With summer comes Isabelle: the 14€ summer-only train pass good for a day of unlimited travel on TER trains between Ventimiglia and Frejus, and inland to Grasse or up to Tende. Unfortunately, the Nice station is so central that the Carte Isabelle won’t save you much unless you are going up to Tende or farther than Cannes, but if you are outside of Nice, it is definitely worth your while. There is also a Carte Isabelle Family Day Pass which is available all year long, not just in the summer, and gives unlimited travel for 2 adults and 2 children for 1 day for 35€ or 3 days for 80€. You can buy both passes at the ticket window, or even from the machines at the train station if you have a credit card with a European microchip or a lot of coins, as the machines don’t take bills. Here’s a great article on the Carte Isabelle (but written last year when the pass was only 12 euros!) Train Travel in France: Carte Blanche, which highlights some of the better stops and gives suggested itineraries for exploring.
But wait… there’s more! Here is the real inside secret: There is another pass that is even more awesome and not even advertised …in fact, nobody seems to know about it, not even the hotels…! It’s the Carte Zou (which means ‘Go!’ in Nissart), and gives you around 80% off on unlimited train travel between two points for a week or a month: just hop on and hop off the trains, no tickets, no punching. I bought a Zou week-pass to commute from Nice during the Cannes Film Festival last month, and at normally 6.40€ a pop, the 17€ pass paid for itself by the morning of the second day.
The pass is good between two set points, so to have maximum access to the coastal trains, ask for a card from Frejus to Ventimiglia (43€ for a week, and 154€ for a month pass), or narrow it down a bit, say if you are staying in Cannes but planning on going to the Nice Jazz Festival every day… click here for the handy Zou price calculator. You have to buy this pass at the counter and will need ID but no photos: Ask for the free ‘Abonnement pour Tous’ card, then the Zou weekly (hebdo) or monthly (mensuel), and tell them the two points you want to travel within.
For more on various train passes and discounts, check out Best of Nice Blog’s guide to Cheap Train Ticket and Rail Passes section, and if you are new to taking French trains, check out Taking the Train in Nice, and Coastal Trains along the Riviera.
Photo Credit: Rade de Villefranche by Iliousa, licensed under Creative Commons.