How to get to France from Italy – exploring the Riviera by train

Imagine the romance of train travel coupled with the sights of the Italian and French Riviera going past your window. This train journey from Genoa to Nice has to be the best way to travel between Italy and France.

Mr & Mrs Romance - Italy to France - title & feature

Our plan was to go from Genoa along the Italian and French Riviera, then drive up through Provence and Dijon to Paris. The only problem: how to get to France?

Car rental companies wanted to charge us the earth for driving across international borders – especially on a one-way trip. Flights were looking very expensive too and lacked the romance of travelling in Europe. And especially when you’re on the Riviera.

Mr and Mrs Romance - trains in Italy

Then Mrs Romance had a brainwave: what about going by train?

A stroke of genius. However, because the French and Italian train companies – SNCF and Trenitalia – don’t really talk to each other, it doesn’t look like there’s any connection between the two countries.

Don’t be put off.

At Genova’s main station – Genoa Piazza Principe – you can buy direct tickets from the office all the way to Nice Ville. You don’t need to change trains, you don’t need to get off. It’s perfect.

The views from our carriage were incredible, it was a really quick journey (only about 3 hours), we didn’t get lost, which would’ve happened if we’d driven for sure. Plus it was cheap – around €20 each!Mr and Mrs Romance - Genoa - Genova Mr and Mrs Romance - Genoa - Genova sunrise Mr and Mrs Romance - lunch in Provence

There were only 2 problems we faced as we rolled through one of the most glamorous and star-studded parts of the continent:

1. We couldn’t stop and take it all in whenever we wanted, which is the bonus you get from a self-drive.

2. You can’t choose your fellow passengers. Just at the Italian-French border, a swarm of teenage boys got on. They were loud, boisterous and surprisingly smelly! But they weren’t on for long.

From Nice we collected our rental car and had the most incredible time exploring Provence and driving up to Paris.

If you want to see what we did in Provence, click here for our adventures in the South of France.

It’s funny when I think about it though – travelling by train isn’t my first choice. But I wonder if that’s because of living in the UK and Australia, where the trains are very slow, break down a lot. And it’s quite an expensive option too.

Europe is completely different.

Mr and Mrs Romance - Provence doors

Our trip from Milan to Lake Como is one of our favourite train journeys, and makes visiting Como without a car incredibly easy.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard of people travelling all the way through Europe – all the way from Russia to England. By the time they’d reached the west coast of France, they were 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

By the time they got off the train in London, they were an hour late. One day we’ll get it right, I’m sure!

Mr and Mrs Romance - Provence

Travel tips

–  Booking tickets in advance will bring the price down considerably, though the prices at the station are still pretty good. Check here on TrenItalia’s site for details.

 –  Genoa or Genova? The Anglicised name for this town on the Italian Riviera is Genoa but the Italian name is Genova.

Be aware of this when you’re looking for place names in Italy – we’ve changed a lot of their place names over the years. Think Rome vs Roma, Naples vs Napoli or Florence vs Firenze.

–  You shouldn’t need your passport on the train crossing from Italy into France, but have it handy just in case. They do have spot checks coming through the train occasionally.

–  Beware the hangry. Take snacks with you on the train. There is no buffet car so make sure you have supplies if you think you might get peckish on the way.

–  If you’re picking up a hire car when you get to Nice, make sure you understand exactly where the car is. We spent quite a while searching for the depot, which was quite a way from the office.

–  If you have an Italian phone sim like a TIM, it will still work in France for the first few hours. After that you will need to change sim cards again.

Mr and Mrs Romance - French markets

For the savvy traveller, rail has to be the best way to explore Europe. Have you done any rail travel? What’s the best train ride you’ve ever taken? Do you have any rail-based horror stories? Tell us in the comments! 

Images by Mrs Romance.

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