Travel review: South of France, via train

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If truth be known, I’ve never been a big fan of flying. Travelling by air, especially in the busy summer months, can be a real test of endurance for a family.

Endless queues, potential delays and restrictions on luggage all add up to make it a stressful experience - and you’ve not even got out of the country.

Yet we’ve always had to resort to taking planes for our annual family holiday to the Mediterranean. This year, however, we decided to radically break from the norm.

The Eurostar and France’s high-speed rail service, TGV, have opened up the gateway to the South of France, and it’s now possible to reach the coast in less than nine hours from London.

My family and I put this ‘alternative’ mode of transport to the test by combining a city break in Paris with a few days of R&R at the seaside resort of St Raphael on the French Riviera. From our home city of York, we take the East Coast line to London where we catch the Eurostar. The first plus point of the trip is the transfer from King’s Cross to St Pancras - it’s only 200 yards between stations and before we know it, we’re in the check-in area for the Eurostar.

The next plus is the check-in time - one hour from start to finish (passports, tickets, baggage check).

The journey from St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord takes just under two-and-a-half hours, while the cost of a return ticket for a family of four works out at a very competitive £270.

My two girls, aged nine and seven, have been eagerly looking forward to visiting Disneyland Paris, so the first day of our break is spent there.

There’s so much to do at the two parks - Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios - that you really need more than one day to it justice. Needless to say, we give it our best shot.

One ride which proves a hit with all the family is Pirates of the Caribbean. The boats go down a waterfall (or two) as you cruise through a Spanish fortress.

Across at the Studios a must-do ride is the Studio Tram Tour, which takes you behind the silver screen and into an action-packed film shoot in the heart of Catastrophe Canyon. A friend had warned me beforehand that you can get splashed, so make sure the children are sat on the left.

The next day we head into Paris. First stop is the Eiffel Tower, which clocked up 250m visitors in 2010 and is the most-visited monument in the world.

“Daddy, it’s just a bigger version of the Blackpool Tower,” comes the response from Lucy, our seven-year-old. This could be a tough day.

Afterwards, we walk to the Champs-Elysees for lunch. Now, I realise that being charged an eye-watering 10 euros for not even a pint of beer is hard to justify, but for me, it’s worth every cent to rub shoulders in a street cafe with the Parisians.

We end the day with a visit to the Louvre - quite possibly the best-known museum in the world. Entry is free for under-18s. The collection includes such famed pieces as the Mona Lisa and Venus Di Milo.

Paris is quite a spread-out city, so if you’re travelling with children, I’d recommend taking the Metro to get about faster. A single journey costs 1.70 euros for an adult (half-price for children) - you can save by buying a carnet (book of 10 single-use tickets) for 13.30 euros.

After a whirlwind tour of Paris, it’s time to head to the French Riviera.

Our TGV for the south departs from the Gare de Lyon on time and rattles through the glorious French countryside at speeds of up to 186 mph. The children are more excited by the fact we are travelling on a Duplex train, despite being on the bottom deck.

Our journey to St Raphael (430 miles) takes just four-and-a-half hours.

The fares are reasonable, with return tickets (Paris to St Raphael) costing under £300 for a family of four, though the price can soar in August.

St Raphael is a popular seaside resort about halfway between Cannes and St Tropez. It’s a great family holiday destination with four large sandy beaches and lots of bars and restaurants which don’t charge the earth. The resort may not be as swanky as St Tropez, but it’s ideal for a relaxing break.

Our accommodation is a few miles from St Raphael. The local bus service is cheap and reliable - but the last bus leaves for home at 7.30pm.

We decide to check out Monaco and its neighbour Menton. When people think of Monaco, they think of yachts, gambling and the Grand Prix. One hidden gem worth seeing is the Oceanographic Museum, which features a shark lagoon - a jaw-dropping experience for the kids.

The real test of this trip is whether we can get back to York from St Raphael in one day. As the crow flies, it’s about 850 miles. Part one of the journey is negotiated safely enough with the TGV getting us into Paris for lunch. Part two on the Eurostar is also straightforward and we arrive in London by 6pm.

So far, so good. But our luck doesn’t hold out, as the final train to York is cancelled, which means a mad dash through King’s Cross on a Friday evening to catch another service. Our tickets may be valid but the seat reservations are not and so we face a two-hour journey stood up in a carriage that is double its capacity. Typical - you travel across the whole of France without a hitch and then get let down by the British rail system. It’s not all plane sailing on the trains.

TRAVELFACTS

Railbookers (www.railbookers.com) offers a four-night holiday to Nice and Menton on the Cote d’Azur from £409 per person.

The price includes return Eurostar from London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford and onward travel by TGV and regional train, plus two nights in 3* hotel accommodation with breakfast in each destination. For more information or to make a booking, call 020 3327 1600.

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