The trains' wide, reclining seats can be reserved, airline-style, in various combinations of two and four, often with a large fold-out table available for papers, a computer, or, preferably, a pique-nique. There is generally a well-provisioned snack bar on the TGV, and you can also buy sandwiches, a croissant, or pastry at most of the train stations. A little pre-planning at an open market on your way to the station, however, can produce a more varied lunch. It is a small, noteworthy secret that if you are leaving from CDG, there is a compact food market right beneath the corridor leading to the adjoining TGV station. Take the escalator down, and you can stock up on pâté, ham and sausage, cheese, wine, baguettes and other delicacies, and even pique-nique paper goods and corkscrews, all of which will allow you to plunge into France feast-first, so to speak.

Most TGV cars are "cell-ibate"; you have to abstain from your portable phone. Even the phone-addicted French seem to respect this code of silence. Some trains are double-decker, called "duplex." Breezing along at nearly 190 miles an hour, they are said to be the fastest two-level trains in the world.

The 150-mile trip to Tours, even including a five-minute shuttle train into the main station, takes less than two hours; enough time for a leisurely pique-nique lunch.

Tours sits astride two gentle rivers, the fabled Loire and a tributary, the Cher. The riverscape of the Loire Valley is so appealing that one French king after another, their wealthy friends, and acquisitive hangers-on built more than 300 spectacular châteaux in the area. It is undoubtedly the greatest high-priced housing development of all time. No two châteaux are the same, but each has shared in the intrigues, greed, lust, treachery, and similar recreations of French royalty. It's an easy drive of no more than an hour or two from Tours to the great palaces of Chambord and Blois, or to Chenonceaux, with its arched bridge stepping elegantly across the Cher. Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci worked and died and is said to be buried, is in the neighborhood. A fine museum at his home, Clos-Lucé, displays detailed models of his many inventions.