Holidays in the South of France have changed a lot since my youth.
Cut that – the South of France has changed a lot since my youth.
The first time I made my way through the coastal towns of Southern France, I was a teenage upstart, fresh out of school and keen to soak in as much foreign culture as possible. France will always hold a special place in my heart as being the first foreign land that I ever visited. As a young lad, wide-eyed and open to influence, I remember my first rail journey through this land I’d heard so much of as a rite of passage. This was the litmus test of my future successes as a traveller, the actions that I would take and the people that I would meet would determine the future path that I would take for the rest of my life – or so I thought at the time.
1970s France was a strange, mysterious place. Scars still remained from the Second World War and where those scars weren’t visible, cubist concrete buildings were creeping up into the sky to remain an eyesore for the next forty years or so. The rail systems were in a state of flux at that time, with one stuck in the past and another hand feebly groping into the future. The trains that I caught back then were frequently late, leaving me sat for hours at a time slowly chewing on day-old baguettes – when they arrived, I was always a little nervous stepping aboard as the carriages often skittered between states of disrepair and total dilapidation.
As I said, things have changed a little since then. The modernised rail system that now winds its way along the coast, past part-time models with their miniature dogs and hotshot directors alike, makes for a smooth, enjoyable ride that exemplifies the very best of the region’s beatific pleasures.
A window seat on the left hand side of the well maintained SNCF trains down to Cannes offers the eager traveller a chance to truly appreciate the spectacular views that coastal France has to offer. Aside from the landscape there’s also heaps of people watching for the uninitiated. If anything, this is one aspect of train travel in France that hasn’t changed for decades. French people remain utterly fascinating to observe from a distance; whether it’s holidaymakers enjoying their private villas in Provence or animated elderly women conversing on park benches, this train travels at just the right speed to catch a glimpse of all of them.
This hour-long train journey might only cover a fraction of France’s elegant Cote D’ Azur (of which the entire length is worthy of travelling through) but at just €15 for an all-day pass it’s difficult to not argue with the value on offer.