Traveling France by Train: Exploring Places On & Off the Beaten Track


France is a country that truly has something for everyone. Museums, churches & cathedrals, eclectic neighborhoods, vineyards, beaches, etc, etc! And whether you want to spend time in a touristy city, or seek some rest & relaxation in a quiet village, the train can get you where you want to go. Traveling France by train is convenient, comfortable and affordable!

In this post, we’ll share with you a few of our favorite on & off the beaten track places that you may want to consider adding to your travel itinerary. You may have heard of or even visited some of these locations, and if you have, we’d love to hear about your experiences – be sure to leave a comment below!

Paris: Père Lachaise Cemetery

Cimetiere Père Lachaise by Till Krech
Cimetiere Père Lachaise by Till Krech

As most travelers do, we will begin our journey in Paris, the city of light, love and…well, pretty iconic cemeteries.

Père Lachaise Cemetery can be found in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. It opened in 1804, and since that time, has become the final resting spot for many well-known artists, composers, musicians, philosophers, journalists and more. Upon its opening, the cemetery was considered a less desirable location to be buried due to its location – not being right in the heart of the city, and the fact that, for Catholics, the grounds were not blessed by the church.

In an effort to make the cemetery more appealing, cemetery officials transferred the remains of Jean de La Fontaine and Molière to Père Lachaise. With an increase in burials after this transfer, remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil were also moved to the cemetery.

The clever strategy created a desire in people wanting to be among those buried with the famous citizens. Today, according to the cemetery’s site, there are over one million bodies buried in Père Lachaise. There are very few plots remaining and there is actually a waiting list – with strict rules, in order to be buried along Chopin, Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf, just to name a few.

Visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery by train

To visit, use your Paris Visite and hop on the metro. Using the Metro, you have three options to get you to Père Lachaise.

Take the no. 3 to ‘Gambetta’, walk downhill in the cemetery. Follow the exit for the cemetery, go up the escalator and then up avenue du Pere-Lachaise to the entrance. As you enter the crematorium/columbarium will be straight ahead and there will be a security guard office on the right.

Take the no. 2 or no. 3 to the ‘Père-Lachaise’ stop and then enter the cemetery at the small entrance directly across from the metro entrance.

Take the no. 2 to the ‘Philippe Auguste’ stop and walk up Boulevard Menilmontant to Père Lachaise, which will be on your right.

Normandy: Embracing the Mysterious Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel, France © ATOUT FRANCE/Robert Palomba

Mont St. Michel is a popular destination in the Normandy region of France. It used to be connected to the mainland via a thin natural land bridge, which, before modernization, was covered at high tide and revealed at low tide. This inevitably bestowed upon the area a mystical quality, as it was neither fully an island nor a permanent part of the mainland: it was a tidal island.

Thousands upon thousands of travelers flock to this site yearly to enjoy the quaint village life and little shops that wind up towards the highest point on the island, atop which sits a monastery that dates to the 8th century.  This unusual little place makes for a refreshing day trip from Paris – a brief escape from the craziness of city life.

Visiting Mont St. Michel by train

You can easily take a day-trip to Mont St. Michel from Paris, take the high speed TGV train from the Paris Montparnasse station to Rennes, then a bus from Rennes to Mont Saint Michel (about 45 minutes).

You can purchase train tickets for this entire route on our website. In the past, bus tickets needed to be purchased locally, but if you search using ‘Paris” to ‘Le Mont St Michel’ your bus ticket will be included. This is only the case for the Paris to Rennes to Mont St, Michel option, not the Paris to Pontorson to Mont St. Michel route.

Giverny: Be Inspired by Monet’s Gardens

Jardin d'Eau - Giverny by Alexandre Breveglieri
Jardin d’Eau – Giverny by Alexandre Breveglieri.

It has been said that in 1883, Claude Monet fell in love with Giverny, through a train window. Soon after, he and his wife bought a farmhouse in the village and together with their combined eight children, made a home there. Monet lived in Giverny up until his death in 1926.

