25 September 2011

Riding the train in France

Last month we were up in the Perche region for a short vacation. Walt drove back a couple of days early to make sure the cat and the vegetable garden were doing okay. We took the dog with us, and he brought her home. I stayed on for two more days.

Since the friends I was spending time with were all heading north toward Normandy or Paris at the end of our trip, I took the train back to Saint-Aignan. On the SNCF (French National Railways) web site, I had found a train from the town of Alençon, a short drive from where our gîte rural was located in the Perche, that would take me all the way to Saint-Aignan. The fare in second class, with my discount for being over 60 years old, was about 22 euros.

Looking down the tracks at the gare d'Alençon

The train left Alençon just after lunch. I rode through Le Mans (famous for its car race) but didn't have to change trains there. There were a couple of other stops before the train arrived in Tours, on the Loire River. It traveled around the west and south sides of the city before arriving at the big train station on the east side of Tours, in a suburb called St-Pierre-des-Corps. That's the Tours station where the TGV (High-Speed Train) from Paris or Roissy stops.

For Tours/St-Pierre-des-Corps, departure at 2:19 p.m.

I had a forty-minute layover at Saint-Pierre. That was just time enough to go have something to drink in a café in the station and read for a few minutes. People-watching was good — after living in the country for 8 years, it's always interesting to see what city people look like. Then I got on the little train called the TER (Train Express Régional) that goes from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Aignan.

Trains at the Alençon station

The whole ride was pleasant and easy. The trains are comfortable, and on a Saturday afternoon neither train was crowded. The ride was smooth, and there was plenty of light coming in through big clean windows to read by. Quite a few people got off the train in Le Mans — I'm not sure where the train originated — and a few got on for the ride to Tours.

A typical French "regional express train" or TER

The little train from St-Pierre/Tours to Saint-Aignan runs east along the Cher River, along the north bank. The scenery is pretty. There are several stops, in places including Chenonceaux, Bléré, Montrichard, and sometimes Thésée-la-Romaine. After Montrichard, you start seeing the troglodytic houses and outbuildings carved into limestone cliff faces that are so characteristic of the whole Loire Valley area.

The train station for Saint-Aignan and Noyers-sur-Cher is located across the river over in Noyers. It's just about four miles from our house, so Walt had a very short drive to come and pick me up. My trip took about three hours, including the forty minutes I spent in a café at Saint-Pierre. According to Google Maps, the trip by car would take three hours too. And according to the maps on the Michelin web site, tolls and fuel costs would come to about 36 euros.


  1. I do like riding trains in France, whether high-speed trains or regular TER that seem much faster than the similar ones half a century ago. As you say, the trains are comfortable and the ride is always pleasant. My problem, when connecting, is "running" with all my paraphernalia through stairs in underpasses or endless lengths of platforms to get to the assigned track or car!

  2. When we lived in The Netherlands the train service was really good. Moving to the UK was a nasty shock--the whole service was appalling to poor; and you needed a mortgage to pay for it!!
    It's nice to be living in a country where the service is good again. So far we've been impressed even though we don't qualify for the discount :-).

  3. Hi, one of my high school friends visiting France these days was pleasantly surprised to see troglodite homes when they were in the Loire valley, so I posted a link to your post in my blog today. There's a group of about 40 classmates who have an old email list group and we get into some wonderful conversations. Funny how well we all get along when you consider that none of us really remember more than maybe one or two from 40+ years ago.

  4. when my daughter was in high school, she spent 6 weeks in Angers "studying" at the institute catholique....she & a few others were heading to CDG for the trip home, via train......they had to change in Tours & not realizing there were 2 stations (in the days before smartphones, etc) got off at the regular Tours station.....eventually they realized they needed to be across town at the St Pierre station.....but it was a scramble

  5. That looks like a very smooth train journey to me. I didn't realize that travelling by train in France was so easy. Maybe I should consider it ... Martine

  6. Good to hear how your trip back was. I think I would enjoy the last part with all the stops.

  7. Ohhhhh I LOVE train travel in France :))) Thanks for today's post about your experience.


  8. I worked on TGV trains for few months. That is how I met my future ex-husband, between Nice and Paris. The "SNCF" is (or was) a good company to work for.

  9. It's great to do alternatives to driving when possible. But when you have a family, and there are 4 of you traveling, the cost of driving often beats 4 fares on a train or plane. We're always weighing these choices and trying to make the best decisions. It's nice just to sit and look out the window or read and not worry about driving, that's for sure. Good food for thought.

  10. Could you take your dog on a train if you wanted to?

  11. I like trains very much, thanks.

  12. I love European trains. One of our best was the trip from Lyon to Venice. The scenery was simply fantastic.

  13. Trains (and myself, probably) have come a long way in France since I was a poor student in France 30+ years ago. Love the fact that I can arrive in CDG after a long flight and hop on the TGV from CDG without going into Paris. (Don't get me wrong, I love Paris... just not after an 11 hour plane ride.) Then within a few hours of landing in Paris, I am in St. Aignan.

  14. Bonjour CHM, you are a real expert, given all the kilometers you covered on your travels in France, from one end to the other, this summer. I know about the underpasses and stairs too, though.

    Ginny, good points. For a single traveler or even a couple, there are real advantages to taking the train, especially when you don't need a car at your destination.

    Cheryl, you'll soon have that experience again...

    All, thanks for the comments.

  15. It's often difficult to know the correct pronunciation of the names of towns in France. Three I've wondered about appear here today. Ken, will you please indicate the correct way to pronounce Alencon, Nantes, and Angers. Merci.

  16. Anonymous, it's very hard to represent the French nasal vowels using the standard alphabet, and all three of the town names you ask about have nasal vowels in them. I'll transcribe the pronunciation this way:

    Alençon [ah-lã-'sõ]
    Nantes [nãt]
    Angers [ã-'zhay]

    Hope that helps. Ç in French, with the cedilla, is soft, not hard as in Caen [kã]. Final syllables are always slightly stressed in French, and final consonants too when they are pronounced at all (as the T in Nantes, which is just one syllable).

  17. Cindy, only small dogs (15 lbs. or less) can accompany you on a French train, and the dog must be in a bag or basket of some kind that meets space requirements (18" x 12" x 10", or 45cm x 30 cm x 25 cm). The charge for the animal is about five euros.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?