Traveling in France, Belgium, and a teeny bit of Switzerland

Hi all this is my first post, and I'm hoping I can find some desperately needed help! My family and I (myself, my husband, kids aged 15, 13, and 9) are traveling to Europe for the first time this summer. We'll be there for a month, doing a lot of travel by train, and every time I think I've got the whole train thing figured out, I find out that I don't! We're flying in to Paris, spending a week there. Then traveling by train to Lyon for a week. While we're in Lyon, I'd like to take a day trip to Bern, Switzerland. After Lyon, we're traveling to the Loire Valley, either Monts or Amboise. After a few days there, we go to Normandy not quite sure where yet, but we'll likely rent a car for our two days there. From Normandy we head to Ghent, Belgium where we'll spend a few days with day trips to Bruges and Brussels. From Ghent we take the train back to Paris for an overnight before heading to Disneyland Paris for one overnight, then head back to Paris for our final night before flying home. We may just spend an extra day in Ghent and take the train straight to Disneyland Paris if that makes more sense/ is possible. So right now I'm looking at the Eurail Benelux-France pass, which we can get for $1913 for 8 days of travel in 2 months at the 2nd class saver price. If I understand correctly, this will get us around all of France and into Belgium, right? How then do we get to Bern? I assume we'd have to buy seperate tickets out of pocket. It's not a dealbreaker if we don't go, but I'd love to spend a day there if we can manage, and if it's not crazy-expensive. Also, in order to get around public transportation in Paris, we need the Paris Visite pass, for 5 days zones 1-5, yes? Is there a similar pass for Lyon? Thanks in advance for any help I know I'm going to have many more questions!

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1695 posts

The Paris Visite pass is a tourist scam: grossly overpriced. If the days of the week work, it may be worth getting a Navigo Decouverte weekly pass, but this is ONLY available from Monday to Sunday, not any other consecutive seven days. Otherwise get the "carnet" of ten single tickets at a discounted price, which is usually better value than day passes. Similarly in Lyon: there is a tourist pass, but ten-ticket carnets are much better value. Although to be honest central Lyon is small enough that you may not use public transport much.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2631 posts

Kristi, some great destinations. But you should know Lyon to Bern and back is nearly 8 hours on the train. Reservations are required on many French trains, but reservations for passholders are limited.

Posted by Bob
Minneapolis
589 posts

Hi Kristi. A couple thoughts... - Not sure where you got the idea of a day trip from Lyon to Bern. It's a long way - four hours each way by train.
- The train pass may or may not be a good idea. Suggest you map out your trip and compare train pass vs. individual tix vs. car rental for various legs. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9108 posts

Belgian rail sells a family rail pass that is a great value. Don't even consider purchasing a third party rail pass for Belgium. You can buy this pass at any rail station in Belgium, and it is valid on any domestic train in the country. Ghent to Brugge might even be cheaper just to buy individual tickets. And the cities are close enough that you can take an even cheaper bus between the two.

Posted by Kristi
Asheville, NC, US
25 posts

Hi thanks for the great replies! Philip Thanks for the heads up on that! I just assumed the pass was legitimate because it was on the RailEurope site. Where can I buy the Navigo Decouverte pass or carnet? In person, I assume? Also good to know about Lyon we're pretty good walkers, and we'll have plenty of time there. Thanks again! Adam Yes, I've been thinking it's just not possible. It just seems so close, and I'd love to see Bern! I think we'll be saving it for the next trip, though... Thanks! Bob The idea started out because we were originally planning to stay near Geneva, and it seemed more doable then. Thanks for your help! Tom We'll be spending 3/4 of our time in France, with a week in Belgium, which is why I considered the Benelux-France pass to be the correct one. I'll redo the math on individual tickets between Ghent and Bruges thank you! I appreciate all the helpful responses thank you all!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8745 posts

The day trip from Lyon to Bern is possible, if it would be desirable may be a different question. You must have very important reasons for going. The fastest route involves a regional train to Geneva and a change to an InterCity train to Bern. If you take the 6:38 from Lyon Part Dieu it will call at Amberieu, Tenay-Hauteville, Culoz, Seyssel-Corbonod, Bellegarde(Ain) and Geneve. 18 minutes there for a 8:45 departure to Bern, calling at Lausanne and Fribourg for arrival in Bern at 10:26. The next train takes an hour longer and arrives at just about noon. Return trains could be at 14:34, 15:34 or 17:34 (arr at 21:22 - which is the last reasonable train). That would be quite a long day. It looks like the round trip fare is CHF 156 per person.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8745 posts

Kristi - for the week long stay in Paris, what day of the week do you arrive? Will you have 7 days there? You might be interested to know that Paris to Bern (with TGV) takes just about 4 hours from there to. Will you be making day trips from Paris?

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1695 posts

The Paris Visite is "legitimate" in that it is produced by the Paris transport administration and is easy to use: it's just very poor value for money. Even government organisations can sometimes decide to try to shake down naive tourists occasionally. You would buy the Navigo Decouverte or the carnet (pronounced "CAR-neh") from any Paris Metro station.

Posted by Kristi
Asheville, NC, US
25 posts

Nigel, I don't have a good reason for going; it looks like we'll probably save Bern for next time. We arrive in Paris on a Wednesday and leave on the following Wednesday for Lyon. We probably won't make any day trips from Paris, as there's so much to see and we've never been. Thanks for the information! Philip, my picture is in the dictionary under "naive." I'm working on it, though! Arriving on a Wednesday, it looks like the carnet is the way to go; thanks again!

Posted by Adam
Boston
2631 posts

Kristi, I wouldn't rule out a day trip from Paris. The trains are great and there's lots to see.

Posted by Kristi
Asheville, NC, US
25 posts

Adam, I'd consider day trips from Paris, but we only have a week there and I'm already feeling that's not enough! A good reason to come back though, right? We'll have another two weeks in various parts of France, as well as a week in Belgium, so we'll definitely see something other than Paris. Thanks!