French trains are fast. Really fast. We’re talking faster even than the world-famous Japanese Bullet trains, which means even the furthest reaches of the country are accessible in a side trip – or sometimes even a day trip – from Paris.

What’s more if you book in advance they can be damn cheap too. With the IDTGV and Ouigo fares from Paris to Marseille weighing in at just €19 and €10 respectively – even in the height of summer – then destinations like the south of France and the French Alps start to look very accessible indeed.

Here’s a guide to some of my favourite side trips from the French capital.

Best for History

Nimes is an easy-to-reach city that hosts a charming old town and some of France’s best preserved Roman monuments including a magnificent 1st-century amphitheatre and a 5th-century temple, both within a 10-minute walk of the train station. If that’s not enough ruins for you then hop on a local bus and visit Pont du Gard, a massive 1st-century Roman aqueduct which is described by UNESCO as “a technical as well as an artistic masterpiece”.

Getting There
IDTGV trains run regularly from Paris and take around 3 hours (from €19) while the Ouigo service from Disneyland Paris (Marne la Vallee) also takes 3 hours and has fares starting at €10 each way.

Best for Lakes

Annecy (pictured) bills itself as Venice of Savoie and it’s easy to see why, as this beautiful medieval town is criss-crossed by canals and streams running out of Lake Annecy. The lake is one of the world’s purest with aquamarine waters that are perfect for swimming in. The 17th-century old town is impressive too; full of pastille coloured buildings, including a former palace-turned-prison and a 13th-century castle, where you’ll find dozens of photo opportunities.

Getting There
A direct TGV from Paris takes just over three-and-a-half hours and starts at around €25.

Best for the Sea

Marseille used to have a terrible reputation, but it has worked hard to reinvent itself and has now shaken off the sleaziness and danger to attract a wide range of visitors. It is also something of a cultural melting pot which can feel more like Africa or south-east Asia than Europe in parts.  There are plenty of city beaches in Marseille but for something really special you’ll want to visit the Calanques- a series of miniature fjords where the limestone cliffs plunge into the azure sea- or the 16th century Château d’If, best known as the island prison in the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Three-hour boat trips run from the Vieux Port in the centre of Marseille to both destinations. If you prefer to travel independently the easiest Calanques to access without a private vehicle are the ones near Cassis, a picturesque fishing port that can be easily reached by local trains.

Getting There
IDTGV trains run regularly from Paris to Marseille and take around 3 hours (from €19) the Ouigo service from Disneyland Paris has fares starting at €10 (also 3 hours).

Best for Mountains

Grenoble has three mountain ranges right on its doorstep and as such is an ideal destination for travellers who love the outdoors. In fact whichever way you look you’ll be treated to mountain views. It’s also a vibrant student city with plenty to see and do. There are lovely parks, fantastic vantage points, old fortifications and medieval buildings.

Getting There
The IDTGV from Paris takes about three hours and costs as little as €25 one way.

Finding the best fares

French railways have a booking system almost as confusing as the UK’s. The main thing to remember is that there are basically three websites to visit if you want to travel by train: is the cheapest but runs from the Disneyland Paris station in Marne la Vallee and primarily runs to the south of France; is another budget service from SNCF and has a far more comprehensive selection of destinations that run from central Paris, but fares start at €19 rather than €10. Finally will bring up all French fares and destinations (except Ouigo), but make sure you visit the French version of the website as the UK one has a more limited selection with higher prices.