In January 2023 Jeroen undertook a solo train trip to France and Italy. He travelled to Nice, Monaco, La Spezia, Firenze, Pisa, Siena and Cinque Terre. He returned home with an ÖBB Nightjet to Munich and from there flew to Brussels. To reach Nice, he took a Intercité de nuit. This is his experience.
For years I did not want to take a night train of the French Railways SNCF. The
night trains are known for not being nearly as comfortable as the former CityNightLine or the current Nightjet trains. The French have not had sleeping carriages for years, so they only operate couchette cars with four or six beds per compartment. There’s no sink in the compartment, and certainly not an ensuite bathroom. So very basic and old rolling stock.
Unmodernised coaches have nothing to offer: no power outlets and no wifi. Refurbished coaches do.
The route I’m taking is Paris-Austerlitz to Nice-Ville. This train used to be called Le Train Bleu or The Blue Train. There are also connections from Paris to Briançon, Rodez, Toulouse and Latour-de-Carol-Enveitg. In the summer, Lourdes and Cerbère are also added.
Coming from Belgium, you’ll probably arrive in Paris-Nord. Using metro line 5 to Place d’Italie you’ll reach Paris-Austerlitz Railway Station in about twenty minutes.
Booking was quite simple via the SNCF site. I could choose a seat or a
couchette 1ère classe (couchette with four beds) or 2ème classe (couchette with six beds).
You book your berth per bed, not per compartment. So it may be that you will share a compartment. If you do not want this, the site sometimes offers the option ‘espace privatif‘ or private space. By doing this, you book all berths in the compartment for you or your party.
The premium for this option was for me 70 euros. The total fare was around 120 euros. This is noticeably cheaper than the Nightjet, but it also noticeably less comfortable.
Women can also chose the option women-only.
Breakfast is not includes in the fare! You can buy this on the train itself from the coach or in advance order through the website. It cost me 7.50 euros for a hot chocolate, a carton of fruit juice and two brioches.
Honestly? It was a very sad breakfast and not worth the money.
The journey begins in Paris-Austerlitz, which has been under renovation for several years and the renovation do not seem to be evolving. There is only a Relay newsagent and a stand for pastries and sandwiches. There is nothing else besides pigeons fluttering around your head. There is no heated waiting room, let alone a cozy lounge or restaurant.
So don’t be there too long in advance, because you will be cold. There are some benches in the open hall with some sockets here and there if they are not vandalized. A shame for such a station where the tourists come in the evening suitcases and backpacks together.
The train itself arrives about half an hour before departure. Fortunately you can get up quickly. Ticket control is done on the platform and then you can go to your carriage.
The train has more modernized carriages than old ones and soon all old will be a thing of the past. That is beautiful. The compartments are clean and tidy, the
outlets work and the wifi was even strong enough to have a video conversation with home.
The door can be locked from the inside with a classic door lock, no key card. There is a sticker with an emergency number on the inside of the compartment door can call or text in case of emergency or a security issue.
Each berth features a thick pillow neatly packed in a closed plastic, a sleeping bag also packed like this, bottle of water (500 cc) and a cardboard box with amenities.
The box contains an eye mask, ear plugs, a pack of paper tissues, a wet wipe and a tablet toothpaste (with a manual). The toilets in each carriage are clean and
certainly do not confirm the reputation that the French trains sometimes had.
There is no shower.
Spending the night
The train runs from Paris without stopping straight to Marseille-Blancarde, a smaller one station of the French port city to avoid the time-consuming front change at the large Marseille-Saint-Charles station.
While the train only arrives in Nice at 9.08 AM, the conductor starts his announcements at 6 AM. No more sleep, I guess.
The ride is pleasant and the noise is bearable, especially with earplugs in. Breakfast was not brought to my compartment (despite this being the promised service in first class), and I had to fetch it myself a carriage further, which resulted in spilling my hot chocolate.
However, the view at breakfast is breathtaking and and makes up for a lot. Between Cannes and Nice, the morning sun shines wonderfully in from the Mediterranean Sea, making you immediately have a holiday feeling and you forget the cold from the north.
The atmosphere on the train is jovial, people talk to each other in the hallway and there is absolutely no sense of insecurity.
I must mention: for those who make the journey in the opposite direction, there are showers in Paris-Austerlitz. Those who arrive there in the morning can use it for free making the specific sanitary facilities for night train passengers, because this is missing on the night train.
The first time takes some getting used to the way things are done at SNCF and it’s a good idea to prepare your journey. Don’t come to Paris-Austerlitz too early and bring your own breakfast.
This is a creditable attempt to offer night traffic at a competitive price to nice destinations.
It is a pity that there are no more sleeping cars with at least one sink or even an en-suite bathroom in the compartment if you want something more than a place to lie down.