A train journey is a hugely relaxing way to see the countryside, whether you're using the scheduled SNCF (French Rail) services or one of the tourist routes.
This is our guide to navigating the main stations of Southern Provence and to using the train to get around. Click here to book TGV and Eurostar train tickets on the official TGV-Europe booking site.
And, if you happen to be a model train enthusiast, click here to read about the JardiTrain miniature railway park near Avignon!
In 2013 SNCF launched the world's first low cost, high speed rail travel service. Called Ouigo (pronounced "We Go"), it offers tickets starting from 10 €uros from Paris to the south of France, including Aix en Provence, Avignon, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nîmes and Valence.
Ouigo operates three to four return journeys between Paris and the south each day. To keep prices down, this is a no-frills service similar to that of low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. Ouigo's blue and pink trains depart, not from central Paris but from Marne la Vallée, the station 32 km / 20 miles east of Paris which serves Euro Disney.
The Ouigo trains have no first- or business-class section and no buffet car. Tickets must be bought online at least four hours ahead of travel and are not on sale at rail stations. Passengers must "check in" at least 30 minutes before departure.
Extra conveniences and comforts come at an extra cost too. Travellers may bring a handbag / purse plus one small bag free and there is a modest charge for additional luggage (maximum two items). Seats are more expensive in those carriages with electrical power outlets
Ouigo is an independently run subsidiary of SNCF and its service is, apparently, aimed at the French. But it is still worth considering for tourists travelling south from the UK and Northern Europe who want to avoid the inconvenience of changing trains in Paris.
The existing iDTGV and Prems budget fares on SNCF continue to be offered in parallel with the new Ouigo service. Website for Ouigo
Click here to book a hotel in Provence
If you are planning to travel around extensively by public transport, it's well worth considering buying a ZOU! card. It can give you substantial discounts on local coach and train travel in Provence.
There is a range of different types of ZOU! card aimed at both regular and occasional travellers: check the SNCF website for what's currently available.
Of particular interest to tourists but available during the summer only is a daily ZOU! rail pass which is on offer from 1 June to 30 September.
It gives you one day's unlimited travel in any one of the six départements of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur network for 15 €uros.
These are: Les Alpes de Hautes Provence (04), Hautes Alpes (05), Alpes Maritime (06), Bouches du Rhône (13), Var (83) and Vaucluse (84). You need to specify which département you want at the time of buying the pass.
Note that the ZOU! card qualifies for discounts on either the local bus (LER) or the local train (TER) network, but not both. By the way, "Zou!" is provençal slang for "Let's go!"
© Travel and Tourism in Provence 2010-2017.