France's elaborate train system makes it easy to travel beyond the glitz of Paris to the many small and charming cities throughout the country. And its speedy TGVs make getting there as much fun as being there.
In France, trains aren't simply trans­portation. They are time machines traveling at 100 to 200 years an hour. In the science-fiction version of time travel, you climb aboard, lean back, relax … and suddenly you're there. French trains are about the same.

A French TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse - High Speed Train) will take you directly from your arrival in Paris' hard-edged, high-tech 21st-century Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG), and quietly deliver you into the stone-walled, towered, and turreted medieval city of Carcassonne, vintage 13th century, in barely five hours.

From that discovery, in just a couple of hours more, trains will arrive in Albi, a remarkable and even more remote town of the same generation. The world's largest collection of painter Toulouse-Lautrec's works and memorabilia is found here, at his birthplace, which alone would make it worth the train ride. An added bonus is Albi's extraordinary brick fortresslike cathedral, which has been called "one of the most startlingly original buildings of the Middle Ages."