Table 361: Les Arcs – St Raphaël – Cannes – Nice – Monaco – Ventimiglia

PART 1

This month we explore the beautiful South of France along the famous coastline on the French Riviera, Côte d’Azur. The journey takes us past stunning headlands, waterside towns, bays, fine beaches and millionaire villas.

Train operators include TER (Transport Express Regional) local train services which require no advanced bookings, TGV and a daily Thello Eurocity service which both require booking in advance.

We begin in Les Arcs, a small town in the Argens Valley. This picturesque medieval town offers plenty of history and architecture and is probably best known as a wine producing town, rich in vineyards offering wine tasting .

The medieval quarter known as Le Parage, dominates the city centre with pretty cobbled streets, traditional stone houses, chapels and castle ruins. The 13th century Saracen Tower dominates the skyline with beautiful views of Les Arcs and surrounding countryside and a 17th century Clock tower topped with an ornate, wrought-iron campanile. Also worth a visit is the Church of Saint-John the Baptist with its beautiful panel Polyptych dating from 1501.

Just outside the city, around four kilometres away, is Chateau de Sainte Roseline, where you will find the Sainte-Roseline Winery and Chapel. The winery offers high quality wines with tours and wine tasting. The beautiful ornate Chapel contains a unique crystal shrine of St Roseline and a fantastic Marc Chagall mosaic.

PART 2

Leaving Les Arcs behind the journey follows the Argens Valley to the coast calling at Frejus, a city rich in history and art. Attractions include the roman amphitheatre, a magnificent cathedral, colourful houses and some beautiful sandy beaches. A few kilometres south-east and we arrive at St Raphaël.

St Raphaël is one of the oldest seaside resorts on the French Riviera stretching over 36 kilometres of coast with some beautiful beaches and plenty of charm. The picturesque harbour with its colourful fishing boats, and beaches offers various leisure and water activities.

Take time to stroll along the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and enjoy the daily flower and vegetable markets. At the heart of the town is one of the oldest buildings dating from the 12th century, the Church of Saint-Raphaël. Climb the watchtower for beautiful panoramic views across the bay. Also in the centre is the imposing 19th Century Notre Dame de la Victoire church with its characteristic gilt dome.

If you enjoy museums drop in at the local Archaeology Museum dedicated to archaeological excavations from the area.

PART 3

This week we are continuing our journey as we head to Cannes along the scenic Estérel mountain coastline.

Cannes is one of the most popular destinations along the Côte d’Azur. The city offers gorgeous hotels, casinos, designer shops and superb restaurants and easily lives up to its glamourous reputation.At the heart of Cannes is the old quarter, Le Suquet with its cobbled lanes, beautiful architecture, local shops and restaurants and a harbour with traditional fishing boats. A short walk up the hill and you will find the Musée de la Castre, home to a wide collection of local antiquities, and if you climb the clock tower you will be rewarded with breath taking views of the city and the sparkling sea below.

Enjoy a walk around the bay area along Promenade de la Croisette which follows the bay around. On one side you will find luxury yachts, cruise ships, beautiful sandy beaches with palm trees and on the other side you can window shop in the designer boutiques and enjoy the atmosphere of the rich and famous.

Don’t forget to check out the Palais des Festivals, where the famous annual Cannes Film Festival is held. Take a guided tour or catch a movie in one of the amazing theatres.

PART 4

We closely follow the coastline for much of the way from Cannes to Nice passing the beautiful sandy beaches of Juan-les-Pins before arriving at Antibes, with its historic Old Town and abundance of luxury yachts moored at the Port Vauban marina. The next major stop is Cagnes sur Mer which boasts a chic shopping centre (named Polygone Riviera) and a 3½ kilometre stretch of beach.

On arrival at Nice-Ville railway station, which is located in the north of the city, you can either take a tram to the Old Town or walk there in around 20 minutes. The 16th century Old Town with its narrow streets is largely pedestrianised with restaurants, bars, cafes and markets. On the edge of the Old Town you will find Castle Hill, the highest point in Nice with ruins of the Château de Nice and superb panoramic views of the city below, whilst further east is the modern city centre with plenty more shops, restaurants and cafes.

Other highlights include the Musée National Marc Chagall, located in Cimiez. It boasts the largest public collection of Chagall works including paintings, mosaics, pottery and stunning stained glass windows. The exquisite Baroque style Nice Cathedral is not to be missed, with its spectacular architecture and stunning interior.

Take a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais which winds alongside the white pebble beach, one of the longest and most famous of the French Riviera. Lined with palm trees, fantastic restaurants and bars, it is the perfect location for a spot of people watching.

