I am befuzzled by train travel. We are a family of 4 (2teens) in July traveling from Brussels to Paris then Normandy. After Normandy we need to train it to Nantes where we will do a house exchange and have access to a car. My question is should I buy a train pass before we go? Are the TGV tickets sold separately? The whole train travel is confusing to me and I'd appreciate any advise. I want to avoid paying a lot extra if I can help it. We could go Normandy first then Paris if its cheaper.
For Brussels-Paris, use Thalys.com for tickets (€22 advance purchase/non-refundable). For Paris-'Normandy' (whichever town) and 'Normandy'-Nantes, use tgv-europe.com (use 'Great Britain' as your country, and stay with the tgv-europe site when asked if you'd like to go to RailEurope!). This would definitely be cheaper than a RailPass. These advance-purchase tickets typically go on sale three months out, so get them ASAP. You can usually print them at home; bring the same credit card you purchased them with to Europe with you!
You can buy TGV tickets at the time of travel at the station, but it's advisable to buy them as early in advance if possible if you can nail down your schedule for significant savings - like more than half off type savings. Also some TGV's do book up and you might have to wait a few hours for the next train with available seats if you do it at the last minute. The advice above mine is excellent for telling you exactly how to use the web to buy tickets. It's really quiet easy. I don't think a pass would save you any money for this particular trip, nor would it make anything easier for you.
Denise, before anything else, spend some time at the website " man in seat 61 " in order to get a grounding in the use of European rail services . Your time there will serve you well !!
Sorry , Eileen and Sarah have given you very good advice ( they always do ! ) but " 61 " will acquaint you with the basics and you will then be able to use their sage advice to your best benefit !!
As far as a Eurail pass from the French SNCF, it no longer exists as part of the 3, 4 and 5 pass. The French withdrew from this part of the program on Jan 1. As Eileen points out, you can get some great fares on the Thalys train to or from Paris and Brussels. You do lock yourself into non-refundable tickets with specific travel dates and times but you do get yourself some nice discounted fares.