Cheap Train Tickets and Rail Passes

There are some killer local rail passes available for train travel on the Riviera… from daily, weekly and monthly train passes… to yearly cards that give half-price train tickets for more occasional travelers.   Nice to Paris? You can even get TGV tickets at rock-bottom prices.

ZOU UNLIMITED DAY PASS

The Zou Day Pass is a new card being unveiled this summer, which replaces the Carte Isabelle Day Pass.  It’s available from June through the end of September, costs just 15€, and can be used from Ventimiglia Italy to Saint Raphael, and inland to Grasse, or Tende… pretty much anywhere you want to go in the space of a day.  You just get the card and hop on and hop off the trains, free as a bird, with no tickets, and no punching. Here’s a great article about some of the possibilities.

But wait, there’s more! Your Zou Pass entitles you to get certain discounts as well:

  • 3€ off the Nice Open Tour hop-on-hop-off bus (regularly 22€)
  • 2.50€ off admission to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villa Kerylos
  • 2.50€ off admission to the Monaco Oceanographic Museum (regularly 14€)
  • and 2€ off the Monaco Grand Tour hop-on-hop-off bus (normally 21€)

You can buy the pass at the SNCF Boutique across from Galeries Lafayette, from the ticket window at the train station, or from the machines at the train station (which means 14€ in coins, as the machines don’t take bills, or with a credit card with a microchip as the ticket machine won’t take the American swipe kind…)

ZOU WEEKLY OR MONTHLY TRAIN PASS

Carte ZOU by the week or month:  Available all year long, this customisable card gives you unlimited coastal train travel for a week or a month at around an 75% discount, and it couldn’t be easier: just choose two points along the coast, then get on and off the trains anywhere you want between those two points, no tickets, no punching.

Since this weekly or monthly pass is good along a particular route, if you choose the coastal towns, you won’t have access to Grasse or the mountains, but there is enough to see and do in the towns along the seaside to keep you very busy, I assure you.  To have maximum access to the coastal trains, ask for a card from Saint Raphael to Ventimiglia, Italy (47€ for a week, and 160€ for a month pass), or narrow it down a bit and ask for Theoule-sur-mer (gorgeous beaches just past Cannes) to Ventimiglia (33€ for a week and 117€ for a month).  You can even narrow it down further, say if you are staying in Nice but going to the Cannes Film Festival every day (19.50€ weekly Zou pass vs regular price of 7€ each way… it’s basically 75% off!)  Here’s a handy Zou price calulator: put in two points along the coast, choose Zou Hebdo (weekly) or Mensual (monthly), and get your price!

Plus, for just a little more, you can now upgrade to Zou +, getting unlimited use of local buses and trams along your chosen route.

And… with your weekly or monthly card, you are entitled to all the tourist discounts to the museums, etc., listed above under the day pass.

Go to the ticket window at the train station or the SNCF Boutique near Galeries Lafayette, and ask for the free Abonnement pour Tous Carte, and then ask to add on the Carte ZOU Hebdo (weekly) or Carte ZOU Mensuel (for a calendar month); you’ll need ID but there is no form to fill out and no photos required, it doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist or a resident, and they give you your card straight away.

ZOU YEARLY MASSIVE-DISCOUNT TRAIN PASS

If you stick around for most of the year, the Zou 50-75% discount pass is  for you.  For just 30€ a year (or 15€ under 26), you get half price on all your train tickets, for you and three traveling companions, and can go all the way to Avignon!   The discount is good for a whole year on all TER trains (so no TGV’s) between Ventimiglia and Avignon, and all the inland routes into the mountains, including the Chemin de Fer de Provence – Train des Pignes, and also on the LER bus to Aix-en-Provence.

And as if that wasn’t enough, you can buy a 10-pack of tickets for the destination of your choice for 75% off, which you can use anytime in 4 months.  I buy the 10 pack from Nice to Ventimiglia, which makes each trip cost only 2€ each way, a savings of 58€, which pays for the yearly fee right off the bat. It’s worth it even if you’re here only a few months.

And… you can get all the tourist discounts to the museums, etc., listed above, plus more (especially in Marseilles), just by showing your same-day TER train ticket.

This yearly ZOU discount pass is available to tourists and residents alike.  Just fill out this form and take it to the ticket window with a copy of your passport or ID card and an ID photo.

Just for comparison, here are the normal 2015 one-way full-fare train ticket prices from Nice (before applying any discount):

  • Antibes  4.60€
  • Cannes  7.00€
  • Grasse    10.10€
  • Monaco  3.90€
  • Villefranche-sur-mer  1.80€
  • Ventimiglia, Italy 7.70€
  • Saint Raphael  12.30€

 

 

FAMILY PASSES

Carte Isabelle Family Pass is available all year long, not just in the summer. It’s good for 2 adults and 2 children and gives unlimited travel on TER trains between Ventimiglia and Frejus, and inland to Grasse or up to Tende for 1 day for 35€ or 3 days for 80€.   For families that are going to be here for a while, check out the Zou discount pass above which gives you discounts on train ticket for you and 3 travelling companions.

Also, your Carte Isabelle Family Pass entitles you to discounts during your pass period for:

  • 3€ off the Nice Open Tour hop-on-hop-off bus
  • 2.50€ off admission to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villa Kerylos
  • 2.50€ off admission to the Monaco Oceanographic Museum
  • and 2€ off the Monaco Grand Tour hop-on-hop-off bus

 

PARIS: CHEAP TGV TICKETS 

Check out the SNCF Price Calender (in French) where you can scan the months looking for those great deals.  I’ve seen one-way Nice-Paris TGV tickets on this site as low as 17€.

Next, try the hipper (and in English) IDTGV site, which not only regularly boasts 19€ tickets but has it’s own train cars: quiet (‘zen’) or happening (‘zap’).  The trick with the IDTGV is to sign up for their internet newsletter, and then, four times a year when the 19€ Nice-Paris tickets are released for the following season, you can jump in and grab one!

FRANCE-WIDE DISCOUNT RAIL PASSES

SNCF offers senior, student, and family discount cards, for between 50-80€ a year, that basically give you 50% off your train travel all over France.  They cost a bit more that the ZOU card, but they are not limited to this region and can be used anywhere in France. Click here for the info in English, and here for the French site.

There are deals for unlimited train travel in France that are only available for non-European residents, and must be purchased before you arrive.  I generally don’t suggest these, because to make them worthwhile you often need to be constantly on the move, and I prefer getting to know fewer places better.

But before you order train tickets from outside of France, read this super informative page from Seat61.com on how to use the SNCF affiliate sites, like TGV-Europe and the more expensive Rail Europe, with really good tips (like saying you are in Canada instead of the US) to avoid several tricky and expensive pitfalls.

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