So you want to come to south east France with your bicycle. Of course, you can follow the EuroVelo network and arrive by bicycle. But many prefer to bring their bikes by train. Here we look at the options for arriving at either of “our” railway stations, Meyrargues and Les Arcs.
TRAIN & BIKE
From Bremen to Meyrargues…..
Many regional trains in Germany have whole carriages dedicated to cyclists
Bikes on Trains in France
If you want to travel by train with your bike in France, there are a couple of websites that offer useful advice. Freewheelingfrance.com is an English language website that has a good overview of which regions of France have long distance trains that take fully assembled bikes. The French language blog un-monde-a-velo.com offers a useful overview of the train/bike situation in France. It provides useful tips when taking a bike on a French train, such as confirming that your train really takes bikes, platform access issues at particular stations, and so on. There is also some useful information on the French velotourisme site.
France has a comprehensive and fast train network. Most of the country is covered by the super-fast TGV. There is also a smaller residual network of slower inter-city trains called Intercités, Whilst all trains take folded or dis-assembled bikes, most touring cyclists look for the convenience of taking fully assembled bikes on board.
All Intercités trains take assembled bikes for a fee of €10. But unfortunately none travel to south east France. Many TGV trains now take assembled bikes for the same fee. Until recently we could only identify 1 TGV per day that takes unfolded bikes to south-east France, the TGV5537 that runs from Nancy to Nice. But in 2023, a number of TGVs that take unfolded bikes have been added. They run from Paris gare de Lyon to Marseille. Space is very limited, so book well in advance.
Otherwise, touring cyclists wishing to reach our region by train have to rely on the regional train system, or TER. All TER trains allow passengers to bring bicycles on board for free. Unlike the TGV and Intercités trains, you do not need to book or pay extra.
Until recently it was difficult to plan and book a journey with multiple TER connections. But the new online planning system, sncf-connect, has overcome this problem. In most cases you can book through tickets using TER connections. Though sometimes there are more options by splitting your journey into two stages. The site is available in English as well as French.
Note that times may change.
From Spain & Italy
If you are travelling from southern Europe, you’ll need to get to Les Arcs (from Italy) or Marseille and on to Meyrargues (from Spain and Portugal). From Italy, you can book a ticket from Ventimiglia to Les Arcs (around €23), changing in Nice. There are 4 bookable through connections, but more if you split the journey in Nice.
From Spain, you can book a ticket from Perpignan to Meyrargues (around €50) via Narbonne and Marseille. At the time of writing there is only 1 bookable through journey, leaving Perpignan at 07:07. There are multiple connections throughout the day if you break up your journey in Marseille.
From Northern Europe
If you are travelling from northern Europe with a bike, 3 routes are possible – via Paris, Strasbourg or Geneva. Both the Paris and the Strasbourg routes go via Lyon. The Geneva route is via Grenoble or Lyon. There are frequent regional trains between Grenoble and Lyon (1hour 20 minutes), so in many ways the latter is preferable.
From the UK
If you want to know how to get to mainland Europe from the UK by train with a bike, there is a useful overview of the options on Mark Smith’s seat61 website.
However, it should be noted that, since the beginning of the covid pandemic, Eurostar have suspended their bikes on board service. They are no longer accepting bookings for fully assembled bikes or boxed bikes. The only way to travel to the European mainland by bike is to therefore take a ferry.
If you are arriving at Calais, using the shortest crossing, there are regular regional trains to Paris Gare du Nord (3 hours). Gare de Lyon, the station for trains to the south east, is 4 kilometres south. Here is a useful bikemap between the two stations.
The Paris Route
From Paris, you can book a through ticket all the way to Meyrargues with an unfolded bicycle using the night train from Paris Austerlitz (from €52). It leaves Paris at 20:51 and arrives in Marseille at 06:26 the following morning.
However this train terminates at Marseille Blancarde station, and you need to ride the 3 km to Saint Charles to catch the Meyrargues train at 07:41. However, the night train continues to Les Arcs (07:55), and Nice at 09:08. Cost with a couchette and reserved bike space is from €71.
If the night train is not your thing, you need to split your journey in Lyon or Marseille. There are frequent TGV INOUI trains from Paris Gare de Lyon to Lyon (2 hours) that take a small number of bicycles. Since 2023 TGV trains from Paris to Marseille (3 hours) also take a limited number of bikes. You need to book your bicycle space in advance. This service is more or less hourly. Non-folded bikes cost €10. Adult ticket prices vary but you can reckon on around €40-€50 to Lyon and €100 or more to Marseille.