PART 5

The train from Nice to Monaco takes on average 20 minutes during the week, it can take longer on weekends and holidays. As you arrive into Monaco you are greeted by a white marble staton, just the start of this luxurious and glamorous destination.

Perhaps the most famous district is Monte Carlo with its breathtaking seaside views from the gorgeous terrace of Place du Casino. The inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel Casino Royale, it is also the location of the Hôtel de Paris and Café de Paris where you can stay and dine in 5 star luxury.

Monaco has one of the most renowned museums, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Home to more than 6000 species, the Aquariums are divided into the Tropical zone where you will find coral reef and the species which inhabit it aswell as piranhas and sharks; and Mediterranean Sea where you will see jellyfish, octopus and more than 200 species of inverterbrate.

A visit to Monaco wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the car collection of the Prince of Monaco. A collection of almost a hundred cars from all ages both vintage and modern, you can expect to see the top manufacturers as well as some Formula 1 race cars which have of course raced on the famous Monaco Grand Prix circuit.

PART 6

Leaving behind the luxury of Monaco we continue along the coastline towards the Italian border town of Ventimiglia. First stop is the picturesque medieval village Cap Martin-Roquebrune. Perched up high, it features narrow sloping streets, colourful buildings and breathtaking views of the coastline from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin castle.

A few kilometres further on we reach Menton, a seaside resort on the edge of the Côte d’Azur and the last major stop before crossing into Italy. Menton has lots of charm with a lovely medieval old town, winding streets and beautiful buildings, including the Basilique Saint-Michel with its 18th century bell tower. Thanks to the local microclimate, Menton is home to a unique brand of lemons and an annual festival, known locally as La Fête du Citron, is held in the charming town centre gardens, Jardins Biovès, during the winter months.

It is now just a short train ride to Ventimiglia, located just across the Italian border at the mouth of the Roia River. This medieval town offers history, charming outdoor markets and pebble beaches. Explore its narrow cobbled streets, colourful rustic buildings and houses, including the 11th century Romanesque Cathedral of Ventimiglia. Don’t miss the famous bustling open-air market which takes place every Friday on the boardwalk by the Ligurian Sea coastline. The market offers fresh local produce, including flowers, wine and clothing. There is also a daily covered food market situated near the railway station.

Table 292: Nantes – La Rochelle – Bordeaux

PART 1

In our first table of the month for 2020 we travel through Western France from Nantes to Bordeaux a total travel journey time of around 4 hours and 10 minutes and a distance of 275 kilometres.

Located on the Loire river, Nantes is renowned for its splendid scenery and is the sixth largest city in France. A lively and innovative city with historical heritage.

At the heart of the town lies the magnificent Château des Ducs de Bretagne, home to the fascinating History Museum of Nantes displaying over 850 historic objects in a modern layout. The château’s grassy moat gardens and rampart walk are free to meander and offer great viewpoints of the fortress.

Another highlight is Les Machines de l’Ile, the machines of the isle of Nantes. The Grand Éléphant is 12 metres tall and takes 52 passengers for a ride on its back. Also discover the Carrousel des Mondes Marins and the Arbre aux Hérons with ramps and stairways in the form of a tree.

Take time out and walk through the streets and discover the Old City of Nantes with regular markets held most Sunday mornings.

PART 2

Please note: Due to engineering works between La Roche sur Yon and La Rochelle trains are replaced by buses until May 29 2021.

Continuing our journey south and covering a distance of 180 kilometres we travel from Nantes to La Rochelle-Ville station situated near the Old Port. Rail services include TGV, Intercities, TER Poitou-Charentes and TER Pays de la Loire, operated by SNCF.

La Rochelle is a historic port town off the Atlantic coast in the department of Charente-Maritime. The perfect city for a weekend break and a great base to explore the area. Rich in culture and architecture, with lots to see and do.

Just outside the station you will find the Aquarium, one of France’s top tourist attractions. Explore its abundance of marine life including sharks, turtles, jelly fish and varied fauna. Also around the Old Port you will find the famous Towers of La Rochelle, The Saint Nicolas Tower, The Chain Tower and The Lantern Tower. Climb the towers to get fabulous views over the city, port and sea. Take a walk along the narrow streets of the old town, packed with interesting mansions, Renaissance residences, and old timber-framed houses, along with numerous shops, cafés and restaurants.

After a busy day exploring, take a break and relax on the beaches of La Rochelle in Les Minimes.

PART 3

Please note: Due to engineering works between La Roche sur Yon and La Rochelle trains are replaced by buses until May 29 2021.

