Traveling by train to France is fun, fast and affordable. But up to now you’ve had to change trains and/or stations to get to the south of France. Now a direct train runs from London St. Pancras International, stopping only at Lyon and Avignon before ending at Marseille. You don't change either trains of stations, and it takes a mere 6 hours 27 minutes. So a short break to the south of France is now a reality. And with Marseille’s new reputation as a tourist destination, it makes an exciting, and affordable, mini vacation.
The service which started on May 1st, is currently set to the following times:
May-June, Sept-Oct Mon, Fri, Sat
July, Aug Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun
Departures at 07.19am, arriving in Marseille at 2.46pm (French time which is 1 hour ahead of UK time). Journey time is 6 hours 27 minutes.
Return journeys are on the same day with the train being prepared and ready to go by 3.22pm local time. It takes longer on the return journey (arriving in London at 10.12pm local time), a journey of 7 hours 12 minutes. As there are no customs or UK border controls in Marseille, you have to get off the train at Lille with your luggage, go through security, then get back on the same train to finish your journey to London.
But if it proves very popular, the Eurostar will put on more frequent services.
From London St. Pancras International to Marseille.
Travel in Style
There are 3 classes on Eurostar: Choose from Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. If you take Business Premier you can use the excellent private lounge at London St. Pancras. Standard Premier is almost as good on board, with a meal served to your seat (not quite as elaborate as in Business Premiere), but you cannot use the lounge at St. Pancras where there are newspapers and magazines, tea, coffee and Champagne and very good pastries and snacks to set you up for the journey.
Check-in time is 30 minute before departure but with the increasing popularity of the train service, the station and check in gets very busy, so allow 45 minutes.
The journey from London to Marseille
It’s a good journey, with the first stop at Ashford International to pick up passengers from south east England. The train takes about 20 minutes through the Channel Tunnel, then you’re into totally different countryside. You glimpse Calais in the distance before speeding through the flatlands of north France.
You skirt Paris, going past Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport and heading south east through Burgundy. Warm-colored stone houses with tiled roofs; big farms and vineyards flash by.
You see the distant moutains of the Massif Central and the Puy-de-Dome way in the distance, one of France’s least well known regions.
Lyon is the first stop, arriving at Lyon Part-Dieu station at 1pm French time, taking 4 hours 41 minutes.
Now you’re in the Rhone Valley, its massive white limestone cliffs rearing up on one side. Your next stop is Avignon TGV station, in the countryside outside Avignon, at 2.08pm, the whole journey taking 5 hours 49 minutes. You see the towers of the famous Palace of the Popes but little else.
Then you arrive in Marseille at Marseille Saint Charles in the early afternoon at 2.46pm
Advantages of traveling by train rather than by air
There’s no doubt that taking the train is the most relaxing way to travel to the south of France. I came back by plane, and door to door it was actually 20 minutes faster by train. Apart from the new speedy method of travel, on the train you can take as much luggage as you can manage; you can take liquids and cosmetics with no restriction; you can work if you want to and move round the train easily. There are two refreshment carriages on the train, but the choice is fairly limited, so many people take their own picnics, just topping up with drinks on the train.
It’s also very affordable. Prices start from £99 return and as it’s city center to city center you don’t have to take an underground or train to the terminal.
Travel with Great Rail Journeys
I travelled with Great Rail Journeys , a company which is flexible, helpful and efficient. This UK company organizes very good, escorted group rail holidays. Check out some of their ideas on their website. Typical escorted group holidays include 6 days in the Dordogne and the Lot from £645 per person; and Languedoc and Carcassone (7 days from £795 per person).
They will also tailor-make you a holiday, combining river trips, city breaks and whatever else you want to see. Check out 4 days on the Cote d’Azur in Nice and Monaco at a cost from £320 per person which includes rail travel, 3 nights in a 3-star Nice hotel and a rail excursion to Monaco. Other destinations include Paris and Reims (from £ £470 per person); Paris and Avignon (5 days from £515 per person).
Contact Great Rail Journeys by telephone on 0800 140 4444 (from the UK) or check their website.
More about Marseille
Hotels in Marseille