There are two train stations in Avignon, the TGV station in the suburbs 9 km (5.5 miles) south-west of the city and Avignon Centre near the centre of town. This is a guide to both of them and to rail travel to and from Avignon.
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AVIGNON TGV STATION
Where: chemin du Confluent, La Courtine, 84008 Avignon. Website for Avignon TGV station. Click here to view live train arrivals at and live train departures from Avignon TGV station.
Designed by the architects Jean-Marie Duthilleul and Jean-François Blassel, the sleek, elegant contours of Avignon TGV station - opened on 10 June 2001 as part of the high-speed rail link between Paris and Marseille - are intended to evoke the shape of an upturned boat.
With the exception of some services from Paris and the direct summer Eurostar from London, which takes less than six hours and terminates at Avignon Centre, most TGV trains pass through here. You can book tickets for the summer direct service from London to Avignon here. Outside the summer season, you can book a high-speed train between London and Avignon here.
Avignon is around two hours 40 minutes from Paris by TGV and just 30 minutes from the centre of Marseille. Around 50-60 TGVs pass through the station each day, linking Avignon directly with Paris, Roissy, Nice, Toulon, Montpellier, Marseille, Lyon, Dijon, Metz, Brussels, Lille, Rouen, Rennes, Nantes, Geneva and other major cities.
The station website includes a page with live travel information. However, although it in theory offers versions in English, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish, a number of pages are available in French only.
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GETTING TO AND FROM THE STATION
There are two exits from Avignon TGV station. Outside the south exit is a wide choice of car parks (long-term, short-term, subscription only, etc.) offering a total of 1850 parking spots.
A number of car hire companies are housed in a row of cabins opposite the exit. Most of the major ones are represented, including Avis, Hertz, Europcar, National/Citer, Alamo and Sixt.
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Taxis which have been ordered in advance should (in theory) pull up at the south exit. Click here to pre-book a holiday taxi to or from Avignon TGV station.
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Outside and to the left of the north exit is the bus-stop for the transfer to the Auto/Train Shuttle and a rank for taxis which have not been ordered in advance. Pictured below: the gates to the north exit/entrance of Avignon TGV station.
In summer 2011 work began on a high-speed rail link between Avignon TGV and Avignon Centre station. Named La Virgule (The Comma), in reference to the shape of its route, the link will whisk you between the stations in five minutes and will be completed, if all goes according to plan, in 2013.
Meanwhile you can get into town by bus in about 15 minutes, depending on traffic. The stop is outside the north exit and a little to the left. The bus terminates at the Post Office (La Poste), which is just across the road from Avignon Centre station. Timetable for the bus shuttle from Avignon TGV to Avignon Centre station.
You can buy tickets in the bus (try to offer small change) or in a cabin at the bottom of the steps in front of the north exit. This little space is air-conditioned and has a chilled water dispenser: a good spot to wait on a hot summer's day.
Further to the left is the grandly named gare routière (bus station), in fact just a row of half a dozen bus-stops from where you can travel onwards to Apt, Digne, Pont Saint Esprit, Isle sur la Sorge, Cavaillon, Arles and other destinations.
To the right as you go out the north exit are a motorbike park and two car parks, P0 for short term parking and P1 for long-term (pay for the parking ticket at the machine by the station exit).
In terms of road access, Avignon TGV Station is not well signposted. If driving there, the following suggested route from the A7 motorway is not the most direct, but it is by far the easiest to find.
Leave the A7 at exit 23 (Avignon Nord). Follow the signs towards the centre of Avignon. Keeping the river on your right and the walled city on your left, drive past the Pont d'Avignon and two more river bridges. Then the road takes you to the left away from the river. Keep straight on for 1km / 0.6 miles and you will see the station in front of you
Inside Avignon TGV station are vending machines, several sandwich bars, and a chain cafeteria called Oh!.. Poivrier, which sells burgers, salads and other light meals - and (this being France) champagne.
A Relay newsagent has foreign-language newspapers and magazines as well as maps, guide books and SIM cards (une puce in French) for mobile phones / cell phones.
Also in the station concourse are an Avignon Tourism information desk and a Welcome desk (Accueil), where assistance may be requested for disabled passengers. To do this in advance, telephone (+33) 4 32 76 76 05. There is no left luggage office or lockers, or free wi-fi. For Lost and Found enquiries (Objets Trouvés), try the Welcome desk.
Outside the south exit is a post-box and, to the right as you go out, a cash dispenser (ATM or Retrait d'Espèces).
TRAIN ROUTES TO AND FROM AVIGNON TGV STATION
The TGV route from Paris has slashed journey times from the capital to Avignon. If travelling from London, take the Eurostar and change trains in either Lille or Paris (unless you are catching the direct London-Avignon service that runs during the summer).
The advantage of Lille is that the onward TGVs leave from the same station. Paris offers more trains and the total journey time is shorter, but you will need to cross the city, either by taxi or by RER, from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon: allow at least 90 minutes to do this.
You could do the trip in a leisurely style and have a drink or a meal in the incredible Le Train Bleu restaurant (pictured left) in the Gare de Lyon. Built in 1900, it is decorated in full Belle Epoque splendour with 41 magnificent ceiling frescos giving Parisian diners a foretaste of their destinations in the South of France.
Another, cheaper restaurant is the Brasserie l'Européen, right opposite the main entrance to the Gare de Lyon. It has a flamboyant interior with Art Nouveau chandeliers and Tiffany lights (and a clock whose hands go backwards), a handy locker room for suitcases and a medium-priced set menu.
