France has one of the most sophisticated high-speed train networks in the world. It’s possible to reach most of France from Paris in just a few hours. And because the network extends to Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, most of the European continent is within easy reach too. If you count the time spent getting to and from the airport and checking in, travel by train is usually faster than air travel.
Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) trains are the crème de la creme of French trains. The fastest trains in the world, they’ve been clocked at 357 mph, and regularly travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour.
The TGV was developed in the 1970s by GEC-Althom and is part of the SNCF, or French National Railroad system. The first TGV traveled between Paris and Lyon in 1981
TGV France service links more than 200 French cities. Travelers leaving from Paris can reach Dijon in 1 hour and 40 minutes, Lyon in 2 hours and 10 minutes, or Avignon in 2 hours and 36 minutes. TGV International service goes from Paris to Frankfurt in 4 hours or Luxembourg in 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Once onboard the non-smoking trains, you’ll find airline-style seating, designated cell phone space, computer and Internet access, and food and beverage available for purchase. All TGVs offer both first- and second-class service. First or Premier class has a bar/buffet car and bigger, reclining seats. Premier class also includes access to executive lounges at TGV train stations.
There’s space for your luggage at the end of the car – unless it’s packed. And you can stow your brief case, coat, or purse overhead. Many rows of seats face each other and the tables in between are handy for working on a laptop, writing, or eating.
Don’t expect to do much sightseeing once you’re underway, even on one of the duplex or double decker trains. Everything outside your window will be a complete blur.
Fares depend on when you’re traveling, which class you prefer, and how far in advance you purchase your tickets. As a rule, the more restrictive the ticket, the less expensive it is. If you have a France Rail Pass, you can include TGVs in your itinerary, but you’ll need to make reservations in advance, and there’s a charge for that. Additional discounts for travelers under 26 or over 60 are also available.
Reservations can usually be made three months before departure.
Although many of the train stations are new and purpose-built for TGV service, the boarding process can be confusing. At Avignon TGV station, we had a hard time getting information about our train and its whereabouts. Our train was on schedule, but another train was not, and we couldn’t tell whether ours was delayed as a result.
None of the French passengers knew any more than we did, and there were no SNCF employees anywhere near the platform. Monitors showed the platform our train was scheduled to leave from. But there was no information at the platform to confirm it.
Our train pulled into the station on time, took off in minutes, and arrived in Paris as scheduled. But there was more confusion than necessary. Arrive at the station early, confirm the track with the information desk, and be on the correct quai well before the train arrives.