This week we are exploring beautiful Bordeaux.

Travelling from La Rochelle sit on the right of the train for views of the coastline. The journey follows the river Charente and on the approach to Bordeaux you cross the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Bordeaux-Saint-Jean station is centrally located in Bordeaux with easy access to high-speed TGV trains from Paris and Lille and services to Biarritz and Hendaye, the final station in France before the line crosses into Spain.

Bordeaux is a vibrant city, home to some of the world’s most famous wines, with fantastic restaurants, charming architecture and culture.
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Most of the principal attractions are located in, or close to, the old city area, these include the Gothic Cathédrale Saint-André with breathtaking views over Old Bordeaux. The Miroir d’Eau (water mirror), a spectacular pool in which the buildings of the grand Place de la Bourse are reflected. Not forgetting one of the most iconic buildings in Bordeaux, La Cité du Vin, a cultural centre dedicated to the heritage of wine.

PART 4

This week we are looking at just a few options for possible day trips along the route.

From Nantes head north to Le Croisic (Table 288) a charming seaside resort with its picturesque fishing port, its church of flamboyant Gothic style, as well as beautiful old houses.

Les Sables-d’Olonne (Table 293) is a pretty seaside town with lively promenades, long golden sandy beaches and a large marina. It is also host to the Vendée Globe yacht race (November 8, 2020).

Take a detour to Ile de Ré an island off the west coast connected to La Rochelle via a three kilometre bridge, it offers beautiful sandy beaches, vineyards and idilic villages.

Other options include the city of Poitiers, steeped in history, with a mix of galleries, restaurants and cafes (Table 300). In Bergerac (Table 318) you will find a medieval old town with chateaux, museums and lovely streets to explore with boutique style shops. Angoulême (Table 301), famous for the National Comic Strip and Image Centre, is a must for comic strip fans.

TABLE 300 – Paris – Bordeaux

PART 1

This time we are heading to western France travelling from Paris to Bordeaux, exploring some of the towns of the pretty Loir-et-Cher region and Loire Valley, famous for its vineyards and fairytale castles. The original high-speed route between Paris and St Pierre des Corps was extended to Bordeaux in 2017 meaning you can now travel between the French capital and Bordeaux non-stop in just over two hours, a considerable improvement on the previous 3½ hours.

We begin our journey at Paris-Montparnasse located in the southwestern part of Paris, a station well known for a major rail accident in 1895 when a train crashed through the buffers ending up nose-down in the street below. It is the Paris terminus for TGV trains to the west and south-west of France and it also has a metro station, Montparnasse-Bienvenüe. Reaching and navigating Montparnasse can be difficult and the metro station is a very long underground walk from the mainline station platforms. Also, many of the TGV services can be 20 carriages long, so it can be a long walk to your seat! Therefore, please make sure you allow plenty of time to arrive before your scheduled departure time.

The first stop, just 50 minutes from Paris is Vendôme-Villiers, a transport hub allowing easy access to the Loir-et-Cher region. Nearby is the picturesque town of Vendome which has various monuments, a historical abbey, and several parks. The town is overlooked by the remains of a ruined 12th-century castle which gives lovely panoramic views over the town below which is divided by the river Loir into islands connected by waterways. Not far from Vendome there is a tourist train which takes a leisurely return route through the Loir Valley from Thoré la Rochette to Trôo aboard a 1950s railcar.

PART 2

From Vendôme-Villiers it’s a short hop to St Pierre des Corps, a major station on the outskirts of Tours from where frequent shuttle services operate to the city’s central station. Often referred to as the capital of the Loire Valley, Tours has a lovely historical quarter which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are narrow cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and the grand medieval Saint-Gatien Cathedral to explore as well as attractive parks and gardens. The city is famous for its chocolate production and the wonderful indoor market offers a variety of other tempting delicacies from around the Loire region including cheeses and wines. Flat-bottomed sailboats, known as “toues”, ferry passengers along the Loire and Cher for sightseeing trips and even dinner cruises, or you could hire bikes and follow the well-marked Loire à Vélo cycle trail.

The Loire is famous for its many beautiful Châteaux and there are many to visit in the surrounding area which can be reached with a short bus or train ride. From Tours, it is a short journey to Blois (Table 296) with its magnificent former Royal Château towering over the town and the nearby Maison de la Magie which is a museum dedicated to magic and the art of illusion. Below the castle is a lively old town with narrow streets, traditional restaurants, and ancient buildings. The largest castle in the Loire region and one of the most recognisable is Château de Chambord not far from Blois. Bus services are available from the railway station during the summer months or excursions can be arranged in the town.

