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60-Day Rail Trip Around France

I'm a retired professional looking for a traveling partner to join me on a rail trip around France. My plan is for both of us to purchase 60-day unlimited passes on the SNCF. I would like someone who will backpack like me, since carrying luggage would probably be impractical. I'd like to start in Paris, head North, and then head westerly on a no-particular-agenda trip completely around France. I've always wanted to visit the smaller towns and villages of the country, stay in quaint B&B's, inns, and other similar accommodations. I'm not opposed to carrying a light tent and even camping at times. I also would enjoy any hiking opportunities that might present themselves, provided it was within my capabilities. I'm a runner, so I stay in very good shape. I'm flexible on the timing for such a trip. I do speak a very little bit of French, but have plans to learn quite a bit more in anticipation of this trip. Incidentally, since I'm a political progressive, I'd like a person who has similar views.

Posted by
16743 posts

FYI, I'm not aware of any 60-day unlimited passes that are specific to France and SNCF, although the Eurail Global Pass covering most of Europe does have that option.

Rick's usual advice on camping in Europe and packing light is to choose between mostly camping or no camping, rather than carrying around a tent and bedding that you'll only use occasionally.

Posted by
5235 posts

When comparing pass to point-to-point fares, remember that SNCF has senior fares for 60+ travelers ... just click on the correct box and have your passport as proof of age.

Posted by
16587 posts

For a trip of that length (or even half that length), I think the Senior Avantage card would probably be worthwhile. It often means greater discounts; the SNCF website says the discount is 30% on most trains (not the Oui discount line). There's a reference to "regional express" trains, suggesting there may be no discount on the slowest TERs. I'm not sure, because I haven't checked fares on my TER trips with and without the card. I'm unclear on how senior discounts are determined if you qualify by age but don't have the card. The card is valid for a year and costs 49 euros.

On a long single-country trip like this, you'll have the opportunity to see the country more in depth, and you'll probably find yourself taking more, but shorter, train trips (as well as sometimes needing buses). The short train trips can be on TERs (regional trains); when you're traveling to or from a small town, often a TER is your only option. Those are very, very cheap tickets, especially with a senior card (in cases when the discount applies, that is). Given that you will probsbly need to take some buses along the way--and they won't be covered by a rail pass unless they are rail-replacement buses ticketed through SNCF, I doubt that a traditional rail pass will make financial sense.

Posted by
23258 posts

since I'm a political progressive, I'd like a person who has similar views.

That's possibly a good idea, although having a companion who can contribute balance to chats in the evenings might make for more stimulating conversation round the campfire, as it were.

By the way, purely out of interest, when I lived in the US all we had were two parties - one with an elephant and one with a donkey. Which party is "political progressive"? That's a term I haven't heard before.

Posted by
5 posts

A politically progressive person is one generally associated with the Democratic Party (which I am).

I stand corrected. It's the Eurail Global Pass for 2 months, 1st class, and the cost is $1,081. I'm sure there are cheaper options, but I'm uninterested in fiddling with tickets for each trip leg. I realize this will sometimes be the case, but it will be simpler to get the pass and be done with it. It would be impossible for me to calculate whether other options are cheaper, since I don't have a fixed itinerary.

I understand what Rick Steves has to say about camping versus backpacking. That's fine. However, his advice might not work for me. A light tent adds very little weight to a pack and could be a nice alternative in a pinch.

I'd love to hear from someone who is interested in participating in the trip!

Posted by
8889 posts

I'm not opposed to carrying a light tent and even camping at times.

Chef, I am not yet retired, but of an age where that would be a bit to "aggressive" for me. It sounds tempting, but sorry.

  • "but I'm uninterested in fiddling with tickets for each trip leg." - you are I hope aware that some trains (TGV etc.) will still require a reservation on top if your pass.
  • "I've always wanted to visit the smaller towns and villages of the country, stay in quaint B&B's, inns, and other similar accommodations.", I have done that in the past, but always when touring by car. Trains will get you to most large and medium towns. Smaller towns and villages require a car or infrequent buses (1-2 times daily or less).
  • Buses and city transport (métro) is not covered by your pass.
  • With 60 days an a "global" pass, I would not restrict strictly to the borders of France.
    • "start in Paris, head North" - I would add Brugge. Then in your loop you can add Luxembourg, Basel or Geneva, Perhaps loop into Catalonia or the Basque country.
  • IMHO 1st class is unnecessary, 2nd class is perfectly acceptable. And some local trains only have 2nd class.
Posted by
23258 posts

If you want to do a circuit of the periphery of France by train have you checked that trains actually connect the periphery? Most French trains are quite Paris-centric, that is to get between two places in the provinces often requires a train into Paris on one spoke, then a change of station in Paris, and a trip back out on the other spoke.

Posted by
5 posts

Yes, I have checked, and there are rail connections around the periphery of France.

Posted by
84 posts

"It's the Eurail Global Pass for 2 months, 1st class, and the cost is $1,081. I'm sure there are cheaper options, but I'm uninterested in fiddling with tickets for each trip leg. I realize this will sometimes be the case, but it will be simpler to get the pass and be done with it. It would be impossible for me to calculate whether other options are cheaper, since I don't have a fixed itinerary."

Travelling for 2 months around France you're going to make only relatively short hops between town. Tickets for short distances or not that expensive and 1st class may not even be available on the local/regional(TER) trains. I don't get your problems for "fiddling with tickets" either. You go to the station and say "Un billet pour X s'il vous plait", you pays your money and you get your ticket. Or get it from a ticket machine, it's no rocket science to use them.

It's true that you can't calculate the exact price without a fixed itinerary, but you could check a few ticket prices between a few cities and make an estimate for the whole trip. I think the total cost will be much lover than $1000.

Posted by
16587 posts

I.spent 88 or 89 days in France in 2017, without a car, and i'm starting Week 3 of six car-less weeks in the country right now. $1000--plus reservation fees as necessary--is an exorbitant amount of train fare for the type of trip you are describing, as I understand it. The vending machines switch to English at the touch of a button or the spin of a dial (depending on the style of machine). Why not save a big chunk of that money to cover some of the bus fares you'll have to pay and perhaps an occasional taxi when you have a burning desire to se a place with no convenient bus service?

Those trains with first-class carriages? A lot of them are on the main lines fanning out from Paris.

[Edited to correct a ridiculous number of typos.]

Posted by
5 posts

I like the comfort of first class at times, and I would rather travel by rail than bus or taxi. Just a personal preference thing.

Right now, I'm interested in someone who like to accompany me, and not so much in getting advice or suggestions. Thanks!

Posted by
16587 posts

Just to clarify this point (sorry), because it may really affect your itinerary: We are not suggesting that you choose buses instead of trains, but that there are many, many interesting destinations that do not have train service but do have bus service. Trains are simply not always an option, especially since you state that you want to visit "smaller towns and villages". Just a few examples of places with either only bus service or no public transportation at all: many Alsatian wine villages, nearly all the hill towns near the Riviera coast, St.-Tropez, St.-Remy-de-Provence, many picturesque smaller villages in Provence, and much of the Dordogne.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks! Yes, I'm very aware that there will be a number of places I won't be able to visit because they can't be reached via rail. That's fine. I imagine I could spent 6 months traveling around France and not see all the amazing places. I have to pick and choose. I decided that sticking with rail makes good sense, and I will still see many fantastic destinations. If I run across someplace that becomes an absolute "must see," I'm resourceful enough to find a way to get there!