Getting town to town in Burgundy by train and bus

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How to use the SNCF Carte Avantage Senior and the SNCF Connect app

I left Auxerre, capital of the Yonne, for Nevers, capital of the Nièvre, the two departments of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté that I’m looking at this trip. Traveling by train and bus just within France, I’m using SNCF directly, not Trainline or Omio. If over 60, you can get a senior discount card, and it’s very easy. Just go to the SNCF website: it’s a virtual card, nothing you have to collect or wait for by mail. Then install the SNCF Connect app, log in with the account you created when buying the discount card, and register the Carte Avantage Senior in the app. Now the app will automatically apply the discount to any route you book for yourself. It will also store credit card info, so you can buy a ticket with just a click or two. Most of the time now I wait till I’m at the station before paying a ticket, though I’ll have chosen a train time before.

Your ticket is created in the app, so all you have to do is show it on your phone. If you’ve closed the app meanwhile, you’ll find your ticket from the My Trips link at the bottom. But if you don’t have mobile data while you’re traveling, know that you cannot count on wifi in the train station or on the train. You may get it, but even when it’s said to be available, chances are 50/50. So, take a screenshot of your ticket as soon as it’s created, and that will cover you whether tickets are being checked by a scanner or an agent.

What’s going on when listed buses just disappear?

Almost always, with the app, train travel is wonderfully simple. But for the trip from Auxerre to Nevers, things were baffling. It seemed ridiculous to be routed up to Paris Bercy and then back south. But there just aren’t many east-west connections, and that kind of route happens both southeast and southwest of Paris.

From Auxerre, it is possible to avoid going back north by taking three trains, with a bit of a layover in Dijon, after changing trains in a station with no elevators to the tracks. That means I’d be lugging my suitcases up and down stairs, with very few minutes to manage the feat. Not likely!

The more appealing choice was to take buses, and there was one option, leaving at 10:24 in the morning. Perfect. But when I tried to book that trip, the option simply disappeared from the app. I tried repeatedly and the same thing always happened. I went to ask Nicola, my kind auberge host, if he could understand what was going on, or if the bus actually existed, or how to book if it did. He did some internet searching, turning up sites I hadn’t found, but ended up as clueless as I. I decided to just go to the station in the morning and take my chances: worst case would be that Paris pivot.

Things turned out OK. Luckily the ticket office was open. The agent kindly explained that while the first bus was an SNCF option, which she could sell a ticket for, the connection I’d make in Clamecy (mid-route) was a regional transport, with tickets sold only on board. All good. 5.50 euros for the first bus, and 1.50 for the second, for which I had over an hour’s wait in Clamecy’s empty station.

And now I know why SNCF Connect will show some buses that do in fact connect with train routes, and depart from a train station, and yet will not show the bus when I move on to the purchasing stage. I recommend you do your planning with the “show itineraries only” option so you see everything, if you aren’t taking a standard route. And if part of the trip you like involves a bus with a local route number rather than an SNCF number, don’t worry, just count on it being there. Though if you’re lucky enough to be in a train station with an agent on duty, it is reassuring to ask!

On the bus from Clamecy

The trip was scenic and interesting, especially the second bus, , from Clamecy to Nevers, because it made a couple of dozen stops and wound through many villages. A trip that would take a little over an hour by car became a full two hours – but it was comfortable and relaxing enough, since I could use my headphones to mostly drown out the bubblegum pop the driver played loudly over the radio.

The countryside was startlingly green. It’s January, and yet the hillsides looked like advertisements of Ireland. For a while, the route followed the Yonne river, making for delightful scenery. Otherwise, there were rolling hills with all their windbreaks – being the only vegetation that seemed wintry. The towns we went through were a mix of drab industrial sections and fascinating medieval villages, with a few archeological sites signaled along the way. I’d loved to have managed to snap a photo of one town’s pair of directional signs reading “Eglise” and below that, “Foie Gras.” Just the essentials!?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get photos of the interesting villages, as the bus was always moving – except when it made its unphotogenic scheduled stops.

The long journey through mostly empty countryside made me feel I was in the back of beyond, too inland and remote for my liking; yet Avallon and Vézelay are nearby, and Dijon is about as close to Nevers as Paris is to Auxerre. I’m looking forward to exploring Nevers to see if it’s enough, nearly, in itself; and to exploring some of the towns just to the north, along the Loire.

Enjoy discounted train fares

Buy your Carte Avantage Senior online directly from SNCF; currently 49 euros/year, starting any date you choose, and available to anyone 60 years old and up, tourists as well as residents. But do a search first; I’ve seen some agencies offer the card at 50% off once in a while, and very likely around Black Friday.

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