Further along the same line is Orléans, which can be reached from Tours in just over an hour. The city is one of the oldest in France having been liberated by Joan of Arc. Scenes from her life are depicted in the windows of the Gothic Cathedral and statues of her can be found around the city’s main squares.

Other worthwhile day trips from Tours include Le Mans (Table 271), most famous for its 24-hour racing spectacle every June but also boasts a fantastic old town. Angers is another easy day trip (Table 289), an attractive wine-producing town dominated by the massive and ancient Château d’Angers with its 500 metres of ramparts and 17 towers.

PART 3

The next stop is the quiet market town of Châtellerault on the River Vienne followed by a station for the popular futuristic theme park: Parc du Futuroscope, which is based on multimedia and virtual-reality. The next major stop is the historic city of Poitiers. The station is in a valley to the west of the old town which is built on a hill, with narrow roads winding down into the valley. The city centre is quite small and very easy to navigate thanks to the red, blue and yellow lines painted on the pavement for visitors and the signposts along the way. The lines all start outside the Romanesque Notre Dame church and guide you around the city’s historical sites and museums as well as to Blossac Park with its pretty gardens and a small zoo. Regular rail services run from Poitiers to Limoges (Table 309) arriving in the city’s grand art deco Gare des Bénédictins which is worth a visit in itself. The city is famous for its production of excellent porcelain which is displayed in the many museums in its historic centre and makes an ideal day trip from Poitiers.

Table 300 shows services from Poitiers to picturesque La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast which can be reached in around 1 hour 20 minutes. Once one of France’s foremost seaports, the historic port has been beautifully preserved and is dominated by three 14th and 15th-century towers, whilst the old town has arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses, and boutique shops. There are some interesting maritime museums as well as one of the largest aquariums in Europe. Just off the coast of La Rochelle are three picturesque islands: Ile de Ré is connected to the mainland by a toll bridge whilst Ile d’Oléron and Ile d’Aix can both be reached by boat. All three have lovely sandy beaches and pretty scenery to explore as well as some impressive lighthouses.

PART 4

We depart Poitiers for the final leg of the journey and the first stop is Angoulême, a fortified hilltop city on a plateau overlooking a meander of the Charente River. Around the beautiful historic centre, many of the city’s ramparts remain intact and once a year are used as the circuit for a classic car race. The International Comic Strip Festival is also held here every January and the city has murals of comics and illustrations on buildings in almost every neighborhood around the city, as well as decorated buses and post boxes.

The next stop is the small winemaking town of Libourne, a medieval bastide town on the Dordogne which has several Château and wine estates to explore in the area as well as a huge open-air market in the town square. Then it’s on to our final destination, vibrant and elegant Bordeaux, the world’s largest urban World Heritage Site. The city’s top attractions are La Cité du Vin, a futuristic cultural centre dedicated to the living heritage of wine and the spectacular
‘water mirror’ at La Place de la Bourse. It is the largest reflecting pool in the world and alternates between the effects of fog, mirror, and pool which reflects the beautiful buildings that surround it. Most of the main sites are within walking distance from the station but there is also a high-tech tram network. If you want to explore some of the great wineries in the area, bus tours are available as well as a local rail service to Le Verdon (Table 307) which stops at some of the main vineyards.

There are plenty of beautiful locations around Bordeaux that can be explored by train. The seaside resort town of Arcachon is one of the most popular summer destinations in the southwest of France and is just 55 minutes by local train
(Table 306). Further afield the elegant seaside resort of Biarritz can be reached in around 2 hours (Table 305). Located along France’s Basque coast, Biarritz is famous for its long, sandy beaches, surf, casinos, glitzy atmosphere, and its cuisine.

Christmas Markets by train

This week we are taking a look at a small selection of the wonderful markets worth visiting around Europe this December to stock up on Christmas presents and festive food and drink! All of these cities can be easily reached by train on major routes from all over Europe.

  1. Vienna, Austria.

This beautiful and atmospheric city is perfect for a Christmas visit. Christkindlmärkte is the name for the many markets that pop up all over the city in the cobbled streets adorned with hundreds of fairy lights. Rathauspark in front of City Hall is the largest market with its giant tree, ice rink and fairground rides. You can also listen to international choirs singing carols to get you in the spirit.

  1. Brussels, Belgium

At the largest Christmas market in Belgium, Winter Wonders’ 240 stalls sell a wide variety of Christmas items, from traditional gifts to delicious Belgian delicacies against the backdrop of a giant Ferris wheel. When the sun goes down, make your way to the Grand-Place for a dazzling sound and lights show.

