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Train travel in France and car hire

When we visit France for a short trip we either fly or go by train and hire a car at the airport or station.  It’s usually very straightforward.  Since we have a 2 day car journey from here to the Auvergne which necessitates an overnight stop each way so unless we’re going for 3 weeks or more then it’s more cost effective to hire.  There are lots of websites where you can compare prices and pre-book so all you have to do is arrive and claim your car.

We book train tickets via the Eurostar website……. you decide which train from St Pancras and where you want to end up in France and they sort your trains for you.

A cautionary note however:  be careful which station you decide to use as not all will have a car hire place open when you arrive, though they may not tell you that.  In October last year we booked trains to Vichy (the nearest station to our house, about 25 minutes drive away) and paid extra so we could collect the car after hours (our train didn’t arrive till 9pm).  There appeared to be no problem.  The company was Europcar, a company we had used in the past with no problem.  However, a week before we were due to travel we got a text message to say we had to be there by 6pm because there would be no-one in the office after that time.

But we couldn’t change train times.  We rang the head office in the UK and got absolutely no help at all.  The upshot was that we had to take a taxi from the station to our house……48 euros!  bit of a shock that, and we had to get a neighbour to run us to the Europcar office the following day to collect the car.  We complained and eventually got the day’s hire and the taxi fare refunded but it means we cannot use Vichy as our station of choice.  Apparently Avis at Vichy will leave your car key with the station master if you are likely to be arriving late but it seems a bit dodgy to me so now we travel to Lyon where there are several car hire companies, in the same building, attached to the station and open from early morning to late at night.  It’s a much longer drive but the car hire is dependable.

This time we used Sixt, with no problems and excellent service.

All airports have car hire facilities and they usually ask for your flight number so there are no problems.

When you pick up the car they’ll ask if you want to have the insurance with excess waiver or not.  We didn’t use to  bother until our hire car was badly scratched, maliciously, whilst we were in the supermarket.  (6 cars were damaged) So that was the end of the deposit!  Now we take out an annual extra on our UK car insurance and it covers the excess on the hire car should it be necessary.  It is much cheaper than doing it at the hire counter.

One other little thing, if you pick up your car on a cool day make sure you check that you have a car with air conditioning if that’s what you’ve booked.  We didn’t notice once and had the hassle of taking back the car and getting one with the air conditioning we had ordered.  We also had to wait 3 days to change the car because the hire company didn’t have a suitable replacement till after the weekend.  We were not impressed and didn’t use that company again.

Trains in France are fast, clean and as comfortable as is possible in a moving tin can.  I really like travelling upstairs on the duplo trains.  You get a good view of the scenery.  Some even have play carriages where there are things for young children to do and space to move around.

You must validate your ticket before you travel.  There are machines before you get onto the platform…just slip in the ticket and it should stamp it with the date.

At the station there are always good sandwich and drink stalls and a proper cafe if you’re lucky.  Long distance trains have refreshment bars and they also have more luggage space than UK trains.  They often have them half way down the carriage as well as at each end.  Not all stations have cash machines.

If you use the loo at the station it will cost you 50centimes but they are clean and have proper hand washing facilities.  The attendant may be male or female.

If you have to cross Paris don’t be alarmed.  You can take a taxi……it will get you from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon  in 20 minutes or so and cost about 12 euros.  Or you can use the Metro.  It’s quick, clean and cheap.  Allow more time than you would for a taxi.

So there you are.  It’s really quite easy.