Less attractive in both time and cost is the 4-a-day direct TER service from Paris Bercy to Lyon (€65.60, 5 hours). There also appears to be a new OUIGO service on this route that takes unfolded bikes. It departs Bercy at 18:16 and arriving in Lyon Perrache at 23:00 (from €26). See below for onward travel from Lyon.
Cycle space is very limited on tgv inoui trains. Book well in advance.
The Strasbourg route
From Strasbourg there are 2 TGV trains that take unfolded bicycles. The 07:00 TGV INOUI travels from Metz (dep 05:47) to Lyon, arriving 11:00. Most interesting for visitors to the EV8 in Provence is the TGV INOUI Nancy-Nice train. This departs Nancy at 10:26, Strasbourg at 13:36, and Lyon at 18:06, arriving in Avignon at 19:08, Aix TGV at 19:30, Marseille at 19:46, and Les Arcs at 21:24. It also calls at Toulon, Cannes and Nice (22:37). Strasbourg to les Arcs costs around €90. You need to book a place for your bike in advance. This is the ONLY fast train from northern France to south east France that takes unfolded bicycles.
Other than these 2 TGV services, travelling from Strasbourg by train and bike requires a number of separately bookable journeys. Stage 1 is to Belfort Ville (approx 1½ hours, €27), changing in Mulhouse. Stage 2 is to Lyon. From Belfort there are 3 direct trains to Lyon via Bourg-en-Bresse (4 hours, €46). They leave Belfort at 07:36, 13:36 and 18:36. Alternatively, you can book a TER ticket to Lyon for the same price via a connecting station.
If you are cycling the EV6 in Alsace/France Comté, there are various stations along the way where you can catch a train on this route. These include Montbéliard, L’Isle-sur-le-Doubs, Clerval, Baume-les-Dames and Besançon-Viotte.
Returning from the south to the north, the Nice-Nancy TGV INOUI takes non-folded bikes. It leaves Nice at 06:52, Les Arcs at 08:03, Marseille at 09:45, Aix TGV at 10:00, and Avignon TGV at 10:25. The train arrives in Strasbourg at 15:54 and Nancy at 17:02. The additional TGV from Lyon that takes non -folded bikes leaves Lyon Part-Dieu at 16:04, and arrives in Strasbourg at 20:13. This train originates from Montpellier.
The Geneva route
From Geneva, there are direct regional trains to Lyon ( 10 a day, 2 hours, €29), and Grenoble (6 a day on weekdays, 2 hours 20 minutes, €29). From Lyon, you can continue your journey as outlined below. From Grenoble there is a train link from to Meyrargues via Veynes-Devoluy. However this is partially closed until December 2022 due to repair works. The alternative bus service does not carry bicycles. Once the service is reinstated, there should be 3 a day, costing around €40.
Corail trains have more space for cycles.
Lyon to Provence
From Lyon, TGV trains to Marseille (1hour 40mins, price variable) now take a limited number of bikes. The only TGV to south east France that takes unfolded bikes is the 18:06 described in the Strasbourg section above. There are 3 TER trains daily between Lyon and Marseille (4 hours, €50). There are also 5 extra TER trains to Avignon (2hours 30m). From Avignon, there are regular TER services to Marseille (on average 1hour 30mins).
As you can see in our video above, larger Corail trains run from Lyon to Marseille, as well as Marseille to Nice. These are identified as TER on booking sites, but can take many more bicycles (see photo and video).
To reach our section of the EV8 from Marseille, there is a direct TER service to Meyrargues. These trains cater largely for commuters to Marseille, so not surprisingly there are more services into the city in the morning, and more out in the evening. Trains take an hour, departing from Marseille from 07:41 to 18:41. Departures from Meyrargues are from 06:32 to 20:52.
The lack of bicycle space on long distance trains to Provence has meant very limited options for those wishing to bring their bikes with them. But this is now changing. A new EU regulation obliges all railway companies to install at least 4 dedicated bicycle spaces in new and refurbished trains. This has resulted in, from 2023, new bicycle space on TGV trains between Paris and Marseille.
Another interesting development on the horizon is Railcoop. We believe this is Europe’s first rail operator that is run on cooperative principles. This member-owned organisation aims to create new direct connections across France. It also wants to open disused or goods-only rail lines. This will hopefully create a network of new long-distance connections. Driven by the ecological aim of replacing car journeys, the coop has set up a series of think tanks to plan the way ahead. These include one specifically dealing with bike space on its trains and bike/train intermodality in general. In their plans are services from Thionville on the Luxembourg border to Lyon and Grenoble, and from Annecy to Marseille via the Meyrargues line. Railcoop is already running freight services, and hopes to open its first passenger service between Bordeaux and Lyon soon.