Bah-ba-dah! This three note ditty signifies train travel and fabulous journeys in France for me. Its the signature “SNCF” sound that rings out before every announcement at train stations across France. Even now I get excited by it.
So odd as it may be, this post is about the train trip from Paris to Normandy. It’s a trip I’ve done dozens of times now and I love it every time (sad I know). It’s just over two hours from Paris to Bayeux (2 hours and 6 minutes to be precise) and there’s just one stop in Caen which is handy for those of you looking to hire a car as all the big rental companies are within a block of the station. Caen and Bayeux are part of the line that ends in Cherbourg.
So, lets start in Paris. The Normandy trains generally run from Gare Saint Lazare. Once you get to the station, head to the far right end of the platforms where you’ll find a giant board listing all the departing “Grande Lignes” trains, look for destination ‘Cherbourg’ and around 20 minutes before your train departure time the platform number will be on there. Carriages start at 11 (and the first two 11 and 12 are usually first class) so just walk along checking the numbers on the carriage doors until you find your carriage. An extra note here is that reserved seats are not marked on the train so if someone has taken a chance and planted themselves in your seat, don’t hesitate to indicate that you have that seat booked. The system whereby little paper tickets were put next to seat numbers to indicate they are reserved went by the wayside last year when the railway workers striked and hasn’t been seen since. Not ideal, but everyone gets along fine with out it.
Back to Gare Saint Lazare. This is the ace of diamonds of train stations in Paris as its located within a block of the big department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette and all manor of fabulous shopping and sight seeing. There’s a small shopping galleria at the front of the station and on the middle level is a fabulous restaurant called amazingly… Lazare, where you can have a lovely glass of bubbly or a coffee before your train. It’s open from 7.30am and while the coffee prices are steep (7 euro for a cappuccino) the 10 euro breakfast deal is more reasonable.
There’s also a Paul bakery (on the lower levels), Starbucks and a range of other options for gathering up a little feast for the train. Don’t be shy about doing this, you’ll find lots of others doing the same. I am convinced that 70% of French people’s luggage on this train is actually their lunch. We’ve seen three course meals constructed from 24 little plastic containers of stuff. One guy even decanted his wine to go with the masterpiece baguette he put together from the endless condiments that emerged from his backpack.
The journey itself gets you out of Paris via several crossings of the Seine and in no time you are whizzing through the Normandie countryside. In summer the green pastures slow your heart rate to the clickety-clack of the train and you’ll spot church spires poking from the treetops of every village along the way. In winter the bare fields and trees allow chateau spotting not possible when the trees are in leaf. Even now I spot chateaux not previously seen on countless earlier trips. And if you’re travelling early morning or at dusk, you’ve got a really good chance of spotting wild deer spooked from their grazing in the fields.
Those travelling on the right hand side of the train (facing forward) will see the amazing basilica at Lisieux as the train flies by. Its quite a sight up on the hill. And after Lisieux those on the left hand side of the train will spot some immaculately kept post-and-rail fencing with some very fancy horse flesh in the paddocks. This is the Aga Khan’s thoroughbred breeding stud. As you can tell, I am a window seat hogger for every trip and don’t take my eyes off the countryside for a second (other than to amaze at the culinary creations being put together by fellow passengers).
So if you’re coming to La Pommetier via the train from Paris, or your driving here in your own car and fancy a day trip to Paris without having to drive yourself, grab a baguette and enjoy the scenery. The two hours flies by.
Quick question round:
Which is the best train stop for La Pommetier?
La Pommetier is ten minutes drive from Bayeux train station and 45 minutes drive from Caen station. Most people needing to hire a car do so in Caen as the rental agencies are all within a 5 minute walk of the station (Europcar, Hertz etc). You can rent a car from Hertz in Bayeux but you will need to get a taxi to the Hertz Office (and taxis in Bayeux are not always easy to find).
Should I travel first or second class and how much are the fares?
Good question. There’s not a huge amount of difference and if you book in advance you can get very reasonable first class deals. The best possible first class fare is 20 euro each way (non changeable). The best possible second class fare is 15 euro each way (non changeable). Prices go up from there depending on peak times and travel dates and how long you leave it to book (earlier the better). There are no food or beverage facilities on the train so many people BYO. I really recommend making sure you get a seat reservation either way – that way you can just get on the train and be sure of sitting with your travelling partner.
How do I book my train tickets in advance?
The sncf.com website is terrific. It’s available in English and if you select “France” as your home country you have the option to print your tickets at home and access good prices. Paris to Caen/Bayeux is an Intercities train (faster than a regional, not as fast as a TGV) and you can book up to 90 days in advance or ask them to send you an email alert when tickets are open for booking. For the very tech-savvy you can use an e-ticket, but I am still a luddite that panics that my phone will be dead when the conductor comes through the train checking tickets. For more information, the website www.seat61.com is an excellent resource on train travel in Europe.