Fastest journey6hr 22m
Travellers taking the train from Ashford to Marseille are spoilt for choice. If you are travelling on a day when there’s a direct train, that’s your best bet. On other days this route described here via Paris makes sense, but there’s also an early morning connection via Lille on certain days.
The journey from Ashford to Marseille kicks off with a high-speed run on Eurostar from Ashford to Paris, where you will need to change stations. The second leg from Paris to Marseille takes about 3 hrs 30 mins; it includes some very good scenery as the train dashes south from Paris through Burgundy.
Bookings from Ashford to Marseille via Paris normally open three or four months prior to travel.
Ashford to Paris
Board a Eurostar service from Ashford International to Paris Gare du Nord. There are normally three non-stop trains each day from Ashford to Paris. But note that there are just two departures on Sundays. The journey takes just under two hours. Within 20 minutes of leaving Ashford, the train reaches the Channel Tunnel. Less than an hour after leaving Ashford you’ll already be in northern France, tracking south through Flanders’ fields towards Paris.
Remember to factor in at least half an hour for Eurostar’s airline-style baggage check prior to boarding your train. This is a light-touch security scan, and there are no restrictions on taking liquids on board Eurostar trains.
Paris interchange: Paris Nord to Paris Lyon
When you alight from the train at Gare du Nord look for signs to the Metro and RER. Once you've bought a ticket follow the signs to 'RER D', direction 'Melun' or 'Malesherbes'. So long as you're heading in the right direction, all the trains on this line stop at Gare de Lyon. The actual train journey takes around 10 mins with just one stop on the way at Châtelet-les-Halles. Upon alighting from the RER train at Gare de Lyon, follow the signs to the mainline station. The signs read 'Accès aux trains Grandes Lignes'. The whole journey from the concourse at Gare du Nord to the mainline departure platforms at Gare de Lyon will normally take about 40 mins but we recommend leaving at least 50 mins.
If you are arriving at Gare du Nord from London, bear in mind that you can buy Paris Métro tickets at the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras and on board the Eurostar train. Similarly, passengers arriving at the Gare du Nord on Thalys trains from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands can buy Metro tickets on the train (at the Thalys Bar). Although universally referred to as Métro tickets, they are in fact valid on RER trains too.
Paris to Marseille
There are 12 direct fast TGV trains each day from Paris to Marseille, with up to three extra services on peak travel days. Trains to Marseille depart from Paris Gare de Lyon station, often stopping at Avignon TGV and Aix-en-Provence TGV along the way. Arrival in Marseille is at St-Charles station, from where it is just a 10-minute walk through the Quartier Belsunce to the old port.
Since 2015, there has been a direct train from Ashford to Marseille. This new service is operated by Eurostar. The travel time to Marseille from Ashford is under six hours – a remarkable example of high-speed rail bringing the Mediterranean within easy reach of south-east England.
The direct service from London and Ashford to Marseille operates up to five times each week - that peak frequency is reserved for the summer season. During spring and autumn there are typically three trains per week in each direction. Note that winter services are sparse, with at most one train each week - and then only around Christmas, the New Year and the English half-term school holiday in February. So there are winter periods with no direct train at all. But there are of course plenty of alternative routes to the direct train, with multiple options each day requiring an easy change of train in Lille or Paris.
Bookings for the direct train are presently open until autumn 2017. Bookings for indirect routes (ie. with a change at Lille or Paris) usually open three to four months prior to travel.
Ashford to Marseille
You’ll join the direct Eurostar train to Marseille at Ashford International. Shortly after departing, the train dives into the Channel Tunnel. Soon you’ll be in northern France, travelling through Flanders’ fields towards Paris. The train skirts the east of the French capital and then dashes south through Burgundy to the Rhône Valley. You’ll stop in Lyon and Avignon before arriving in Marseille where the train terminates at St-Charles station in the city centre. There are good onward connecting services to cities across Provence, including stations along the Riviera.
On the return journey from Marseille St-Charles to Ashford, there is an extra stop at Lille Europe. The UK Border Force requires this stop in order for the authorities to carry out immigration checks before the train enters the Channel Tunnel.
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Image credits: mcveja