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.

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. But sadly not in Provence. In fact, we could only identify 1 TGV per day that takes unfolded bikes to south-east France, the TGV5537 that runs from Nancy to Nice.

Consequently, touring cyclists wishing to reach our region by train have to largely 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. But here there is another problem. Despite great advances in the use of the internet, the online French train booking system is still unable to combine TER train times into one long journey. 

However, there is a trick you can use on the German train booking system bahn.de.  Enter your departure (von) and arrival (nach) stations, and in the options immediately below tick the “only local transport” (nur Nahverkehr) box. The results will give you an idea of which local trains run between which stations. With this information you can then go to the French regional booking system and book section by section.

Alternatively, you need to know the key stations where online booked journeys by TER start and end. We note these below.

From Spain & Italy

Key stations : Ventimiglia (Italy), Perpignan, Narbonne, Marseille, (Spain)

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, there is a good TER service from Ventimiglia to Nice, where you can catch a TER to Les Arcs. From Spain, you can catch a TER from Perpignan to Narbonne, where you change to the regular Intercités service to Marseille. There, you can catch a TER to Meyrargues.

From Northern Europe

Key stations : Paris, Strasbourg, Belfort, Geneva, Lyon, Marseille

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 need to first travel to Lyon. There are a number of TGV INOUI trains from Paris Gare de Lyon to Lyon (2 hours) that take a small number of bicycles. They are not well advertised and the space allocated is very limited (see photo). But they can be booked via the normal TGV booking site.  This service is more or less hourly. Non-folded bikes cost €10, and an adult ticket around €40-€50.

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.

One other option from Paris is the night train to Nice. This leaves Paris Austerlitz at 20:51, and arrives in Marseille Blancard at 06:25, Les Arcs at 07:55, and Nice at 09:08. Cost with a couchette and reserved bike space is from €71. 

tgvinouicyclespace

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 TGV5521 travels from Metz (dep 05:47) to Lyon, arriving 11:00. Most interesting for visitors to the EV8 in Provence is the TGV5537 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 19:45, and Les Arcs at 21:24. It also calls at Toulon, Cannes and Nice (22:37). 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 2 hours, €30), changing in Mulhouse.  From Belfort there are a 4 trains to Lyon via Bourg-en-Bresse (4 hours, €46). 2 involve one change and 2 are direct. There are generally 2 early morning services, and 2 late afternoon.  Alternatively, you can book a TER ticket from Belfort to Dijon, and then to Lyon. Take a train to Besançon (every half hour, 1hour 10mins) then to Dijon (many connections, 1 hour), and on to Lyon (hourly). From Lyon, you can continue your journey as outlined below.

Returning from the south to the north, the Nice-Nancy TGV5516 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 TGV2204 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.

tgvinouicyclespace

Corail trains have more space for cycles.

Lyon to Provence

From Lyon, the only TGV to Provence 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). There are also 5 extra TER trains to Avignon (2hours 30m). From Avignon, there are regular TER services to Marseille (on average1hour 30mins).

We have found reports of larger Corail trains running 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).

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.

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The Future

The lack of bicycle space on long distance trains to Provence means very limited options for those wishing to bring their bikes with them. But this should change in the near future. A  new EU regulation obliges all railway companies to install at least 4 dedicated bicycle spaces in new and refurbished trains. This should eventually see some improvements to the offer on TGVs travelling to south east France.

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 reopen disused or goods-only rail lines across France. 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 in December 2022.