There are two train stations serving Aix en Provence, the TGV (high-speed train) station outside the city and Aix Centre, the downtown regional (TER) station. This is a guide to both, and to rail travel to and from Aix en Provence.
Click here to book a hotel in Aix en Provence
Long-distance rail travellers to and from Aix will almost certainly pass through the TGV station.
Located in the countryside 16 km / 10 miles south-west of the city, it opened in June 2001 as part of the high-speed rail link between Paris and Marseille.
Click here to view the station website for Aix TGV station, which includes live travel information on train arrivals and departures.
A new direct rail link between London Saint Pancras to Aix TGV ran weekly for a trial period in May and June 2013 and proved hugely popular, running at 90% capacity.
As a result Eurostar announced plans for a fuller, year-round service to the South of France. This began on 1 May 2015.
However it's slightly bad news for Aix: the direct service runs between London and Marseille stopping in Ashford, Lyon and Avignon TGV on its way south (northbound trains have an extra stop in Lille where passengers must pass through security and passport control before entering the UK).
So travellers to Aix will need to change trains in either Avignon or Marseille. Trains run "up to five times a week", depending on the time of year, and tickets are now on sale.
Getting To And From The Station
The Aix TGV station itself has been a roaring success too, much more so than originally projected, mainly because it's not only used by people travelling to Aix itself. Many passengers find it quicker and more convenient to get from Aix TGV station to the airport or to areas north of Marseille, than to travel from Saint Charles station in Marseille.
Consequently, the station's facilities are woefully over-stretched especially at peak periods. One of the most obvious examples is the shortage of car parking.
There is free access - up to 30 minutes - to drop off or pick up passengers and ten car parks at various prices and of various specifications (long-term, short-term, subscription only, etc). You can book your parking at Aix TGV station in advance here.
But these car-parks are often full and, as a result (as well as in order to avoid car-park charges), drivers leave their cars along both sides of the approach roads for some distance around the station. It can cause major traffic jams at peak travel periods, so anyone planning to drop off a car before travelling on by train should bear this in mind.
If you do intend to rent a vehicle, you will find a cabin housing a number of car hire companies - Citer, Hertz, Europcar, Avis and Sixt - outside the station. Take the "Cézanne" exit by the northbound tracks towards Paris, and it's about 50 metres along on your left.
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The taxi rank is outside the exit on the "Zola" side by the southbound tracks towards Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 42 27 71 11. Click here to pre-book a holiday taxi to or from Aix TGV station.
There is a regular bus shuttle service to the centre of Aix and to Marseille-Provence airport at Marignane, which lies 12 km / 7.5 miles to the south-west of the station. Click here for the bus timetable from Aix TGV to Aix centre and Marseille-Provence airport.
This shuttle leaves from stops on the road running underneath the station. For buses into Aix, the lift / elevator or stairs to the lower level are by Door (Porte) D. For buses to the airport, the lift and stairs are at the other end of the station, by Door A.
The buses from the city centre to Aix TGV leave from the bus station (la gare routière) at avenue de l'Europe. Tel: (+33) 8 10 00 13 36.
Aix TGV has no direct connections to the local (TER) rail network to other towns in Provence. But some municipalities have set up bus routes.
Autocars Payan, tel (+33) 4 92 61 12 26, runs buses to Manosque, Peyruis and Digne and to Manosque, Peyruis and Sisteron.
Autocars Bremond, tel (+33) 4 94 68 05 01, also runs two services. One goes to Manosque, Peyruis, Digne and Forcalquier. The other goes to Saint Maximim, Brignoles, Le Luc and Le Cannet (this second route is extended to Saint Maxime, Grimaud and Saint Tropez in summer).
All these buses leave from the stop underneath Door D.
Buses to Vitrolles and Martigues leave from the stop underneath Door A and are run by Cartreize, tel (+33) 4 32 76 00 40.
In winter, a snow bus shuttle (navette blanche) runs to a range of ski resorts at weekends. Click here for details of the snow buses from Aix TGV.
The main station entrance is on the west, "Cézanne" side. Most of the station's meagre facilities are located here including a newsagent, a photo booth, telephones, a bar serving snacks and drinks and a few tables for diners. Opposite is the ticket office and, next to that, an information desk which doubles as a lost property desk and help point for disabled travellers (but no left luggage facility).
A small bonus is the free wi-fi access. There is also free wi-fi in the shuttle buses linking Aix bus station, Aix TGV station and Marseille Saint Charles train and bus station.
Another disadvantage of the station is that it has no enclosed waiting room. Instead seats are scattered around the high-ceilinged inner concourse.
Automatic glass doors seal this space off from the platforms, but the station's exposed location can make it a very chilly place to wait in when the Mistral is blowing.
There are two (pay-for) toilets and some vending machines; a cashpoint (ATM) is outside the station. Take the Cézanne exit and it's a few metres on your right.
The main concourse is linked to the southbound platform by a footbridge across the tracks with lifts / elevators on both sides. There is another entrance/exit on this, the "Zola" side, but not much else, apart from a small waiting area.
