As my girlfriend and I planned an early summer weel-end break, we skimmed through scores of possibilities that were accessible from Nice via either plane or train. We had our hearts set on foreign fields with London or Barcelona top of the list. However, we were unable to find either flights of hotels at any kind of reasonable price. So, we decided to stay in the south of France and planned a trip that would take-in both Marseiile and Avignon.
To get to both cities, we decided to take the train. This was not exactly the low-cost option that we hoped it would be - tickets from Nice to Marseille were 40 Euro each and Marseille to Avignon was 25 Euros each. However, they seemed to be the best options avaiulable. Despite the rather elevated prices, I was very impressed with the TGV. Our journey to Marseille was fast and efficient with the train arriving dead on time. It was the Avignon leg of the journey, though, that really grabbed the attention.
There are two train stations in Avignon: Avignon Ville and Avignon TGV. The 'Ville' is situated in the centre of town and is served by regular rail services to and from cities throughout the region. Avignon TGV is served - as you would imagine - by the TGV. It is about 10km outside the town and is a truly fantastic place. Had Avignon bot been one of the most wonderful cities I have ever explored, the train station might well have been the highlight of our trip, it really was that good.
The first thing I loved about the TGV was the organisation. It was remarkable. As we arrived, we got off the train and stepped onto the platform at the exact appointed point for our carriage. We then rolled our suitcase along the spacious and well-marked walkways to the exit where we were easily directed to the shuttle bus that would make the journey to the city. The bus runs every ten nimutes and whisked us into the city without a glitch. Within 15 minutes of the train arriving we were outside our hotel. The only negative point I could make was that the bus cost 1.50 Euros. Had it been free I might have gone as far as declaring the whole process to be perfect.
The Avignon TGV was also fantastic because of the station itself. I must admit that, over the course of my travels, I have become a sucker for a good train station. For example, the bustle of Beiijing West (the world's biggest and the underground mystery of Monaco have both had me in raptures. Therefore, I was always going to be impressed by the fantastic example of modern transport architecture that is the TGV station in Avignon. The lazy way to describe it would as "looking like an airport". This would not be inaccurate as it's glass roof and elegant curves are reminiscent of Lord Foster"s work in Beijing Terminal 3. I loved the way the station blended this modernity with natural resources. Much of the strucrure and the platforms is made of wood, which give it - to my mind at least - a greater sense of warmth.
The TGV station in Avignon is no great tourist attraction. The city already has plenty of those. However, it was a fantastic welcome to the city.