  1. Berlin, Germany

The German capital boasts 60 Christmas markets, so there’s something for everyone! You can expect everything from elaborate illuminations to live entertainment such as a nativity with real animals, crafting demonstrations, magical attractions for children or even medieval processions.

  1. Strasbourg, France

France’s oldest Christmas market sells a variety of traditional items, sweets and mulled wine from around 300 wooden chalets dotted around different areas of the picturesque Alsatian town. The markets each have an individual feel and showcase different products or themes including one from a guest country, with a different one invited every year to display its Christmas wares.

  1. Stockholm, Sweden

For a guaranteed snowy Christmas, head north to Stockholm’s Skansen’s Market which has been held annually since 1903. Pretty red huts sell traditional sausages, cheeses, spices and other homemade delights. The markets also sell an array of Swedish crafts alongside traditional Christmas ornaments and hand-dipped candles.

TABLES 330 and 333: Paris – Nîmes

PART 1

It’s a new month and a new area of the timetable to focus on. This time we are looking at one of our editorial favourites from the list of many scenic rail routes that we list in the timetable (see page 42 of the timetable). We have chosen a route in Central France, starting at the capital city Paris, travelling to the beautiful Clermont Ferrand (Table 330) then onwards through one of Europe’s finest stretches of railway, to the vibrant city of Nimes (Table 333)

The journey begins in the heart of Paris at the unattractive Gare de Paris-Bercy, a relief station for the nearby Gare de Lyon. Unusually, the station features an area for loading cars and scooters onto trains used for overnight long distance services for passengers wishing to travel with their vehicle to destinations such as Avignon, Marseille, Nice, St Raphaël and Toulon. It is possible to complete the 723 km journey to Nimes on this route in around 9 hours, but with an abundance of fine scenery including mountains, gorges and rivers we recommend breaking your journey at some of the interesting towns along the way.

The two hour journey to the first stop, Nevers follows one of the more interesting routes radiating out of Paris and one that has only been electrified since the mid-1990s. The line weaves its way through forests, hugging the river and affording some lovely views over the famous vineyards of the Loire Valley. The picturesque town of Nevers on a hill on the bank of the river Loire has a varied and interesting history and is renowned for its high quality porcelain which can be purchased in many shops around the town. There are several interesting buildings to explore in the town centre, of which the 15th-century Ducal Palace (now occupied by the courts of justice and an important ceramic museum) and the Cathedral of Saint-Cyr and Sainte-Julitte are the most important. Nevers is also internationally renowned as the burial place of Saint Bernadette and thousands of pilgrims come each year to meditate before her body which is displayed at the Chapel of her name. The train then continues on through the pretty Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region stopping at the smaller towns of Moulins sur Allier and Saint-Germain-des-Fossés.

PART 2

The next stop on this route is the town of Vichy in the Auvergne region, most famous for its historic spa facilities. The pedestrianised town centre offers no shortage of heritage and architectural attractions to attract passing tourists, plus a choice of pretty parks and gardens, covered walkways and attractive shopping streets. Architectural sights of interest include the art-nouveau Opera house, the casino and the Hall des Sources where you can sample the naturally fizzy healing waters.

After a brief stop at Riom – Châtel-Guyon, we continue to Clermont Ferrand where a change of train is necessary. The capital of the Auvergne region has exceptional surroundings, between the Puys Mountain Range and its chain of volcanoes, it is the starting point for several scenic rail journeys. The city is overlooked by the imposing, dormant Puy de Dôme. Visitors can ascend the mountain via a rack railway, at the top there is a restaurant, paragliding, hiking and lovely views along the Parc des Volcans.

The city was originally two towns, Clermont and Montferrand, and still retains two distinct historic centres: Clermont contains the key historic sights and Montferrand is one of the best historically preserved towns in France. Take in the religious architecture and buildings built from elegant grey lava stone, such as the city’s most imposing landmark, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption with its black spires visible from almost every part of the town. The global tyre company Michelin established their corporate headquarters here more than 100 years ago in the city. The history of the company is displayed in the modern Aventure Michelin museum, one of several interesting museums in the city.

From here we follow “La Ligne des Cévennes” to Nimes but there are other scenic long distance options across the Massif Central. “La Ligne des Causses” which is frequently plagued by rumours of closure, follows a 394 kilometer route across the top of the mountain plateaux through Neussargues to Béziers (Table 332) and there is more beautiful scenery on the Arvant – Aurillac – Figeac line (Tables 331/317)

PART 3

We now travel through the beautiful Auvergne region and the most scenic part of the route, through the Gorges de l’Allier.

