Whether you are visiting Paris for business or leisure, you may want to escape the city’s frantic pace for a few days — without traveling long distances. Touristic trains are a great way out…and they make it easy on you. Enjoyable and cheap, they can take you to picturesque cities, towns and villages that you may not otherwise see. Furthermore, the experience will give you the opportunity to fully appreciate “La Douce France” (The Sweet France), and get the respite that you are looking for. One of the great advantages of boarding a touristic train is that you are free to plan your trip according to your tastes and schedule. In other words, you can hop off at any stop, spend as much time as you wish exploring the site, get back on the next train to pursue your itinerary or take a train back. No pressure!
Today, we are boarding the Paris Nivernais, an all year-round train. The line travels south from Paris through the magnificent regions of Centre and Burgundy – down to Nevers. If you don’t stop at any of the the following cities along the way, you’ll arrive in Nevers in just two hours from the Paris Bercy station.
Montargis, the first city on the itinerary, is a charming destination in the Gatinais region. Located on the banks of the Loing River by the Foret de Montargis, this lovely town of 16,000 people offers a perfect setting for long walks or bicycle rides. Moreover, with its 131 bridges the “Venice of the Gâtinais,” as locals proudly call it, lends itself to romantic promenades. If you are fond of markets, you will be greeted by the Marche de la Place Girodet every Wednesday and Saturday morning. And fans of the Tour Cycliste de France (Tour de France) may want to know that the 2010 tour will stop in Montargis on July 8. Last but not least, explore the Trail of the Chinese of Montargis. Yes, indeed! In the early part of the 20th century, many Chinese immigrants found their way to Montargis, including one of the future founders and leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping. He spent a few years in Montargis where he worked at a rubber factory. Today, the trail evokes his daily life.
Before reaching Nevers, you’ll pass; Gien with its castle now housing a Hunting Museum, Briare with its 622 meter-long aqueduct that spans the Loire river, and La Charite-sur-Loire with the Clunac priory and Notre Dame Church, both registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Nevers, the Paris Nivernais’s final destination, lies at the foot of the Loire, the last remaining “natural” major river in Europe. Its long meanders provide for a range of outdoor activities — walking, hiking, traditional boating, canoeing or birdwatching. Nevers is also known for its Or Bleu (Blue Gold,) the ancestral pottery that has made the town world-famous for many centuries. Since the 17th century the master potters have been perpetuating the trade, creating pieces inspired by ancient designs or contemporary styles. The “Pottery Walk” which begins at the tourist office is recommended.
Nevers is also about its culinary traditions — meat from the Charolais, fish from the Loire, as well as cheese, honey, and special candies made only in Nevers. The Nougatine de Nevers, for example, has a crunchy almond and sugar centre and is wrapped in an orange-coloured fondant. And, created in 1902 to commemorate the visit of the King of Ethiopia, Le Négus is a soft caramel covered in sugar.
Should you decide to stay overnight in Montargis or Nevers, here are some tips:
Where to eat in Montargis
4 avenue Jean Jaures
Du pain sur la planche
2 rue Paul Doumer
Where to sleep in Montargis
Hotel du Centre
An old maison bourgeoise
2 rue Gudin.
2, Place Victor Hugo
Where to eat in Nevers*
Au Petit Caveau
15 rue de Vertpre
La Botte de Nevers
Rue du Petit Château
*A certain number of the département’s restaurants have the “Les Toques Nivernaises” sign, which is a guarantee of a warm welcome, good service and a varied cuisine which is always of high quality.
Where to sleep in Nevers
Hotel de Diane, Best Western
Located near the train station in ‘old’ Never, it is just 300 meters away from la Loire
38 rue du Midi
Hotel Clos Sainte Marie
In the heart of town, a real haven
25 rue du Petit Mouesse
Nevers Tourist Office
Rue Sabatier, Nevers
How to get your tickets
You can get your tickets at any SNCF train station or SNCF boutique, or on the internet. Some travel agencies in France sell train tickets, as well. Trains run in both directions several times a day. Please note that all trains don’t run all-year around. For some destinations, a stamped train ticket allows you to rent a bike for the day with a discount.