You can easily reach most parts of France in a day from London, so sit back and enjoy the journey to...
Provence & the Alpes Maritimes
You can travel via Paris (from the Gare de Lyon) to reach Provence and the Alpes Maritimes, though most people prefer to change at Lille. Here, you board one of the sleek TGV Duplex trains, on which we are usually able to reserve seats on the upper deck so that you enjoy the best views. This high-speed line crosses Burgundy and then goes down the scenic Rhône Valley, repeatedly crossing the river on spectacular viaducts (including a particularly impressive one just north of Avignon, from which you can glimpse the famous papal palace) to reach the Mediterranean at Marseille. Whether you are travelling onwards from Marseille to the heart of Provence or to the Alpes Maritimes, the most captivating scenery is saved until last – either a ride through the Luberon Hills revealing quintessential Provençale landscapes, or a journey past the chic coastal resorts of the Côte d’Azur to Nice, followed by a trip on the Train des Merveilles into the mountains. This so-called ‘train of marvels’ is well worth doing in daylight, in which case we can arrange an overnight stay in Nice for you so that you can appreciate the scenery to the full the following day.
The Cévennes, Canal du Midi, Corbières & Côte Vermeille
To get you to south-west France, we usually book trains via Lille, though it is also possible to travel via Paris if you prefer (in which case your connecting train departs from the Gare de Lyon). From Lille, the route taken initially is the same as the one that you take to Provence, and in fact it is common that the TGV Duplex to Marseille is coupled with the TGV Duplex to Perpignan so that the two double-decker trains can transport their combined 1000-plus passengers together through Burgundy and the Rhône Valley as far as Avignon, where they go their separate ways.
For the Cévennes, you continue beyond Avignon as far as Nîmes, where we can book overnight accommodation for you if you would like the opportunity to visit the city’s remarkable Roman Arena. Otherwise, you change trains and head northwards through mellow, increasingly undulating landscapes to Génolhac.
For the Canal du Midi, you can often travel direct from Lille to Béziers, though sometimes it is necessary to change in Montpellier.
For the Corbières and the Côte Vermeille, you continue all the way to Perpignan, passing through distinctly southern-feeling hills coated in wild herbs, at times just a few kilometres from the Mediterranean, which you might glimpse in the distance.
Western Loire, Bordeaux Vineyards & Basque Pyrenees
After boarding the TGV Atlantique at Paris Montparnasse, you arrive in St-Pierre-des-Corps in the heart of the Loire about an hour later.
If you are not holidaying amid the châteaux of the Vallée des Rois, then you continue south-westwards to Poitiers and onwards, across fertile countryside planted with sunflowers, wheat and vines, to Bordeaux.
Currently, the high-speed line ends at St-Pierre-des-Corps, after which point the TGV slows to around 125mph, but work is being carried out to extend the high-speed link as far as Bordeaux by 2016, which will cut the journey time between Paris and the famous wine city from three hours to just two.
Of course, to reach the Basque Pyrenees, you must continue across beguiling Aquitaine countryside to Bayonne, just north of Biarritz. This is a direct service from Paris which, until the high-speed line is completed, takes five-and-a-half hours.
The modern TGV Atlantique also serves Brittany, heading westwards from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes, where the line divides and the train slows from 186mph to 125mph as it traverses either the northern or the southern part of this distinctly Celtic-feeling region.
For holidays in Alsace, you change in Paris. The TGV line which serves eastern France from the aptly named Gare de l’Est is the fastest in France – the comfortable, stylish trains travel at a top speed of 198mph, whisking you through Champagne and into increasingly undulating scenery as you approach Strasbourg and the German border.
To reach the rounded, volcanic peaks of the Auvergne, you have to take a train from Paris even if you are flying. As a result, if you live in the south-east, it is well worth considering undertaking the whole journey by rail because, taking airport transfer times into account, Eurostar is the quickest way of getting from central London to central Paris. At the Gare de Lyon, you board a long-distance Intercité Teoz which follows the Loire Valley southwards towards Clermont-Ferrand, where you change trains for the scenic journey deep into the mountains.
As in the case of the Auvergne, reaching the Dordogne by rail from London is often quicker than flying via Toulouse – transferring from the Gare du Nord to the Gare d’Austerlitz is easy, and from there it is a direct service to Souillac, crossing the Loire Valley, passing through Limoges and continuing southwards through the very picturesque Vézère Valley. On this route you can break your journey in Paris for as long as you like without having to pay a higher fare.
The Tarn & Aveyron
For holidays in the Tarn and Aveyron, there are two choices from Paris. The first, the ‘classic’ route to Toulouse, is by Intercité Teoz, passing through Limoges and Brive on its scenic journey through the Loire and the Dordogne. The second option is to take the TGV to Bordeaux, from where it heads south-east along the Garonne Valley to Toulouse. This latter route is longer in terms of distance, but is around an hour quicker. Whichever you choose, you can, if you wish, break your journey in Toulouse, a city which is often overlooked but worth a visit, without having to pay a surcharge on your rail fare.