I love taking train rides, and am more than happy to sacrifice the extra hours on it versus taking a plane for a tangible taste of journeying. If only I had been around during the golden age of train travel, the Belle Époque, when training it was the height of glamor! Whenever I think about train travel in the early 1900s, I imagine the voyagers (in first class) traveling to escape torrid summers in their cities for their villas in the Mediterranean. I fantasize about them decked out in their summer finery, the men in crisp linen suits, the women in their multi-layered “light” traveling dresses, straw bonnets firmly perched on their heads. I suppose also that they hung out in elegant waiting rooms and brasseries not unlike Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon.
The venerable restaurant opened its doors in 1901, serving as the train station’s buffet. The decor corresponds to the Belle Époque era and is positively sumptuous, the ceiling completely covered with paintings, chandeliers twinkling light throughout the rooms and every other detail from the chairs to coat racks carefully designed. Though current reviews of the food and service are mixed, I am sure it was excellent in the 1900s.
The mixed reviews also did not deter me from getting a coffee there while waiting for my own train to Nice, so that I could check out the famed restaurant for myself. The main dining room was closed at 10 am but the adjoining Big Ben Bar was doing a brisk breakfast trade. Virtually all of the deep red leather armchairs were taken not only by leisure travelers but also people talking business, the man beside me showing off a suitcase full of fresh fruits to his client. I sank into one of the chairs, feeling cradled and secure in its depth, ordered a debilitatingly expensive cup of coffee (at 5E) and enjoyed the next 20 minutes people watching, ceiling gawking, daydreaming.
Le Train Bleu
Gare de Lyon, Place Louis Armand, Paris 75012