The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) is the most comfortable way to arrive in the Provence coming from Paris or London. If you live in the US, Great Britain, Australia or New Zealand you will feel like stepping into the future. No comparison with Amtrak's Boston - Washington D.C. Acela service, the famous Caledonian Sleeper in Great Britain or the Sunlander in Queensland. With speeds of up to 300km (190 miles) per hour the French TGVs are a fast, comfortable and above all a pretty economical way to travel.
The north-south TGV line runs from Paris via Lyon, Valence, Avignon, Aix en Provence as far as Marseille. Direct trains take roughly 3 hours from Paris to Aix en Provence, quicker than flying if you include the overall time! An extension of the tracks to Nice is being considered amidst vocal opposition by rural residents of the Département Var. Here are a few hints to make your use of the TGV smooth and without problems.
TGV in France: Booking Procedures
- It is best to purchase TGV tickets online a couple of weeks before your departure, rather than at the train station.
- Booking early can save you money. SNCF has flexible pricing like discount airlines. For the Paris to Avignon trip prices can range from Euro 20 to Euro 100, depending on the season, the day of the week, the hour and how much in advance you book. Most tickets can be booked up to 2 months in advance, the earlier you book the better, especially when traveling during peak holiday times.
- If you are flying into Paris make sure you leave yourself enough time at Charles de Gaulle airport (Roissy CDG) - 90 minutes is the minimum. You should also book a flexible ticket, like the loisir ticket, where you can take a later train should your flight be delayed.
- Make sure you use the right departure train station. Departing from Paris you want to choose Gare de Lyon if you are staying in Paris and Roissy CDG if you depart directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
- During the summer season from mid July to mid September Eurostar operates a direct train from London St.Pancras to Avignon - a pleasant 7 hour train ride.
- Choose the correct train station for your destination. TGVs often arrive at their own state of the art railway station, which can be miles away from the regular railway station. This is the case in Lyon, Aix en Provence, Avignon and Valence. As a few TGVs arrive in the regular train stations in Lyon and Avignon be careful when you book. If you are renting a car it is more convenient to arrive at the new TGV stations.
- You don't need to book round-trip tickets, there is no cost advantage.
- All seats on TGVs are by reservation only and all trains are non-smoking.
- You must know the exact date and time when you plan to travel before buying your ticket.
- You can choose a window or aisle seat in a open area or compartment. Many trains are duplex and you can choose upstairs or downstairs. Luggage is stored at the entrance of each wagon, downstairs, so we normally like the downstairs seat to be able to have an eye on our luggage during train stops.
- Try to take direct trains, mark it on the website when you book.
- You can either use the SNCF site (look at the bottom left for language icons) or SCNF's European website: TGV Europe, which is a bit more user friendly. The TGV Europe website will guide you through the booking process efficiently and explain the intricacies of the various fares, from the regular ticket, to the very flexible loisir ticket, the deeply discounted PREM ticket and other special fares.
- If you are booking from North and South America, Australia, NZ and Asia SNCF wants you to book with Rail Europe, its overseas agent. But you will be missing out on special discounts. You can circumvent the European residency requirement by stating - when asked during the booking process - that your country of residence is the UK. Just make sure, when asked during the online booking process, to request that you want e-tickets, which you print out.
Most TGV stations are state of the art and very convenient to use. There are a couple of issues you need to take care of before boarding.
- Make sure you arrive at the train station 20 - 30 minutes ahead of your train. If you need to return your rental car plan for 45 - 60 minutes, just to be on the safe side.
- Don't forget to stamp your ticket before getting to the track and on the train. There are special machines - normally inside the station before you go to the tracks. Failure to stamp the ticket can result in a fine on board the train. If you can't find the machines inquire at the information booth.
- In case of e-tickets, which you have printed yourself, you do not need to stamp your ticket, but will have to show a photo ID on board.
- Locate the approximate position of the car number on the electronic board on the track. You find the car number on your ticket under voiture. The car number will also be listed on the side of the train near the doors. Entering the correct car will avoid carrying your luggage through train corridors.
- Once inside the train store your larger pieces of luggage in the common luggage racks at the entrance and your smaller pieces in the overhead racks.
- Find your seat and insist sitting there in case it is occupied (which happens during peak season).
- There are restrooms in each car, normally quite clean.
- You can purchase drinks, snacks and sandwiches in the bar car, but it is overpriced. Better to bring your own food and drinks, which is what most seasoned TGV travelers do.