Taking the Train in France With a Small Dog
There is something wonderful about taking the train, especially in pet friendly Europe. I recently had the chance to try out the trains in France:
- small rural trains,
- big city centre trains and,
- the all-time famous TGV system
Small Rural Trains
The small rural trains are the easiest and least expensive to take. They run from one large town to another, connecting several small villages along the routes. The system was put into place years and years ago when the small towns and villages in the countryside began emptying out as folks turned to the cities for work.
The trains are used mostly by locals, especially the kids. For many children, the trains provide good access to schools, reducing the need for parents to drive or for the school district to use school buses. On our train ride between Tournus and Beaune, for example, we saw many children, ranging in age from about ten to late teens, going home for lunch, then returning to school for the afternoon. This inter-village train system creates a wonderful chance for children to be independent. It worked beautifully. I don’t know if their train pass is subsidized, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.
As for me? We used these trains mostly while in Burgundy, and my presence as a passenger was a non-issue. I got on, hung out, and got off without anyone – kid, adult, or ticket train master – even blinking. The ticket master even offered me a treat. (It was nice of him, but I declined politely, much to his surprise. I didn’t want to fill up my tummy with dog treats when we were in France with all that wonderful food to sample!) The bipeds asked the ticket master what the rule was in terms of a dog being in or out of a carrier and the ticket master looked surprised at the question. “Sur vos genoux est très bien … pourquoi?” Mom just grinned. On the lap is just fine … and we just loved the « why? » at the end. Proof that this is really a non-issue. So we had the sling bag but I basically just hung out. I even stretched out on the seats at one point. Again, no one cared one iota.
City Centre to City Centre
If the rural trains are the slow milk runs stopping at every village and the TGV is the high speed “stops for no fool” trains, then the interurbain trains are the middle ground. These trains connect town to town or town to city with no stops at the smaller villages along the way. They are not high speed trains; rather, the trip is quicker because they stop less frequently than the rural trains. An example is the train that goes from Dijon to Lyon with perhaps only two stops in between at larger towns such as Beaune and Chalon.
Better priced than the TGV, the interurbain gets you where you need to go with a lot less hassle than driving. Train stations are often very well situated in French towns and cities, close to the city centres and within walking distance of what you may want to see. In fact, when you factor everything in, trains are also more affordable than driving. Highways are privately owned in France, so it’s not uncommon to have to pay steep tolls to drive them. And then there’s the cost of gas in Europe and the cost of parking … assuming you can even find parking. For tourists, there’s the additional cost of car rental fees. Yup, trains are the cheaper way.
The rules for my coming aboard? Pretty much the same as the rural trains. I rode the rails for free and was required to remain on someone’s lap and not take up space for a human if the train was crowded. Large dogs can also travel, but they do need to pay for their space since they are not allowed in the aisle. However, here’s a tip! The interurbain trains, like the rural trains, often have a cart at the front or back of the train for those travelling with bicycles. People can hop on the carts with their bikes without paying extra for transporting the bike. There are pull down seats or passengers can stand. Anyway, large dogs can ride on these carts for free. Once again, someone thought this through!
The TGV (Train Grand Vitesse, meaning High Speed Train) is the system France has in place for their super-duper, extra fast, zoom-zoom trains. They are so fast that, often, when they flash past, the train has been and gone before you’ve mentally registered that a train is present.
I took the TGV twice on our last trip: once from Nice to Chalon (it stopped in Tournus as well, to our surprise, so we go off there) and again from Chalon to Geneva in Switzerland. YEP!! The French and Swiss are so efficient that they have a combined system for fast trains to cross their respective borders. You’ve got to love that!
The reason the cross-border train is special is that, unlike its other neighbours, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU). That means that there is, in fact, a real border between Switzerland and the EU countries, complete with passport control and border guards. But once in Switzerland, the TGV doesn’t stop until you reach Geneva, and that’s where you through customs when you get off the train. It is all good and super-efficient.
For train rides on the TGV, you need to book a ticket in advance because, unlike the rural and interurbain trains, seats are allocated for each passenger.
A little tip for those in North America, if you order your TGV tickets through your travel agent before you leave, the tickets are 20 percent off. Well worth it if you know what days you plan to travel.
But what about dogs? Again, not an issue. Small dogs that remain in a carrier ride for free. Big dogs have to purchase a ticket at half the adult ticket price. Sadly, you can’t purchase your canine’s ticket from overseas, so if you are travelling with a big dog, remember to purchase the ticket on location. The ticket master we had on our TGV from Nice to Chalon said that people often just buy the dog ticket once on the train.
The ticket masters are equipped to print those tickets and can even take credit cards for payment. All and all, I was happy to see that, once again, bringing a canine on the train in France is really not a big deal.
Note: For humans, it is SUPER important that you punch your TGV ticket in the station before you get on the TGV! You can be fined if you do not.
In review: If you are travelling through France and wondering if you will need to rent a car in order to get around with your canine companion, the answer is no! You can take the train. And this, Dear Reader, is a very, very nice thing. If only Canada’s VIA Rail would take a page from that book. *Le Sigh*