Train Routes To And From Aix en Provence TGV Station
The TGV route from Paris has slashed journey times from the capital to Aix en Provence to well under three hours. If travelling from London, you have two choices: take the direct London-Marseille Eurostar and change in Avignon or Marseille or, for a wider choice of travel times, take the Eurostar via Lille or Paris.
The advantage of Lille is that the onward TGVs leave from the same station. Paris offers more trains and the total journey time is shorter, but you will need to cross the city, either by taxi or by RER, from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon: allow at least 90 minutes.
You could do this trip in a leisurely style and have a drink or a meal in the incredible Le Train Bleu restaurant (pictured) in the Gare de Lyon. Built in 1900, it is decorated in full Belle Epoque splendour with 41 magnificent ceiling frescos giving Parisian diners a foretaste of their destinations in the South of France.
Another, cheaper restaurant near the station is the Brasserie l'Européen, right opposite the main entrance to the Gare de Lyon. It has a flamboyant interior with Art Nouveau chandeliers and Tiffany lights (and a clock whose hands go backwards), a handy locker room for suitcases, and a medium-priced set menu. Good to know: unlike Le Train Bleu, which only serves meals at limited set times, the Brasserie l'Européen offers continuous service.
The choice is small and basic, but of excellent quality and hot meals are served throughout the day. The set menu might feature "ocean pearls" (aka oysters), steak, duck or fish and a dessert. The house speciality is rum baba. Brasserie l'Européen, 21 bis boulevard Diderot, 75012 Paris. Tel: (+33) 1 43 43 99 70.
There are also direct TGV services between Aix and Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Geneva, Marseille, Toulon and Nice, as well as less frequent ones with Barcelona, Dijon, Frankfurt, Hyères, Madrid, Montpellier, Nantes and Strasbourg.
And a more recent addition is the "Ouigo" low-cost, high-speed train introduced by the SNCF in 2013. You can take this train from Aix en Provence to Lyon or Marne la Vallée, just east of Paris (the station for Euro Disney).
There is a ticket office at the station but you can book Eurostar and high-speed train tickets in advance on the official TGV-Europe booking site. TGV tickets can be printed on your own computer before departure, just like a low-cost airline ticket.
If travelling from the UK, bear in mind that it is often cheaper to buy a Eurostar ticket to Paris or Lille and then a separate onward ticket to your final destination through the SNCF (French Rail) booking site. It is also worth checking the first-class fare, which might be little more than the second-class fare for the same journey and is sometimes even cheaper.
Look out for trains marked iDTGV when booking trains from Paris to Aix en Provence. They are exactly the same as other TGV trains except that all the seats are offered below the standard full fares, and can only be bought in advance on the Internet.
Often one and the same TGV train will have one of its rames reserved for standard-fare tickets and one rame for the cheaper iDTGV tickets. Marketing for the iDTGV fares is targeted at younger travellers but in fact there is no age restriction on them.
Like the Ouigo and TGV trains, some iDTGVs are double-deckers, or "duplexes". To secure a seat on the top deck, select the seating zone option "iDzap" when booking online. The lower-deck seats are in the zone "iDzen", which is supposedly quieter though in practice there's not much difference between them.
Aix Centre station is at the junction of the avenue Victor Hugo and rue Gustave Desplaces, a short walk from La Rotonde at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau. It is open from 5am to 1am. The station website (in French only) includes live travel information on train arrivals and departures.
One train line passes through the station, from Marseille Saint Charles in the south to either Pertuis or (less frequently) Manosque, Gap and Briançon in the north.
The ticket office is not in the concourse but in an annexe a few metres to the right as you face the station (a covered arcade connects it to the main lobby) and there are also ticket machines.
Click here to read about the ZOU! card which offers up to 75% discount on local train travel. An information desk by the main entrance will answer queries and help disabled travellers. There is no left luggage facility.
Automatic vending machines sell drinks and snacks and a convenience store is open during the day. A cashpoint (ATM) is on the wall outside by the ticket office and the toilets are in platform 1. There's also a photo booth and, at the moment, a piano for travellers to play while they wait, one of many scattered in stations across France.
Where to eat and drink: Two bars serving food can be found right opposite the station. The Brasserie Le Versian is also a bureau de tabac (tobacconist). Le Capitole has free wi-fi and serves excellent, cheap hot meals at lunchtime and snacks during the rest of the day.
Click here to reserve car parking at Aix Central station.
A company renting bikes, electric bikes and scooters can be found opposite. There is an Avis car hire office next to the station and Hertz and various other car hire companies on the avenue Victor Hugo.
In winter, a snow train (train des neiges) runs from Aix Central station to a range of ski resorts at weekends. Click here for details of the Aix snow trains.
When Travelling To Or From Either Station
As on all continental railways, you need to date-stamp (composter) your ticket before boarding the train at one of the yellow machines at the entrance to every platform.
This does not apply to tickets which have been printed out on your own computer and are tied to a particular train.
It's wise prior to travel to check for French train strikes, delays, breakdowns and cancellations as the SNCF is highly susceptible to all of these, often at short notice. Fortunately at least this information is now available in English on the SNCF website.