The choice is small and basic, but of excellent quality and hot meals are served throughout the day. The set menu might feature "ocean pearls" (aka oysters), steak, duck or fish and a dessert. The house speciality is rum baba. Brasserie l'Européen, 21 bis boulevard Diderot, 75012 Paris. Tel:(+33) 1 43 43 99 70.
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There is a ticket office at the station but you can book TGV tickets in advance on the official TGV-Europe booking site. TGV tickets can be printed on your own computer before departure, just like a low-cost airline ticket.
If travelling from the UK, bear in mind that it is often cheaper to buy a Eurostar ticket to Paris or Lille and then a separate onward ticket to your final destination through the SNCF (French Rail) booking site. It is also worth checking the first-class fare, which might be little more than the second-class fare for the same journey and is sometimes even cheaper.
Look out for trains marked iDTVG when booking trains from Paris to Avignon. They are exactly the same as other TGV trains except that all the seats are offered below the standard full fares, and can only be bought in advance on the Internet. The iDTGV fares are targeted at younger travellers but in fact there is no age restriction on them.
Some iDTGVs are double-deckers, or "duplexes". To secure a seat on the top deck, select the seating zone option "iDzap" when booking online. The lower-deck seats are in the zone "iDzen", which is supposedly quieter though in practice there's not much difference between them.
AVIGNON CENTRE STATION
First opened in 1860, the spacious Avignon Centre station lives up to its name: it's just outside the city walls, a short (five to ten minute) walk from the Place de l'Horloge, the Palais des Papes and the other main tourist areas.
Click here to view live train arrivals at and live train departures from Avignon Centre station. And click here to read about the ZOU! card which offers up to 75% discount on local train travel.
Where: boulevard Saint Roch, BP 175, 84008 Avignon Cedex. Website for Avignon Centre station.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE STATION
In front of the station is a taxi rank: tel: (+33) 4 90 82 20 20. Click here to pre-book a holiday taxi to or from Avignon Centre station.
You will also find a long-term car-park and a short-term one where the first half hour is free and the maximum stay is four hours.
The only car rental company in the station is Avis, which has a desk in the train ticket office in the concourse (note: it's closed on Sundays).
To find the nearest local bus hub, cross the road in front of the station, enter the city gate and take the first street on your left. The bus-stops are in front of the main Post Office (La Poste). Helpful blue arrows on the pavement mark the way.
The shuttle to Avignon TGV station can be picked up here. The journey time is around 15 minutes, depending on traffic. You can buy a ticket on the bus (try to offer small change). Timetable for the bus shuttle from Avignon Centre to Avignon TGV.
In summer you can also catch the shuttle bus to the airport in front of the Post Office. The journey time is around 20 minutes, again depending on traffic. Timetable for the bus shuttle from Avignon Centre station to Avignon airport.
For the regional bus station (la gare routière), turn right out of the station and right again after the Ibis hotel. It's a five to ten minute walk. From here buses go to Orange, Cavaillon, Carpentras, Isle sur la Sorgue, and other destinations. It also has a left luggage facility, unlike the train station (see below).
Slightly to the left as you exit the station is the bus-stop for the transfer to the Auto/Train Shuttle.
On the left as you exit the station is a cash dispenser (ATM) and a left luggage office, although this has been out of use since the summer of 2011 (its X-ray machine is broken). However, the regional bus station (see above) does have a left luggage facility.
On the right is an Ibis hotel, which also has a restaurant offering a slightly wider range of food than you will find in the station. Inside the concourse you can buy drinks and snacks from vending machines, a sandwich bar or an Irish pub which serves salads and light meals. By the pub entrance is a bank of payphones and a lift / elevator to the far platforms (there is also an escalator).
The Relay newsagent and tobacconist has a selection of foreign-language newspapers and magazines as well as maps and guide-books and should sell SIM cards (une puce in French) for mobile phones / cell phones.
Also in the concourse are a photobooth and a Welcome desk (Accueil), which does double duty as a Lost and Found point: you can also contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (+33) 4 90 27 81 83.
A large, air-conditioned ticket office has seating and is more spacious than the rather small and pokey "official" waiting room on the left just before you enter Platform 2. There's no free wi-fi.
The layout of the platforms is somewhat confusing. Platform 2 is the first as you enter through the concourse. The other platforms are accessed via a tunnel. Platform 1 is on the far side of the station and Platforms A-E are sandwiched in between.
Every Saturday throughout the summer a direct Eurostar service links London Saint Pancras with Avignon Centre station (not, as you might expect, Avignon TGV), a smooth and relaxing journey that takes just six hours from city centre to city centre.
The Eurostar registration area in Avignon is by Platform 1. There is also another waiting room and photobooth on this side of the station.
The dates of the 2013 service are 6 July to 7 September and tickets go on sale on 11 December 2012. Book tickets for the direct summer Eurostar between London and Avignon here.
WHEN TRAVELLING TO OR FROM EITHER STATION
As on all continental railways, you need to date-stamp (composter) your ticket before boarding the train at one of the yellow machines at the entrance to every platform. This does not apply to tickets which have been printed on your own computer and are tied to a particular train.
It's wise prior to travel to check for French train strikes, delays, breakdowns and cancellations as the SNCF is susceptible to all of these (click on the relevant region on the website map).
It's in French only but not difficult to understand. "Supprimé" is "cancelled", "interrompu" or "perturbé" is "disrupted", "panne" is a breakdown, "delai" or "retard" is a delay and "grève" or "mouvement social" is strike action.