Having now taken a lot of budget flights in and out of southwest France (Occitania, actually), I want to share my experience by making some recommendations of the best airports to use. What I’m judging by is the ease of getting to and from the airport. Shuttle buses – called navettes – connect airports and SNCF train stations (SNCF being the national train company of France, initials you are surely familiar with after doing some travel planning in France). Navettes may also serve the main bus stations or a central point in town. They take luggage and offer a quick and cheap airport transfer. But some are far more convenient than others: read on! Also, some airports are served by regular bus routes instead of or in addition to dedicated navettes, and those buses will not have under-bus luggage bins or extra on-board luggage areas, so are best for backpackers and travelers with just a carry-on.
I welcome advice and opinions from fellow travelers, as well as related questions you wish I’d answer. Please use the “Leave a reply” section at the very bottom of the page to get in touch.
My “best of” award is shared by two towns:
Carcassonne regional transport provides shuttle bus service for each flight arrival and departure. There are six stops in the city, from the SNCF station to the medieval city. You’ll find the scheduled departures here online, posted at the bus stops, and in notices in many hotel lobbies. Coming to Carcassonne, you’ll find a shuttle leaving the airport 45 minutes after each flight arrival. Yes, in this small airport, you’ll make it. The fare in 2023 is 6 euros and you can buy the ticket from the driver or get it on the RTCA mobile app, which you should get if you’re going to explore the region. See network information here.
Located in the village of Saint-Gilles, only 9 km (5.4 miles) southeast of Nîmes, the airport is served by the regional transport company, TANGO, with a navette service to the bus station of Nîmes, which is right outside the SNCF station on its south side. The schedules are matched to all flights, leaving the airport 20-30 minutes after each arrival, and getting to the airport an hour or hour and a half before departures. Don’t worry, they track flight delays and adjust accordingly. At this small airport, you’ll see the navette outside, and you won’t be left behind. You can even go to the navette to let the driver know you’re waiting for luggage should there be delay. In 2023, the fare is 6.80 euros, and you can buy the ticket on the bus with a credit card. At the bus station, there’s also a ticket machine at Quai #1.
Onward travel is very convenient, whether by bus or train, because everything is together in Nîmes, and the train station does have elevator access to all platforms. However, buying a train ticket can take some time, with ticket machines sometimes not working, and with two types of machines, one for local TER and one for long-line SNCF routes. They can have very different prices for the same route, so I suggest starting with the regional TER machine. Also, bus info is rather hard to come by: you may find a schedule sheet by some bus quays if you have time to run around looking … and you may also find other passengers telling you the info isn’t correct. So, plan your route and schedule in advance with IiO regional transport online, or check rome2rio.com.
And the runner-up:
The airport, located 11.5 km (~6 miles) southeast of town, coordinates with Hérault Transport to provide shuttle buses for each flight: getting to the airport an hour and a half before each departure, and leaving the airport thirty minutes after each flight arrival. No worries, in this tiny airport that is sufficient time. You and the other passengers will be aware of each other, in sight of each other, so you needn’t worry the shuttle will leave without you. The shuttle service is to/from Béziers SNCF train station, the SNCF station in Agde, the bus station in Marseillan and Vias center. The cost is the same as a local bus ticket: in 2023, that’s 1.6 euros. Buy the ticket directly from the driver.
Handicapped travelers pay no fare, but there is only one wheelchair spot on each shuttle, so if you need it, the transport company requests that you email them in advance. This is their online form.
If you have onward travel, it may be better to plan by bus rather than train, as neither Agde nor Béziers have lifts (elevators) for getting between platforms, and you cannot know in advance which train will use the platform outside the station door. This is why I don’t rank Béziers as highly as Nîmes. Toting my luggage up and down stairs is something I do my best to avoid.
If you must … but you might just travel entirely by train or FlixBus
The good news is, there is an airport navette connecting to Toulouse-Matabiau, the most central train station and the one on long-distance routes, as well as Marengo SNCF, a couple of stops on metro line B and another stop on line B. The fare in 2023 is 9 euros, and you can buy your ticket on the bus. They run every 20 minutes, around the clock, with the trip expected to take 30-45 minutes. These buses are handicapped accessible.
