Some people think getting a train to the South of France is madness, I mean – a quick hop on a plane (such fun!) and you’re sunning yourself on the French Riviera – right? While that might be true for some people, it’s not everyone’s first choice. Below I will list some of advantages and disadvantages to train travel.
One evening in 2014 we were talking about where we would like to go on holiday that year, to be honest we were probably arguing about it. Mike likely wanted to go somewhere cold and I wanted to go somewhere hot, it’s almost definite I uttered that ever-irritating sentence “but it’s not a holiday if it’s not hot!” Which is pretty weird given I’m more pale than Edward Cullen and every time it gets above 26 degrees I stomp about complaining “it’s too HOT!” I don’t remember how it came about, but I do remember it was in the middle of the night, but we decided it would be fun to go to France on train, not just the Eurostar but the TGV (high speed train) down to Nice.
So we did, and we had a fab holiday in the French sunshine. Skip forward to 2017 and my opinions on holidays have changed – I love holidaying in our wonderful country, I love the varying countryside and the fact you can probably still get a copy of the Radio Times and a bar of Cadbury’s! I’ve also been a bit unlucky with holidays in the last few years – in 2015 we had a beautiful week in the Dominican Republic and I reckon we got a bit cocky. A trans-Europe trip where we flew into Salzburg, trained it to Budapest and then flew back? Of course, got it on lockdown. Until I got food poisoning that very first day. That’s one to forget… then there was last year, the lost trip to America. So I was a bit nervous about going abroad again. Planes have always made me feel a bit ill and that coupled with different foods and temperatures didn’t sound that appealing. Plus to be honest I find being abroad pretty stressful, the heat – the fact I can’t understand anything other than basic words – the traveling on transport systems you’re not used to (water buses ffs!) but there is a lot of value to mixing with other cultures and getting out of your comfort zone so I decided I’d ease myself back into foreign travel going somewhere I’d been before, and that avoided the planes. Below is a little run down of the pros and cons of train travel, specifically to the South of France, hopefully it will help anyone who is considering it – there were a lot of Brits on our trains so it’s obviously quite a popular method despite the fact I don’t know anyone else who has done it! The pros and cons are based on our individual circumstances and do require you to love within travel distance of London.
- Location – our local airport is Stansted (31 miles) and the Eurostar goes from St Pancras (67 miles). Surely this is a con? No! St Pancras is easily accessible for anyone with a train station nearby, it’s only a short hop from our ‘home’ London station of Liverpool Street whereas Stansted is a nightmare; no train links, no bus links, we would have needed a lift, using the train we can get from our door in England to our door in France without inconveniencing anyone else. When you arrive in Nice you are in the city centre, no faffing around on the edge of a city trying to make it to your accommodation from the airport.
- Luggage – there are no restrictions on luggage weight, so if you can carry it – you can take it! We had three suitcases, a rucksack and a handbag, easy enough to handle and meaning we didn’t have to worry about that bottle of Chinzano for Auntie Gertie pushing us over the limit! Oh, and no worrying about your bags getting ‘lost in the system’!
- Hand luggage – on a similar theme, you are not restricted on what you can take in hand luggage, so you can take through your bottle of water, lotions and potions – no plastic bags in site!
- No planes – this is only a pro for some people but for a nervous flyer it’s invaluable!
- The view – the view from a plane is great when you take off, and when you land, but let’s face it most of the time it’s cloud and after you’ve seen one cloud they all start to look a bit samey! Watching the French fields roll by is lovely but the real treat comes when you get to the coast. A lot of the train tracks are just above the beaches, watching places like Cannes and Antibes roll past is a something that’s hard to describe.
- The time – you only have to check in 30 minutes before your train from London. Of course you must go through security and ‘check in’ but it’s very speedy and you’re only waiting long enough to have a quick browse round the WH Smiths before you’re on the train. Long gone are the days of turning up to the airport three hours before your flight!
- Stretching your legs – anyone that’s been on a long flight, or road trip knows it’s very boring sitting for ages but not aboard the TGV – you can get up and have a wander (and nose at other people). There is a massive catering coach which had seats along each edge you can gaze out while you drink your impossibly small espresso.
- Stay connected – this is only partly true and wifi connectivity is still being rolled our on Eurostar trains and is only available on a small about of TGV routes at the moment but it’s coming!
- The time – I know I used it as a plus above but obviously taking a train is slower than a plane. The average journey time from London Stansted to Nice is 2 hours, the train is more like 9 hours. However, when you factor waiting times at the airport, the border control fiasco and collecting your luggage, the difference is more like 2 1/2 hours. So if speed if your number one consideration, this isn’t the method for you.
- The cost – some people mistakenly think that train travel is cheaper, because it’s not as quick and it’s less ‘exciting’ but that’s not true. Train tickets for two adults to and from London will cost around £300, I found flights with luggage for around £220. But of course this will depend on how far in advance you book your flight and at what time of year you are travelling, we are slap bang in the middle of the summer holidays so undoubtedly paying a premium.
It’s certainly not for everyone but if you are after an adventure I’d definitely recommend traveling to the South of France by train. Nice is the end of the line (though you could change trains and continue on to Monaco, or even Italy) so bear in mind other destinations will be much quicker – you can now even take a direct Eurostar from London to Marseille – getting you there in just under 6 1/2 hours! If you have any specific questions about London – Nice train travel feel free to drop me a message using my contact page.