Firstly the train pootles through the Romanesque towns of Issoire, Brioude and St Georges d’Aurac before we reach Langeac. Here you can choose to leave the modern SNCF train and board the older and slower Cévennes tourist train which runs on selected days throughout the summer months between the towns of Langogne and Langeac. The train follows the famous “Cevenol” railway track, that was originally built to directly link Paris to Marseille. Following the meanders of the river, hugging the rock face, the train offers some unbeatable views of the gorges carved out from the rock as it passes through the many tunnels and crosses several amazing bridges. The tourist train includes a running commentary and takes just over 2 hours 20 mins, compared to the SNCF train which covers the same distance in about 1 hour 40 minutes, so there is plenty of time to appreciate the scenery and take ample photographs. For tickets and timings see their website

Travelling south, the line crosses some of the most impressive viaducts on French railways, such as the edifice at Chapeauroux, the near-semicircle of Chamborigaud Viaduct and Villefort, the highest stone viaduct in France. Along this spectacular stretch long sections of track are built on a masonry ledges high above the River Allier with glorious views along the valley. The highest point of the journey is at La Bastide, where the line crosses the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, from here the line drops down, passing mostly through tunnels towards our final stop, Nîmes.

PART 4

Nîmes is one of the most attractive cities in France and is just the right size for exploring on foot. Established by the Romans, and often referred to as the ‘French Rome’ it retains some of the finest Roman remains in the Mediterranean, including its famous amphitheatre, one of the best-preserved in the world. Other Roman sites include the Maison Carrée (Square House), a small, wonderfully preserved Roman temple and the nearby Pont du Gard (approximately 20 kilometres north-east of the city), a very picturesque aqueduct built during the first century AD to supply water to the city.

Apart from its Roman remains, the city has an attractive old town to explore with quaint markets, a wealth of museums and beautiful gardens such as the Jardins de la Fontaine, one of the oldest city parks in France which contains further Roman remains.

Nîmes is also an ideal base for exploring further afield using regional rail connections, such as the Cevennes national park to the north or the renowned wetlands of the Camargue to the south. Its main railway station offers easy connections to the nearby cities of Montpellier, Avignon and Marseille from where you can connect to other scenic rail lines along the coast to the Cote d’Azur or north into Provence.


PART 5

For the final week of our look at Tables 330 and 333 from Paris to Nîmes, we are looking at the options for day trips from Nîmes by train.

Travelling south-west, the stylish metropolis of Montpellier can be reached in around 25 minutes (Table 355). The city boasts many elegant buildings, artistically decorated tramways, grand mansions (hôtels particuliers) and gorgeous white sandy beaches so there is plenty to occupy the day-tripper. Further along the line is the large fishing port of Sète. Known as the Venice of Languedoc, it is criss-crossed by canals and bridges. Boat trips along the coast are available from the harbour and there are some wonderful seafood restaurants to indulge in. The larger towns of Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan are also possibilities along the same line with frequent services available from Nîmes, starting from as early as 5.06am for early risers!

Travelling east from Nîmes you could visit the ancient walled city of Avignon. Home to some great museums and beautiful architecture and its most famous landmark, the huge Palais des Papes (Papal Palace). It is also a short hop to Marseille (Tables 351 and 355), France’s busiest port, known for its harbour, sunny climate and beautiful coastline. The city often gets some bad press, but its historic old town and port area are full of treasures if you are prepared to overlook its more unattractive industrial features. The famous Notre Dame de la Garde, which overlooks the city from the top of the hill, is not to be missed.

For a less touristy destination, the walled medieval city of Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue region can be reached in under an hour using frequent regional TER trains (see SNCF for timings).  Fortified into a Mediterranean port in the 12th century, Aigues-Mortes’ massive walls have been wonderfully preserved. With a ticket to the ramparts you can walk around the entire town in around 45 minutes and get some great views of the surrounding red salt marsh lagoons and the mountains of salt produced here.

TABLE 18: London/Paris – Amsterdam

PART 1

We have a new Table for July, this time we will be taking a look in detail at Table 18 from our International section. This table covers the popular route from London/Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels.

