Evaluating French towns: transportation and surveys

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Public transportation in Europe is usually impressive, and in France is generally quite good. Of course, Paris and all the Ile de France is covered extensively – although changing between train stations in Paris can be a challenge. Be sure to check online in advance for details on a transfer you need to make and do not assume that there will be trains or buses connecting the various stations. You may be in for a shock.

In other regions: I found the networks in the Hérault and the Gard particularly impressive, comprehensive and cheap – though bus info, signage and transfer information could be greatly improved upon. In less populous areas, such as the Yonne and Nièvre, there are fewer and less frequent bus routes, but it seems that everywhere regular networks can’t be maintained, there is an offer of transportation on demand extended to residents, available on request a day in advance.

Free public transportation

  • Castres (since 2008)
  • Chantilly (since 1992)
  • Châteaudun (since 2009)
  • Châteauroux (since 2001)
  • Crépy-en-Valois (since 2011)
  • Figeac (since 2003)
  • Gaillac (since 2014)
  • Issoudun (since 2002)
  • Mayenne (since 2002)
  • Niort (since 2017)
  • Noyon (since 2008)
  • Nyons (since 2011)
  • Pont-Sainte-Maxence (since 2006)
  • Saint-Brévins-les-Pins (since 2008)
  • Senlis (since 2000)

Nantes: free on weekends only, excluding the airport bus.

Free navette(s) for the center of town

  • Avallon
  • Hyères – two free shuttles Mon-Sat
  • Laval
  • Narbonne
  • Niort
  • Rennes

There are surely more, which I will add as I discover them.

Montpellier is currently (from 6 Mar 2023) offering a free navette for the Ovalie district because of work on line 5. The navette runs every day from Sabines (an important exchange, and site of Flixbus departures) to Bagatelle, Cheng-Du, XV de France and Yves du Manoir stops, to meet up with tram line 2.

Tickets and route information

There are more and more regional transport apps for Android and iPhone so that if you have mobile data, you can manage everything online. You validate a ticket in the app when you are going to board. In some regions, such as Montpellier metro area, you cannot buy a ticket on board. In Narbonne, you can.

No surprise: in larger cities and major tourist destinations, the public transportation system is run by the metropolitan authority. Otherwise, check the department and then the region.

Here, I include some significant transport links, not a comprehensive list.

Paris and the Ile-de-France region: RATP (Métro) & Transilien SNCF (suburban trains)

Avignon: Orizo – Transports en commun du Grand Avignon
Bordeaux: TBM – Transports Bordeaux Métropole
Carcassonne: RTCA -Régie des Transports Carcassonne Agglo. Buy tickets on board.
Lille: ilévia – Transports en commun de la Métropole Européenne de Lille
Lyon: TCL – Transports en Commun Lyonnais. Use a contactless credit card on board.
Marseille: RTM – Régie des Transports de Marseille. Has an app for routes and tickets.
Montpellier: TaM – Transports de l’Agglomération de Montpellier. Has an app for routes and tickets.
Nantes: TAN – Transports en Commun de l’Agglomération Nantaise
Narbonne: Citibus – Société de transport en commun de la communauté d’agglomération du Grand Narbonne.
Nîmes: TANGO – Réseau de Transports de l’Agglomération Nîmoise. Buy tickets in advance. Limited trials of contactless cards on line 33 for train and airport connections.
Strasbourg: CTS – Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois
Toulouse: TISSEO – Transports en Commun de l’Agglomération Toulousaine

Regional networks

Bourgogne-Franche-Comte: MOBIGO

Centre-Val-de-Loire: REMI – Réseau de mobilité interurbaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine: Transports en Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Occitanie: liO Has an app, for trains and buses throughout the region.

Pays de la Loire: Aléop – Les transports en Pays de la Loire

French SNCF Train Stations: Elevators please!

I thought that France had been serious for years already about making transportation accessible, but oh ’tis not so. Their project started in 2015 hasn’t gotten very far, in my view. My skin-and-bones arms are not very strong these days, so hauling even my 20-kg (44 lb) suitcase up and down stairs is a task I try to avoid. Still, SNCF says their goal is to make 160 stations accessible by 2024. Time will tell. At present, they’ll consider stations accessible if they make personnel available, upon advance reservation, to offer physical assistance to the handicapped. But for people like me, who aren’t handicapped, just insecure, that’s not relevant.

Cities whose SNCF (national rail) stations I know have elevators:

Bourges, Lille Flandres, Lille Europe (reportedly), Montpellier, Nîmes

Cities whose SNCF stations do not have elevators for changing tracks:

Auxerre, Béziers, Carcassonne, Narbonne, Nevers, Vierzon

Toulouse Matabiau has elevators for only some of the tracks – and not for some that are used for major lines.

Bordeaux has ramps, so very manageable with wheeled luggage.

I will keep updating this page.

In Paris, there’s no problem getting the RER from CDG and coming into town, where you do find elevators in some points of the Chatelet complex. At Saint-Michel, there is one exit with an elevator to the street: at the middle of the platform, look for exit 6. However, elevators are rare in the metro network. Some stations have escalators, but personally, I am wary of steep or long escalators, afraid that my bag(s) may make me lose my balance. Luckily there always seems to be someone willing to help who is young or strong or both.

Les Plus Beau Villages de France

Often impractical for residence, but fun to look at, and certainly to plan day-trips around.


Back in 2020, Le Figaro said these were the top 10 French towns to retire to:

  1. Andernos-les-Bains
  2. Arcachon
  3. Vannes
  4. Narbonne
  5. Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez
  6. Challans
  7. Cannes
  8. Limoges
  9. Tied: Agde and Saint-Malo

In 2022, International Living claimed these to be the 5 best towns to retire to / live in:

  • Lyon
  • Montpellier
  • Sarlat-la-Canéda
  • Bordeaux
  • Pau

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