Intercité de Nuit couchette train from Paris arrived at Nice

The Train Bleu Intercité de Nuit couchette train from Paris, arrived at Nice.  Note the palm tree!

Buy tickets online...

www.loco2.com (anyone).

uk.voyages-sncf.com (UK residents)

www.capitainetrain.com (anyone)

www.raileurope.com (US residents)

www.raileurope-world.com (residents of Canada, Australia, NZ, Asia, Africa, South America)

Introducing Intercités de Nuit, from €35...

It's the most time-effective way to travel.  Sleep your way from Paris to Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Toulouse, Biarritz, Perpignan, Latour de Carol, the French Alps of the Spanish border from just €35 (£33).  Formerly branded Lunéa, French overnight trains are now Intercités de Nuit.

What is a couchette?

These trains have couchettes, simple flat padded bunks each supplied with a fresh clean pillow, individual reading light and special lightweight sleeping-bag - a great idea, replacing the traditional sheet & blanket.  Each passenger gets a bottle of mineral water, earplugs (if you really need them) & tissues.  French couchette cars have been modernised with quiet carpeted interiors & soft fabric bunks.  Only bona fide passengers with tickets & reservations are allowed onto the platform, and there are minimal stops between 00:00 & 06:00 for a smooth, safe & secure journey through the night. 

Sleeping-cars with 1 & 2 bed compartments were withdrawn from French domestic overnight trains in December 2007, but if you want privacy you can book a whole couchette compartment for exclusive private use, see the Espace Privatif section below.

1st & 2nd class couchettes...   Watch the video

1st class couchettes have 4 berths per compartment, upper and lower on each side of the compartment.  They feel much more spacious than 2nd class couchettes, as there are only 4 people not 6 in a slightly larger compartment.  Great for families or a group of friends.  If you want sole or dual occupancy of a whole compartment, see espace privatif belowCouchette numbering plan.

2nd class couchettes have 6 bunks in each compartment, upper, middle & lower on each side of the compartment.  Obviously, if you have any mobility problems ask for a lower berth, but the cosy top bunks up in the roof space give you more privacy and are my personal preference.  Having said that, although cars are air-conditioned with adjustable temperature control, bottom & middle bunks can be cooler than top bunks on a hot summer night.  Couchette berth numbering plan.

In both classes:  Men & women are mixed in couchettes as you don't normally fully undress, but women travelling alone can book a berth in a ladies-only compartment if they like.  If you've children, you can ask the train staff for a child safety rail for their bunk.  Compartment doors have a security lock which cannot be opened from outside even with a staff key, and staff are on duty if you need them.  There are washrooms & toilets at the end of the corridor.

The InterCite de Nuit (formerly Lunea) from Paris arrived at Nice   Refurbished French 2nd class 6-berth couchettes   Refurbished French 1st class 4-berth couchettes

Le Train Bleu:  A refurbished couchette car on the Paris to Nice night train, arrived in Nice...

 

2nd class 6-berth couchettes showing sleeping bags...

 

1st class 4-berth couchettes (after sleeping bags removed)...

Espace privatif:  Private use of a whole compartment...

If you want privacy, you can reserve a whole couchette compartment for your own exclusive private use.  If there's 1, 2 or 3 of you, you pay whatever the cheapest available fare is for 1st class couchette tickets for each of you, plus one fixed supplement of €70 for single occupancy, €50 if there's 2 of you or €40 if there's 3 of you.  Similarly, 4 or 5 people can have private use of a 2nd class 6-berth couchette compartment for a fixed-price supplement of €45.

How to book Espace Privatif online:  The Espace privatif arrangement can only be booked online directly with SNCF at www.voyages-sncf.com - leave 'France' selected top right.  It cannot be booked online at uk.voyages-sncf.com, the artiste formerly known as Rail Europe = voyages-sncf.com with 'United Kingdom' selected top right, which confusingly looks identical to the 'real' French voyages-sncf.com but uses a different booking engine which cannot book Espace Privatif.  Nor can it be booked at Capitainetrain or Loco2 or any of the Rail Europe websites.  If you use the French version of www.voyages-sncf.com (voyages-sncf.com with 'France' selected top right), Espace Privatif will show up in the 'Choose my place' seating options when you book an overnight couchette train in the normal way, although remember that to book sole or dual occupancy you'll need to have 1st class selected as you're after sole or dual occupancy of a 1st class 4-berth couchette compartment.  You print your own ticket or collect it at the station.