There is a now a choice of three train connections between Brussels and Amsterdam – The fast Thalys and new Eurostar connections or the slower (and cheaper) InterCity service that runs every hour during the day time. Thalys operate high speed trains running every one or two hours and make intermediate stops only at Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam and Antwerpen, making the journey in under 2 hours. The slower IC service goes via Den Haag and other local stops and does not allow seat reservation, which means greater flexibility (tickets are valid all day so you can hop on and off at will) but trains can be full during peak periods. Tickets for Eurostar and Thalys must be pre-booked and offer different classes of travel. Thalys offer Standard, Comfort or Premium class, with Premium tickets including food and drink as well as access to Thalys lounges. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass, you won’t need to buy a ticket but you will pay a seat reservation fee.

The slower IC route takes us through the cities of Antwerp, Den Haag and Rotterdam as well as serving both Schiphol Airport and Brussels National Airport. An extra stop at Breda was added in April 2018. Using the slower service, the entire journey can be taken in just 3 and half hours meaning it can make an interesting day trip particularly if you stop off along the way.

The Brussels Capital-Region has three main train stations, Noord/Nord is best for connections to Liège or Luxembourg, Centraal/Central for the city centre and the busiest station where the majority of international trains and Eurostar services arrive is Midi/Zuid (Brussels South Station) where there are numerous connections to Gent and Brugge as well as Lille, Paris and London. Due to Brussels-Capital being bilingual, both the French and Dutch names of the station are official, hence the Midi/Zuid shorthand used in the ERT.

PART 2

We are going to begin in Brussels, easily and quickly reached from either capital city. Brussels has enough art, culture and cuisine to keep even the most ambitious explorer busy for days. Combining French, Dutch and Flemish traditions the city has a mixture of old world grand and art nouveau buildings alongside modern skyscrapers.

The Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) is the hub to which all visitors to Brussels inevitably flock. The busy World Heritage listed square is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world, with architecture from all eras. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but there are many interesting buildings and elaborate statues. A short walk away you will find Brussels most famous statue, the Manneken Pis (Peeing boy!) embraced by the people of Brussels the statue often has a different outfit for every occasion.  Another statue worth a visit is the space-age Atomium. Towering over north Brussels’ suburbia the 9 glittering spheres are topped with a panorama-level restaurant with some great views of the surrounding area and ‘mini Europe’ below where you can see models of famous sites such as Big Ben and the Berlin Wall.

Apart from its famous chocolates and beers, there are almost 90 museums, extravagant shopping arcades, stunning churches, beautiful parks, and wonderful cafes and restaurants to explore. Most of the museums are within the city centre or easily reached by public transport. Apart from the usual arts and scientific museums, there are quirky ones like theToy Museum, Belgium Chocolate Village and also Train World, a modern attraction displaying an impressive collection of old and new locomotives. Due to its excellent rail links there are many day trips possible if using Brussels as your base. Liège or Bruges (Table 400) can both be reached in under an hour and a little further afield you can reach Lille on the French/Belgium border.

PART 3

Following on from Brussels the next station is Mechelen which lies approximately 25 kilometres between Brussels and Antwerp. This picturesque city is one of Flanders’ prominent cities of historical art and has some wonderful museums and hundreds of listed monuments, churches and renaissance buildings. The imposing Catholic church in the centre of the town is visible from nearly everywhere so is a great compass point from which to explore. Its unusually shaped Rumbold’s Tower is a wonder to behold and a spectacular view can be reached by climbing its 514 steps. Also not to miss is the newly renovated majestic renaissance palace that houses the Museum Hof van Busleyden with its impressive collection of artworks.

Onwards now to Antwerpen Centraal, widely regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. There are three levels of tracks and a shopping centre which includes a diamond gallery with more than thirty diamond shops. The station is conveniently located within walking distance to the historic city centre where there is plenty to see for lovers of art, architecture or fashion. Belgium’s second biggest city has two museums showcasing the best of avant-garde fashion as well as plenty of shopping in the surrounding fashion district. The city also displays plenty of references to its most famous resident, the 17th century painter Rubens. The artist’s palatial home Wapper Rubenshuis is a must see, together with the Royal Museum of Fine Art, displaying works from masters such as Magritte and Van Dyck. To experience renaissance works in a spectacular environment visit the iconic cathedral which towers over the skyline. The city has plenty of options for eating and drinking with trendy restaurants and bars where you may sample the local speciality Antwerpse Handjes, little biscuits or chocolates in the shape of a hand.


PART 4

After Antwerp the line travels through the southern Netherlands, stopping at Breda, a popular destination due to its rich history. In the city centre you’ll find lots of interesting architecture and cultural delights but Breda is also a fun-loving town with many cafés, terraces and excellent restaurants as well as a range of specialty shops and boutiques.