And train or metro connections? Going to be great. Someday. Toulouse is the biggest city in Occitanie, with its population over 400,000, but it still has a lot of work to do on its transportation conveniences. Toulouse-Matabiau has elevators only to perhaps half its platforms. As for the airport, our concern here: there is a future airport transport line. Till now, the T2 tram line has been a direct connection from the city to the airport, but as of June 2023, it’s halted for construction work on the future airport connection linking the T1 route. You may always need to make a transfer or two to get to the airport from the city, not sure; when T2 was running you used metro line A to get to Matabiau SNCF station. Check the airport site for updates if metro and tram connections interest you.
This was my least favorite airport connection. There is an airport shuttle bus, but it goes just to the Montpellier Sud de France SNCF station. If you’re staying in the heart of the city, or along tram lines that run to Montpellier Saint Roch (the central station), it’s not that convenient. You take a tram from Saint Roch to Place de France, and then change to a bus for Sud de France train station to finally catch the 25-minute airport shuttle ride. That’s THREE modes of transport to get to the airport from Saint Roch or any point on the Line 1 tram. If you’re not close to Line 1, you’ll have FOUR stages to the journey. See my issue?
I opted for an Uber, which, depending on the hour (and of course, your starting point) may run 25 to 45 euros. Unless you’re already south of town, or somewhere near the coast with other transport, Montpellier just doesn’t compare to the convenience of nearby Nîmes or, elsewhere along the western Mediterranean coast, Béziers or Carcassonne.
Oh! What about taking a train between the two SNCF stations, Saint Roch and Sud de France? Sure! Just allow an extra hour or two, because you need to travel to Nîmes Pont du Gard or to Sète for a connection. A bigger city like Montpellier has many attractions, but it also has undeniable logistical challenges!
The last time I needed to catch a plane from Montpellier, I opted for FlixBus to Barcelona and a flight out from there. Drastic? Perhaps, but I didn’t regret it.
No personal experience:
Sankeo public transport Line 6 serves the airport on a regular schedule, to/from the SNCF station and ten other bus stops in town. It’s a normal bus ticket, which is 1.30 euros in 2023. Tickets can be bought online or through their app, but you can also simply pay the driver: just try to have a small bill. Since this is a normal bus route, excessive baggage may be a problem. You are allowed a suitcase as long as you keep it out of the way and don’t use a seat for your bags.
There are shuttle buses to/from Lourdes bus and SNCF stations and Tarbes SNCF station. These routes DO NOT OPERATE ON SUNDAYS OR HOLIDAYS, meaning travel those days entails a taxi or rental car. They run once an hour, with occasional half-hour frequencies. Check the timetable online. In 2023, the fare is 3 euros.
If you have reduced mobility, you need to make a special request for transportation, no later than 5 pm the day before (but up to 7 days in advance). It will only cost one euro, but you must plan ahead.
It is in Occitanie, so – This little airport may have only five flights out some days, one 2.1 km runway and one 800m, but it has direct routes to Paris Orly (Amelia Air), Brussels and Dublin (both Ryanair), so if the Aveyron is in your plans, you may consider it. The airport is about 11 km (6.6 miles) northwest of Rodez, on the D840, and it seems your only transport options are private car or taxi.
And “next door” in Provence:
While budget airlines – Ryanair, EasyJet, Transavia, Vueling, and the occasional Norwegian flight – serve this region, if they don’t cover your route or fly on your dates, of course you can head up to CDG in Paris, preferably by TGV train. But you may find decent fares, fewer connections and an overall shorter trip if you can make your way to Marseille. It’s worth checking.
This airport strives to serve a very broad region. The main local connections are from train stations, by TER lines which you book with SNCF. But FlixBus and BlaBlaCar also include a Marseille airport stop in their route, and the airport publishes an extremely helpful route map including these private bus lines along with Marseille Metropole routes. If you’ve made a long transfer to Marseille Provence airport, please share your experience using the “Leave a reply” box at the bottom of this page. I look forward to learning from you!