Short French breaks by train

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

5 min read

France is so easily reached by train and therefore it’s simple to discover charming new corners of France and arrive with ease and comfort, as well as a low carbon footprint. Your destination need not be a big city hub, either. With smaller train lines linking up to the main TGV lines, you can find a cosy bolthole surrounded by woodland, vineyards, or sea.

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For a forest escapade

Château de Bourron, Montigny-sur-Loing

Just an hour outside Paris, the forest of Fontainebleau makes for a peaceful escape for those who enjoy good food, history and natural settings. Surrounded by an impressive moat and 100 acres of beautifully managed parkland is the family-owned Château de Bourron, which is easily reached by train thanks to the nearby Montigny-sur-Loing station and a short taxi ride. Once there, check into one of the beautiful bedrooms or suites, which feature ornate wallpapers, family portraits and antique furniture carefully chosen by the owners Countess and Count Estrella and Guy de Cordon. Having inherited the chateau from Estelle’s mother who inherited from her aunt, the couple have lovingly restored the chateau, which dates from the 16th century. It’s a lovely place for some R&R; read a book in the cosy library or book a massage in your room. There’s a little cottage, La Maison de D’Artagnan, in the grounds too, with five double bedrooms, if you want to book a place for a bigger get together with family or friends.

Outside, the grounds feature historic statues, an orchard and an ice house, which has a 12-metre cavity and was used to keep ice before the invention of the fridge. Beyond the grounds, there is much else to explore; the villages of Bourron-Marlotte and Montigny-sur-Loing have several excellent restaurants, including Les Prémices, set just inside the chateau’s walls. Meanwhile, nature-lovers will discover the Plaine de Sorques nature reserve along the Loing River, which opens out into meadows and tranquil ponds that are teeming with bird life and other flora and fauna.


For history and culture, take the train back one stop to Fontainebleau or hire a bike at Le Local to cycle there via the trails through the forest. The town is famous for its majestic chateau, which was home to every French monarch between the 12th and 19th centuries, including Napoleon I. You can explore its many ornate rooms, including the stunning ballroom with its musician’s gallery, Marie-Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir and Napoleon III’s exquisite little theatre. The town itself is worth a look too, for its chic boutiques, cafes and food stores – look out for the local speciality, crème de Fontainebleau, a cream-cheese dessert usually served with fruit coulis.

Further north, the village of Barbizon was a hub for landscape artists in the middle of the 19th century, when the Barbizon School was established by such artists as Théodore Rousseau, Charles-François Daubigny and Jules Dupré. Today’s village is home to several galleries, artisan studios and décor boutiques, as well as cafes and restaurants, and makes for a pleasant place to while away an afternoon before returning to the comfort of the Chateau de Bourron.

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For an island-hop

La Baronnie Hotel & Spa, Ile de Ré

Thanks to the TGV Oceane line, which opened in 2018, La Rochelle can be as little as 2hr40 minutes from Paris Montparnasse and, from there, it’s a bus or taxi ride over the magnificent bridge to an island that never fails to enchant its visitors. At La Baronnie Hotel and Spa in the town of Saint Martin-en-Ré, you’re just a few minutes stroll from its enchanting harbour. The island is easy to explore by bike, in fact there’s no better way to do it. Pedal through the salt pans to reach its other green-shuttered villages, where hollyhocks line the lanes in summer.

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For the finest fizz

Bubble 8, Epernay

There’s something magical about sipping champagne in the very place its grapes were grown and picked. In Epernay in the Champagne region, fizz fans are spoiled for choice on where they can quaff. On the Avenue de Champagne, visit the many big champagne houses who offer tours of their cellars followed by tastings; choose between such houses as Moet & Chandon, Perrier-Jouet and Champagne Mercier. Also worth a visit is the new visitor centre Pressoria in neighbouring town of Aÿ, which explains the process through its excellent interactive exhibits and culminates in a tasting overlooking the Unesco-listed vineyards.

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For southern sunshine

Hotel Windsor, Nice

Taking the train all the way to Nice might seem a long way to go, but the TGV whizzes you from London to Marseille in 6hrs 25 minus hours, then the regional train follows the coast along the Cote d’Azur, where you can spy the sparkling Mediterranean between umbrella pines and terracotta-roofed villages. Once you arrive in Nice, the Hotel Windsor offers a warm welcome and especially loved by art-lovers, with its bedrooms individually decorated by local artists. From there, it’s an easy stroll along the Promenade des Anglais to the old town.

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

Carolyn is one of the UK’s leading food and travel writers and an expert on France. She likes nothing more than telling a good story, packed with expert insight and inspirational recommendations. Her writing for The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic Traveller and many more has seen her cycle across France, seeking out its beauty, culture and delectable produce in search of some of the most delicious and exciting experiences in travel.
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