée (or flammkuchen depending who you’re talking to). A stroll around the European district could be particularly poignant in the year before the UK leaves the EU. The city may be the self-proclaimed capital of Christmas but summer is the time to venture into Germany to visit the Black Forest for a day or exploit Strasbourg’s position as the northern gateway to the Alsace wine region with a tour of one of its many vineyards.
Stay at the Graffalgar Hotel, where the 38 rooms have each been decorated by a different artist (doubles from €100 per night room-only); train travel from £100 return

London to Nîmes, via Lille

Inside historical Nimes arena. Some tourists walking around.



Nîmes’ Roman amphitheatre. Photograph: no_limit_pictures/Getty Images

Journey time: 7 hours 35 minutes
As if Nîmes striking two-tier Roman amphitheatre wasn’t enough of a draw, this June sees the opening of Le Musée de la Romanité, which will showcase 25,000 objects in a striking building opposite the amphitheatre. The 2,000-year-old Maison Carré is equally impressive: it is the world’s most complete Roman Temple. Going via Lille, the journey to Nîmes may be long but it cuts through some of central France’s most spectacular scenery.
Stay at Hotel de l’Amphitheatre (doubles from €90); ot-nimes.fr; train travel £120 return

London to Bordeaux, via Paris Montparnasse

Bike-share bicylcles outside Bordeaux’s Grand Bar Castan.



Bike-share bicycle outside Bordeaux’s Grand Bar Castan. Photograph: Danita Delimont/Getty Images/Gallo Images

Journey time: 5 hrs 50 minutes
Last year, the opening of the TGV Oceane high-speed train line from Paris to Bordeaux brought this exciting city 75 minutes closer. It’s the place to admire the Unesco-listed architecture, with the elegant Place de la Bourse proving the highlight. It’s a great city for exploring by bike: the VCub bike-share scheme is readily available. Pedal along the river Garonne to the Chartrons district, a neighbourhood of bric-a-brac and vintage stores and cool restaurants. Nearby, the Cité du Vin, an international wine museum, is a wonderland of tastes and information. This June sees the return of the bi-annual Fête du Vin.
Stay at Mama Shelter (doubles from €79); bordeaux-tourism.co.uk; train travel £110 return

London to La Rochelle, via Paris Montparnasse

France, Poitou-Charentes, La Rochelle, Vieux Port, towers,



Vieux Port, La Rochelle. Photograph: Tibor Bognar/Getty Images

Journey time: 6 hours 21 minutes
The new TGV Oceane line has also brought the harbour town of La Rochelle closer, by 40 minutes. The heart of the town is the Vieux Port overlooked by the two famous stone towers that mark a gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. La Rochelle is this coast’s largest yachting centre, so take to the high seas with one of the many charter or boat trip companies. If you’d rather stay on dry land, get a bus to the Île de Ré. A popular holiday spot with chic Parisians, its flat landscape is good for cycling, so take a day to explore the white-washed villages, its salt pans, vineyards and beaches.
Stay at Résidence de France (doubles from €100); more info at: larochelle-tourisme.com; train travel £110 return

London to Annecy, via Paris or Lyon

Annecy’s ancient prison (now a museum) in its old town area.



Annecy’s ancient prison (now a museum) in its old town area. Photograph: Alamy

Journey time: 7 hours 5 minutes via Paris, 7 hours 49 mins via Lyon
Next to a lake under the gaze of snow-capped mountains, Annecy is a joy to explore. Its charming old town is lined with canals, alpine homes with geranium-filled window boxes and restaurants offering the local Savoyard cuisine (think fondue and tartiflette). When you’ve visited its Palais de l’Ile (a former prison, courthouse and mint dating from the 12th century), its chateau, taken a pedalo out on the lake or cycled around it, take the bus to the Aravis mountains and walk the trails around the ski resorts of La Clusaz or Le Grand-Bornand.
Stay at Hotel les Terrasses (doubles from €78); lac-annecy.com; train travel £110 return

London to Bayeux, via Paris

Scenic view in Bayeux, Normandy, France.



Photograph: Alamy

Journey time: 5 hours 48 minutes
See the world’s most famous tapestry in situ before it comes to the UK en vacances. The millennium-old embroidery tells the story of William the Conqueror’s conquest of England and the museum’s audio guide and exhibitions give fascinating insight into the story of 1066. Bayeux is close to the D-day beaches and cemeteries, so take a tour with a local guide (book via the tourist office) and learn more about the Battle of Normandy at the Musée Mémorial Bataille de Normandie. The beautifully curated Musée d’Art et d’Histoire Baron Gérard covers everything from Gallo-Roman archaeology to 20th-century art. The town’s cathedral is dominated by its 13th-century cathedral.
Stay at Hôtel Tardif (doubles from €110): normandie-tourisme.fr; train travel £78 return




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