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.