However, using voyages-sncf.com with 'France' selected top right means booking in French.  If you'd prefer to book in English, there's an English-language version of the French edition of voyages-sncf (= voyages-sncf.com with 'Other countries (EUR)' selected top right = en.voyages-sncf.com) which most overseas residents can use to book Espace Privatif, but UK residents will find that en.voyages-sncf annoyingly redirects automatically to uk.voyages-sncf which of course cannot book espace privatif.  To get around this you'll either need to book in French on the French version of www.voyages-sncf.com (voyages-sncf.com with 'France' selected top right), or you can select 'Switzerland' top right which puts you on the English-language version of the Swiss edition of the French site, without redirecting you to the UK edition, and you can then book Espace Privatif.  But be warned, if you then select 'Great Britain' in the journey planner you'll be redirected again, so to avoid this, select 'Afghanistan' as your country when asked within the booking system, as you will get a self-print or collect-at-station option it really doesn't matter which country you select.  You really couldn't make all this up, could you?  For more information on avoiding SNCF's Machiavellian redirects, follow the instructions here.

Alternatively you can book by phone in the UK with Rail Europe on 0844 848 5 848, but a word of warning:  Some Rail Europe staff haven't heard about the Espace privatif facility as not many people ask for it, so be polite but firm, and if they claim it can't be done ask for supervisor.  It's explained (in French) at http://intercites.voyages-sncf.com/services-des-trains-de-nuit.

Luggage, bikes, food & drink...

You take your luggage into the compartment with you.  There's space for bags under the bottom bunks, on the rack above the window, and in the big recess over the compartment door projecting over the ceiling of the corridor.  Bikes can be taken for a small charge, these travel in a voiture service in the centre of the train.  There's no cafe or bar car on board, but there are a couple of drink & snack vending machines in the voiture service, along with the train manager's office and information point.  Feel free to take your own food or drink (perhaps a bottle of wine!) onto the train with you.

Evening meal before leaving Paris?  Morning shower on arrival at Paris Austerlitz?

I'm not a fan of eateries at the Gare d'Austerlitz, but when heading south, why not catch an earlier Eurostar and have dinner at the famous Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare de Lyon?  You can walk across the Seine from the Gare de Lyon to the neighbouring Gare d'Austerlitz after dinner in 5-10 minutes.  When arriving on a northbound Intercité de Nuit at the Gare d'Austerlitz, you can take a shower in the clean & modern privately-run toilet & shower block on the main concourse near platform 21.  A shower complete with towel, soap & toiletries costs €6.

Couchette berth numbering plan

In 1st class 4-berth couchettes, only the lower and top berth numbers are used.

Reclining seats...

Most Intercités de Nuit overnight trains also have 2nd class reclining seats, and you'll also find overnight TGV trains on some routes with non-reclining seats.  However, a couchette allows you to sleep properly lying down in a securely locked compartment, so is the recommended option and well worth the small extra cost.  Travelling overnight in a seat is not recommended except in emergency.

Fares & how to buy tickets...

New colours for French intercite de nuit trains   Sleeping bag on an intercite de nuit couchette train

With the replacement of the Lunéa brand with the new Intercité de Nuit brand, yet another colour scheme is appearing...

 

Each couchette has a lightweight sleeping-bag, mineral water & pack with tissue, wipe, ear plugs & (in 1st class) travel socks.

Couchette car corridor   Washroom in French couchette car   Vending machines on Intercite de Nuit overnight trains

The quiet, carpeted couchette car corridor...

 

Washrooms & toilets are at the end of the corridor...

 

You can get a coffee from the vending machines in the voiture services.

Bike space on French overnight trains   Reclining seats on an Intercite de Nuit French overnight train

The voiture services has space for several bikes, a small charge is made, see the bikes by train page.

 

Reclining seats on an Intercité de Nuit.  Sitting up all night in a seat is a false economy - always book a couchette.

Watch the video...


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