Leaving Paris can be hard. Can you tear yourself away from the avenues, the sights, sounds and attractions? If so, it's great to remember that there are so many wonderful places to visit in France beside the city of light. Paris is the centre of the French rail network, so it is a brilliant place to start a journey! Explore the amazing options for rail travel from the city either to see more of France or across the European rail network.
In this week's Postcard From France, we explore an Orient-Express-like train that linked Clais with Menton, its namesake restaurant of Belle Epoque beauty and more about the stations in Paris and where they can take you. The restaurant named after the classic and iconic Train Bleu is surely one of the most beautiful places you could ever lunch before boarding a train. Yes, why not join the list of guests that includes Chanel, Salvador Dalí and Brigitte Bardot and dine at Le Train Bleu restaurant? For more on that, keep reading this week's Postcard from France.
From Paris to the South of France?
Paris Railways Stations - the Basics
Paris has six major railway stations which all serve the extensive rail network around France. SNCF has a detailed map of the network (and an interactive one here) and the railway stations are as follows (with their arrondissement listed as Xe)
Gare de l'Est - an elegant station serving the eastern regions of France and beyond to Luxembourg and Germany. The station for Reims, Nancy, Metz, Strasbourg. Paris 10e (very near to the Gare du Nord)
Gare du Nord - for Eurostar, London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne. Paris 10e
Gare Montparnasse - the station for Brittany, Bordeaux, Biarritz, Lourdes, Tarbes and the Spanish border at Hendaye & Irun for onward trains to San Sebastian or Lisbon.
Gare de Lyon - One of the most important stations in Paris and the third busiest station in France, the Gare de Lyon is the station for trains heading southeast out of the city, including trains to Dijon, Lyon, Avignon, Marseille, Nice, the French Alps, Switzerland, Italy & Barcelona. Paris 12e.
Gare d'Austerlitz - situated by the river Seine, this station serves intercity services south to Brive and the overnight intercity services. Borders of 13e and 5e.
Gare Saint-Lazare (pictured below) - this is the station for suburban and intercity services for Versailles and stations across Normandy. Paris 8e.
The seventh station is Paris Bercy:
Gare de Bercy - this station also known as Paris Bercy is a 1970s somewhat Brutalist station serving initially as an overflow for the Gare de Lyon. It's not much to look at perhaps but you can catch trains here for Vichy and Clermont-Ferrand and the regional (not TGV) trains to Lyon and Dijon.
If all the thoughts of travelling around has made you feel thirsty and perhaps a little in need of food, then read on for more gourmet adventures in Paris...
Le Train Bleu - the Blue Train restaurant, Gare de Lyon
Le Train Bleu - the spectacular Belle Époque restaurant constructed as part of the Gare de Lyon in 1900, and inaugurated in 1901, is an Historic Monument worth a journey all of its own! Come for lunch or dinner and just luxuriate in the sheer beauty of the place. The bar lounges are also listed as historic monuments and have unique character and style.
You can come for the bar menu, a delicious breakfast or the fabulous menu created by famous French chef Michel Rostang who has brought the regional French produce to the fore. As the website reminds us:
'Le Train Bleu and Michel Rostang share a passion for high quality ingredients and seasonal cuisine. Regional produce from south west France along the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Marseille) line takes centre stage. In the restaurant, everything has been designed to showcase the cuisine. Meat is carved and dishes are flambéed right in front of you for an absolutely unique show. LE TRAIN BLEU's iconic recipes have been given a Rostang twist.
The result? A traditional gratin dauphinois with no cheese or eggs, Rostang’s signature dish, complements the famous roast leg of lamb (carved from the trolley), not to be missed on Le Train Bleu’s menu.
Bresse poultry with fresh tarragon cream served with grilled basmati rice, another of Michel Rostang’s legendary specialities, also makes an appearance alongside recipes that have contributed to Le Train Bleu's success, like the iconic rum baba or even the tartare prepared at your table… ' (Le Train Bleu website)
How could you resist such a tempting menu?
It certainly beats that limp looking baguette and a bad coffee from a station vendor, no? It's a special occasion kind of place and going on a railway journey can be that special occasion! The good thing is that even if you're taking an overnight train from the Gare d'Austerlitz for example, this station restaurant is only a short walk away across the river.
The restaurant is open every day 11h15 to 14h30 and 19h00 to 22h30. The Lounge bar is open everyday from 07h30 to 22h30. Takeaway menu available. For an idea of the interior, explore the images at Le Train Bleu.
Follow them on Instagram and social media for more insights into the classic beauty of Le Train Bleu restaurant and bar.
This French television show has an exclusive look inside the beautiful interior:
What was Le Train Bleu / the Blue Train?
Created in 1886 as one of the world's first night trains, le Train Bleu became an icon. For the first two decades or so of the 20th century, the Blue Train (named after its gorgeous blue and gold livery) was the way for the wealthy classes to travel from the north of France all the way down to sunny, citrussy Menton near the border with Italy. (Although second and third class carriages were added in the late 1930s)
What a way to travel! Guests on board included writers, artists, socialites and more including Jean Cocteau, Agatha Christie (who included it in her novel The Mystery of the Blue Train) and Marlene Dietrich. It was like an Orient-Express style sleeper service that connected Calais and Menton.
It continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century, stopping during WWII and later suffered the changes in rail technologies such as the TGV fast trains, low-cost flights and eventually disappeared completely.
Although you can't travel in the old carriages of what must have been a beautiful train, the commitment to reducing emissions and encouraging more environmentally friendly alternatives to flying has meant the welcome return of the Paris-Nice sleeper service.
The route will form part of the plan to bring night trains or sleeper services across ten major corridors in France and Europe by 2030.
For more on European rail travel and the regularly updated rail timetable check out the European Rail Timetable.
Where would you like to explore by train?
Travelling through France by train - the new overnighters
As ever, I recommend checking out the phenomenal resources on Seat61.com for everything rail related throughout the world. For all the details on how to book, which couchette to purchase (and what a couchette is if you're unsure) and how to plan for great rail travel throughout France check out the website.
You will see that for several years, the funding for overnight trains from Paris to Nice, as well as other services, was withdrawn and it has taken some time for those decisions to be changed. Fortunately revised trains and services are now in the offing for both Nice as well as the fabulous Basque coast services along the Atlantic coast. For a video example of the Paris to nice overnight trains, check out this Seat61.com video.
How to Plan Your Train Travel in France and Europe
For more on travelling throughout France and across Europe, have a look at these resources
Everything rail travel-related is at Seat61.com
For more guidebooks, maps and resources here are some suggestions (may contain affiliate links which support the blog at no cost to you, The Book Depository has free worldwide shipping)
Paris to the Past - an exploration of French history on rail journeys from Paris
A new edition of a 'definitive" guide Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide - 17th edition, published June 2022
Lonely Planet has a guide to Train Travel in Europe also published this year.
Thank you for joining me this week for a Postcard from France. I hope it has given you the desire for travelling by rail in France and perhaps some new ideas for where to eat before you go - whether arriving in Paris or leaving the city of light.
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