The next stop is the modern Centraal station with its striking slanted roof, in the maritime city of Rotterdam. The Netherlands second biggest city is famed for its futuristic architecture and has a wealth of top-class museums and galleries. Split by the vast Nieuwe Maas shipping channel, Rotterdam is crossed by a series of tunnels and bridges, notably the dramatic Erasmusbrug – the swooping white cable-stayed bridge dubbed de Zwaan (the Swan). Many day trips are possible from Rotterdam either using the frequent trains and buses or by following one of the well-marked cycle routes. Historic and scenic Delft is nearby, home of the world famous ceramics, its an unspoilt traditional town with pretty canals. Bicycles can be hired from the railway station and are the ideal way to explore.

Onwards through the largely urban landscape the next stop is the administrative capital Den Haag (The Hague) home of the Dutch parliament and the royal family. The Hague offers a unique mix of small lively beach resorts and a historical city centre. Many of the attractions such as the royal palaces and eye catching buildings around ‘The Plein’ are within walking distance of the station. Rather than having canals like other Dutch cities, The Hague has wide streets and avenues and plenty of areas of green space, giving the city a more continental feel.

After a stop at Schiphol airport the final destination on this route is reached, the vibrant capital city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam Centraal Station is the primary station, providing quick access to the city centre. This terminus not only offers train services in all directions but is also directly connected to local bus, tram, metro and ferry services. The city centre is very easy to navigate and compact enough to be walkable or canal cruises are a popular way to get a different perspective. If you’re planning to head out into the Amsterdam Area during your trip to Amsterdam, it makes sense to use the Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket – a special public transport pass valid on bus, tram, metro and train in Amsterdam and the entire region. The ticket is valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and comes with a useful public transport guide for the Amsterdam area filled with sightseeing tips.

Route No. 14: “From Flanders to the Rhine”

ROUTE OF THE WEEK

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 14: “From Flanders to the Rhine” which begins in Lille, passing through Brussels and Liège, ending in Cologne. The Thalys and Deutsche Bahn trains from Brussels to Cologne all follow the same route. They dash across the flatlands of Brabant to reach Liège (Luik in Dutch and Lüttich in German), an industrial city that sprawls along the west bank of the River Meuse.

In Liège, all trains stop at Guillemins railway station, a stunning piece of design by Santiago Calatrava. The building is best appreciated from the road outside rather than from the platforms, but on a sunny day the play of light and shade on the platforms is quite seductive. Part of the station is shown on the front cover of this book. The station is a reminder that Liège is a city which has always had strong railway connections

A new high-speed line from Liège to Aachen opened in 2009, thus marking the end of a slow dawdle through the hill country of eastern Belgium to reach the Germany border. Nowadays, the fast trains dive through tunnels and miss the best of the scenery. Of course, you can if you wish still follow the old line via Verviers to Aachen. There are hourly trains on this route, all requiring a change of train at Welkenraedt (ERT 400 & 438).

Route No. 38: “Through Liguria to Tuscany”

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 38: “Through Liguria to Tuscany” which begins in Nice, passing through Monaco into Italy ending in Pisa.

There is some wonderful scenery on this short journey, though to see the best of it, you’ll really need to get off the train and linger. Genoa is an obvious choice for an overnight stop, but you may want to be more creative and choose one or two smaller communities to stay for a day or two. Smaller towns which are among our personal favourites are Menton, Sanremo, Albenga, Santa Margherita Ligure and Vernazza, though the last of these is so formidably busy in summer that we would not even think of stopping there other than in the depths of winter. Slowish regional trains run at least every couple of hours along every section of this route, so it’s perfectly possible to travel spontaneously and just buy tickets along the way. If you are in a rush, you can travel from Nice to Pisa in about six hours, with just a single change of train in Genoa.

Route No. 2: “Burgundy and the Rhône Valley”

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 2: “Burgundy and the Rhône Valley” which begins in Paris, running through Dijon and Lyon before arriving in Marseille.

As you move south along the PLM line, the scenery on this route becomes ever more compelling, and the journey culminates in a magnificent ride south through the Rhône Valley to the Mediterranean. You can easily complete this journey in a single day. It requires just a single change of train at Lyon Part Dieu station. The trains upon which this journey relies are TER services: these are regional trains where there’s no need to pre-book and there are no supplements for holders of rail passes.

Marseille is an earthy Mediterranean city and hectically vibrant, with a great music scene and superb fish-based cuisine. The busiest port in France, it’s a melting pot of French and North African cultures. Marseille’s grubby, rough-and-ready character appeals to some, while others will want to move on swiftly – though watch this space, because big regeneration schemes are changing the city, especially in the northern dock areas. There’s a good métro and bus system, and three tram lines.