It was in 1890, after Monet moved to Giverny, that the impressionist began painting his infamous waterlily pieces. These works were inspired by the pond and gardens that he had worked so hard to create. As he grew older and cataracts began affecting his sight, Monet would paint on larger canvases, focusing more on the changing reflections rather than in-dept details – which is evident in his later works.

Whether you’re into art, painting, gardening, botany, etc…or not, you will be completely inspired by a visit to Monet’s gardens in Giverny. As you walk around through this land of enchantment, you’ll be overwhelmed with the striking beauty that surrounds you. After an afternoon in the gardens, it will be very easy to see how Claude Monet was so inspired here and was able to recreate the scenery so vividly in his works.

Visiting Giverny by Train

You can take the train from Paris St Lazare Station to Vernon. The train is roughly 50 minutes from Paris. Fares start at $21 per person. From Vernon you can get a taxi or a bus to Giverny, or you can can walk or on a nice day even rent a bicycle and ride. Giverny is just over 3 miles from Vernon.

Annecy: Discover the Palais de L’Isle

Annecy (Haute-Savoie). by Daniel Jolivet
Palais de L’Isle in Annecy by Daniel Jolivet

Annecy is one of the most photographed towns in France, with its alpine scenery and quaint old town, it’s no wonder why!

The most iconic sight to see in Annecy is without a doubt the Palais de L’Isle. This structure was built right in the middle of a canal running through the town, the Thiou, in 1132. Since that time, the Palais has served many purposes, including: residence, administrative headquarters, mint, courthouse & prison. Today, the building stands as a Historical Monument – one of the most photographed monuments in the country, and is home to a museum dedicated to local history. Many who visit the town consider the Palais de L’Isle to be the symbol of Annecy.

While you’re in Annecy, have your camera ready to snap some photos of the Alps and Mont Blanc, which will be visible in the background!

Visiting Annecy by Train

From Paris, there are a few direct TGV trains that run to Annecy. The travel time is approximately 3 hours, 45 minutes with fares from $91 per person. When you purchase your ticket with Rail Europe, your seat reservation on TGV trains is included with the ticket. Economy (2nd) and Comfort (1st) class is offered on the train from Paris to Annecy. All TGV trains are non-smoking, regardless of class of service chosen.

Villefranche Sur Mer: A relaxing Day at the Beach

Villefranche-sur-mer by Jim Champion
Villefranche-sur-mer by Jim Champion

If your travel plans take you to Nice, a day trip to Villefranche should certainly be included in your itinerary. While not as tourist-populated as Nice or Monaco, Villefranche is a relaxing beach town, with narrow streets and coarse sandy shores. A cute town to wander around by foot before hitting the beach for some fun in the sun. And because most other travelers are crowding up the beaches in nearby resort towns & villages, for the majority of the year, you won’t find an overwhelming amount of tourists filling up the waterfront.

After traveling all over, seeing the sights of France, a relaxing trip to Villefranche is just the thing to help you wind-down before your trip back home, wherever home may be!

TIP: While the town is typically pretty quiet, note that in the summer, there are many locals that inhabit the beach and depending on when you visit, beach space could be limited.

Visiting Villefranche Sur Mer by Train

Traveling by train to Villefranche Sur Mer is easily done from Nice. TER trains run along the coast from Nice to Monaco, regularly, nearly 4 trains an hour. The travel time from Nice Ville is about 7 minutes, and tickets are $11. Because this is a local commuter train, there is just one class of service on board. Seats are not reserved, you just get on-board and look for an empty seat.

If you are traveling around France by train with a France Rail Pass, you can use it for most of the routes talked about in this blog post (the exception being a visit to Pere Lachaise). Please note for travel on any high-speed TGV trains, you will need to purchase seat reservations to supplement your France Rail Pass.

As we wrap up this post, we’d just like to say that you never know what you’re going to find when you travel France by train – who knows…maybe you’ll be so inspired watching the scenery go by through the train window that you too will fall in love with your new home. Hey, it seemed to work out pretty well for Monet…!

We want to hear from you! Please share your stories with us if you have traveled to any of the destinations discussed in this post. In addition, we’d also love to hear your ‘off the beaten track’ suggestions for France, please share with us hidden treasures you’ve discovered, in the comment field below.

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