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? Scroll down for the sites with TGV tickets at rock-bottom prices.
WEEKLY OR MONTHLY TRAIN PASS
Carte ZOU: They keep this awesome rail pass kind of under their chapeau… it’s so good they don’t even publicize it. This card gives you unlimited coastal train travel for a week or a month: just hop on and hop off the trains, no tickets, no punching.
Your pass is good along a particular route, so if you choose the coastal routes, 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 busy, I assure you. To have maximum access to the coastal trains, ask for a card from Frejus to Ventimiglia, Italy (43€ for a week, and 154€ 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). Here is the price calculator if you want to narrow it down further, say if you are staying in Nice but going to the Cannes Film Festival every day (17€ weekly Zou pass vs regular price of 6.40€ a trip… it’s basically 80% off!)
Go to the ticket window at the train station 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 and you can be a tourist or a resident, and they give you your pass straight away.
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. 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 the trip cost only 1.50 each way… it’s like free, and worth it even if you’re here only a few months. 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.
- Antibes 4.20€
- Cannes 6.40€
- Grasse 7.90€
- Monaco 3.60€
- Villefranche-sur-mer 1.60€
- Ventimiglia, Italy 6.70€
- Saint Raphael 11.20€
The Carte Isabelle Day Pass: Save some money in the summertime: from June 1 to the end of September, this 14€ ticket is good for a day’s worth of unlimited travel on TER trains between Ventimiglia and Frejus, and inland to Grasse or up to Tende. From Nice you won’t save much unless you are going to Tende or farther than Cannes, but if you are going Cannes-Ventimiglia, for instance, it is worth your while. You can buy the pass at the ticket window, 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…)
Carte Isabelle Family Day 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 below which gives you discounts on train ticket for you and 3 travelling companions.
Here’s a great article on the Carte Isabelle, Train Travel in France: Carte Blanche, with some of the better stops with suggested itineraries for exploring (but written last year when the pas was only 12 euros!).
CHEAP TGV TICKETS NICE TO PARIS
Here is 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 boasts 19€ tickets but has it’s own train cars: quiet (‘zen’) or happening (‘zap’).
Discount Rail Cards good for all over France:
SNCF offers senior, student, and family discount cards, for between 50-80€ a year, that basically give you 50% off your train travel. 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.
Before you order train tickets from outside of France, read this 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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