The perfect way to take advantage of a half term holiday, Johanna Payton took a sleeper train to Cannes and spent a week in the sun on the Côte d’Azur.
October was perhaps a risky time of year to travel to the South of France. Temperatures are starting to cool and there is a chance of rain. The weather Gods were smiling upon us, however, when we spent the autumn half term holiday on the Côte d’Azur: we enjoyed every day on the beach, bathed in glorious sunshine. And I’ll bet that spring is an even better season during which to head down there.
The French Riviera is a great destination if you want a beach holiday without the flight to get there. I’d always wanted to take a sleeper train and that’s exactly what we did to reach Cannes. Leaving London St Pancras on a Thursday afternoon, we took the Eurostar to Paris, arriving early evening. One metro line later (orange, no5, heading towards Place d’Italie), we were at Paris Austerlitz. The sleeper left at 9:30pm, so there was just enough time for dinner before boarding (a word of warning: Austerlitz is a bit bleak so, if you’re travelling light enough, I’d suggest grabbing dinner around Gare du Nord – there’s a Buffalo Grill opposite the station if you’re travelling with kids).
The sleeper train pootles down to the Côte d’Azur overnight, arriving at Cannes Gare around eight in the morning. We booked a “couchette supérieure” via SNCF, paying the additional €40 supplement for “espace privatif” – this meant the 4-berth compartment was all ours: I didn’t fancy sharing with a stranger. The bathroom is shared, but once you’ve popped on your PJs and explored the little goodie bag that’s left on your bunk – including a light sleeping bag and eye mask – you’re just about ready to crash. The train is a little bumpy and noisy but I managed to catch some decent shut-eye and it was an absolute joy to wake up as the sun was rising over the spectacular scenery of Southern France.
At Cannes we took the coastal train to our home for the week – an apartment in Golfe-Juan Vallauris – which only takes a few minutes. We were settled into the flat by 9:30am and ready for a full first day of holiday.
With the sun shining, we were ideally placed to explore the region. Train travel played a huge part in the holiday as you can zip along the coast for a day of boutique shopping and beach lounging in Cannes; savour culinary delights and celebrity spotting in Antibes; spend the day shopping and sightseeing in Nice; or see how the other half live in Monaco. You can even take the train to the end of the line and cross the border into Italy, grabbing a bowl of real Italian pasta in Ventimiglia.
Closer to the apartment we had Marineland to explore (if you go on the train, get off at Biot). Our 10-year-old loved the random combination of dolphins and Halloween decorations – and if we’d visited at high season, he would have enjoyed the fairground rides at Antibes Land too – although it is notoriously expensive. Golfe-Juan Vallauris itself has great bars, supermarkets and restaurants, and as we were there out of season, we had the lovely eateries at the marina, where you can lust over the flash super-yachts, almost to ourselves.
For the journey home we decided on a speedier option and booked the TGV from Cannes back to Paris. Comfortable and cool, this leg of the journey only takes five hours. We were back in Paris for lunchtime with just enough time to grab a baguette before boarding the Eurostar back to London.
Next time, I think I’ll arrange an overnight stay in the French capital, just to eek out the holiday that little bit further.
How to get to the Côte d’Azur without flying:
You can book your complete return train journey with SNCF including the Eurostar leg: if you wish to take the sleeper train, book the first Eurostar leg separately and then the overnight train from Paris Austerlitz with SNCF, as above.
Writer: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Images: Johanna Payton / Côte d’Azur / Robert Palomba / Pierre Bahar