One of my favorite things about being based in Paris is that train travel, both within France and across borders, is relatively cheap…at least if you can speak (or fake) a little French. I was recently surprised to learn that searching for tickets in English will yield prices that are significanlty more expensive.
The SNCF travel website is where all the best train deals can be found. If you scroll down to the bottom of the homepage, you'll see a sign for English that will transfer you to the website for "TGV Europe/Rail Europe." This anglophone portal is handy, but you'll pay more for tickets here. Searching this site today for an October fare from Paris to Marseilles, the cheapest round-trip ticket was $158. With an obligatory $13 charge for an e-ticket (which was cheaper than the $18 or $36 shipping options), the total price of the round-trip ticket was $171. Back at the SNCF website, written in French, the cheapest fare was €75 with no additional fees or charges. Converted to dollars, that round-trip ticket was $107—a savings of almost 40 percent!
If you don't speak French and can't find a francophone friend to help you, consider muddling through the SNCF site with the help of Google Translate or Yahoo's Babel Fish. Just paste the address of whatever SNCF page you're looking at into the translation box, and the program will translate every word from French to English. This will require a bit more time and patience than using the English portal, sure, but the savings will be significant.
For timetables and prices for intercity train travel in other European countries, check out our earlier blog post "Affordable Europe: Save on trains"