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An Enchanting Train Journey Through France: Experiencing the TGV and the Tour de France

An Enchanting Train Journey Through France: Experiencing the TGV and the Tour de France
photo: Théo Girardot / Flickr/TGV
13 / 11 / 2023

Have you ever considered traveling across France by train and experiencing the legendary TGV? We did! We traversed France from east to west, enjoying a wonderful trip that included visiting Monaco, the Formula 1 Mecca, and encountering the Tour de France peloton.

Just before 8:30 a.m., we boarded a train to Linz, Austria. Our destination was Menton in southern France, located just a few kilometers from the Italian border. We were embarking on a two-week vacation filled with numerous unforgettable experiences.

Our journey was straightforward: travel to Linz, then take a night train to Venice, followed by a trip to Menton via Milan and Ventimiglia the next day. Fortunately, our journey proceeded without any issues, and we arrived in Menton, albeit a bit weary from the travel. Our plan for the evening was simple: check-in, explore the area, see the Mediterranean Sea, and catch up on sleep.

After spending a day in Menton, where we stayed for the first week, we took a trip to nearby Nice. The regional train network efficiently connects the southern and southeastern coasts. Trains run frequently between Ventimiglia in Italy and Cannes in France. During our first week, we frequently used this network, the TER, to explore the area.

Tom Dolgos / Flickr

It must be noted that it was a good servant to us, judge for yourself. We got with it to Nice (picture 1), to the principality of Monaco, which we would like to say a few words about. It is a wonderful place, which is known for its wealth, a casino, which, by the way, is the main source of funds for the state budget, a princely palace, or the Formula 1 circuit. You can walk around it in about an hour. We would definitely recommend this experience.

In the remaining days, we visited the port city of Antibes, where the remains of the ancient Romans can be seen. Subsequently, we visited the city of Cannes, the site of one of the most famous film festivals in the world. On Saturday, we stopped in the nearby "mountain" town of Éze, which offered truly breathtaking views. All these cities have one common denominator. In addition to the fact that they are all extraordinarily beautiful places, they all lie on the route of the already mentioned TER, so you can move between them quickly and without transferring, beauty.

For the second half of our vacation, we adopted a more nomadic style, moving westward with stops in various beautiful French cities. On the morning of Monday, July 18, we left Menton for historic Avignon. We were extremely happy that part of the trip we traveled on the legendary TGV, so we could tick off our first trip on this iconic train in our life. We quickly reached Avignon, whose biggest landmark is undoubtedly the papal palace. It once housed the first men of the Catholic Church during the period of the so-called Avignon captivity of the popes, and then the anti-pope also resided here during the period of the double/triple papacy (note: we are talking about most of the 14th and part of the 15th century). The second landmark of this city is the Avignon Bridge.

Eric Salard / Flickr

From Avignon, we traveled to Arles, about 15 minutes away by train, dominated by an ancient Roman amphitheater. The next day, we reached Carcassonne, with its stunning medieval castle and sub-castle. Our journey also included Toulouse, a university city, and Lourdes, a significant Christian pilgrimage site.

In Lourdes, while heading to the cathedral where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared, we unexpectedly encountered buses bearing stickers of famous cycling teams. It dawned on us that a stage of the Tour de France was starting in Lourdes, an unplanned but exciting addition to our visit to the impressive cathedral.

From Lourdes, we traveled north to Bordeaux, synonymous with fine wine, and then to La Rochelle to witness a sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. On Sunday, we visited Poitiers, near the site of a pivotal medieval European battle. Notably, none of our transfers between cities along France's south and half of its west coast took more than 2 hours. This is a testament to a fast and high-quality railway network.

Todd Lappin

From Poitiers, we had no choice but to return home. Our journey to the Czech Republic was smooth until we reached Germany, where, compared to the French rail network, the German system seemed less reliable. The advanced state of the country certainly deserves a more reliable railway, which it must be said is probably being worked on. There, our train was delayed by over an hour, but we managed to make our connecting train in Karlsruhe, which was also delayed. In the end, we got to Nuremberg about 2 and a half hours later compared to the original plan, but that didn't really bother us, we wanted to get to Karlovy Vary and the train we were supposed to take wasn't leaving until about 2 hours later. So we shortened the time with a short tour of Nuremberg. Our journey from there to Marktredwitz, however, was interrupted by a storm that caused trees to fall onto the tracks, resulting in a 2-hour delay. We arrived in Marktredwitz after the last train to Cheb had departed.

Thankfully, a friendly conductor informed us that a taxi, arranged by DB, would be waiting to take us to Karlovy Vary. However, upon arrival, there was no taxi in sight. After an anxious hour of waiting, the taxi finally arrived and took us to Karlovy Vary at DB's expense, concluding our two-week adventure through picturesque France, a journey that we always fondly recall.