Getting from Here to There in France.
I’ve spent some time over the past week working out a possible itinerary for July next year that will take me to a couple of interesting places in France for ten or twelve days, then to Scotland for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Deciding where to go in France is hard because there’s something worth doing or seeing almost everywhere—wine country, chateaux, medieval villages, art museums, thousand-year-old cathedrals, and wonderful food in every corner brasserie. As of now, though, I’ve pretty much settled for wine and castles.
First stop will be the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, which is part of the Côte d’Or where some of the very finest Pinot noir and Chardonnay wines come from. The town itself appears to be charming and not too big—I much prefer small towns and even smaller villages—but with lots of vineyards and wineries nearby. And, of course, it’s on the Saône River.
Looks like my second stop will be one of those very small villages: Montsoreau, in the Loire Valley. The nearest railway station is in Saumur, about ten miles away. Both towns are smack on the Loire River and there are any number of magnificent chateaux within a few miles: Chenonceaux being the best known, and the charming chateau at Azay-le-Rideau is less than 50 miles away. But even Montsoreau, with a resident population of just 500, has its own lovely chateau (photo above).
In working out the logistics, I was again struck by the wonderful rail system available to both the French and visitors alike. Schedules for next summer aren’t out yet, but if I were traveling next month, there would be seven trains a day to take me from Paris to Chalon-sur-Saône, which has a population in the town and the surrounding area of 45,000. The earliest train leaves at 6:23 in the morning, the last one at 5:23 that afternoon. Fares for a standard class seat run between $36 and $75, early morning being the cheapest; one leaving at mid-day the most expensive. Length of the trip ranges from less that three to just over five hours, depending on how long a couple of connections are.
But how will I get from Chalon-sur-Saône to Saumur, an even smaller town with about 27,000 residents? Not a problem. There are five choices if I go by way of Paris, and one taking much less time if I go through Lyon. (I must add that, in my experience, there are even more trains running back and forth among these small towns, but they’re are not shown on web sites being accessed by folks like me from outside of France.)
The point is that SNCF, the French rail system provides fast, efficient, inexpensive public transportation … even from one small town to another. What a concept!