We are considering flying into Nice and spending about four days there before going south to Genoa,Italy and the Cinque Terre by train. Forgive my ignorance, but can you get a train without swithching? Do you pass through customs between France and Italy? How frequently do the trains run? I'm familiar with the Italian train web site, but not the French version. Can someone point me in the right direction and give some insight. Thanks.
You will need to change at least once, either in Genoa or Ventimiglia.
The French Train site is SNCF Voyages but you may have more success with the Italian train site. You can get a direct from Nice to Genoa (Genova) but you'll have to change in Genoa for the train to Cinque Terre. Another option would be to take a train from Nice Ville to Ventimiglia (Vintimille) which is the first major city on the Italian border. There are options to go direct from Ventimiglia to Vernazza. I would try several different combinations to see which one is the fastest.
Use the Trenitalia site. It will give you all the info you need. But be sure you have the correct Italian spelling for all your destinations.
As Marta said, you have to change once. I've never changed in Ventimiglia, just Genova.
There are only a few major trains that run each day between Nizza and Genova. Even the fastest trains are milk runs on the Italian side, and prone to delay, but get the fastest you can. It's a popular line, so I would buy first class tix.
There are two train stations in Genova, but I believe almost all trains stop at both stations. However, if you are planning to spend time in Genova, it does make sense to pick the station closest to your hotel. I'm sure Brignole has a luggage-deposit room. I don't know about Principe. In general, I find Brignole better located for daytrip touristing, but it depends, of course, on where your going. Genova is not a big town and taxis are plentiful.
Be careful on the connection from Genova to any of the Cinque Terre towns. Some of the trains skip some of the CT towns (and that also applies for many towns along the Riviera Levante if you aren't stying right in the CT).
Otherwise, once you change in Genova, it really doesn't matter what train you take in terms of speed or service.
The line that runs along the Mediterranean is notoriously "in ritardo". Trains only rarely arrive on time. So don't rely on them for finely tuned plans if at all possible, or else build-in the possibility of delay into your plans.
Despite the negatives, I think it's very enjoyable to combine Nice and Italy in a single vacation. The drive-time is actually faster than the train time when all is said and done, so if you are flying out of Nice and were planning to rent a car in Italy, it would make sense to rent the car in France (but only if you return it there and have use of it in Italy).
I traveled from Nice to Lucca, Italy in October. I think the German train site is much easier to maneuver.
I chose a 5 a.m. departure time, changed trains in Ventimiglia and was in Lucca by midday. Second class tickets were just fine.
By the way, there is a SNCF ticket office in Nice with English speaking agents to help you decide best route. (I did some homework prior to travel and already knew my route.) I forget the name of the street but the ticket office is conveniently located for the tourist - just ask at your hotel. I purchased our tickets Nice to Ventimiglia at the SNCF office and purchased the tickets to Lucca at the station in Ventimiglia.
Despite some pre-trip angst about train travel between the two countries, especially in the wee hours of the morning, all went well. Easy peasy.
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After about four days in Nice, I was think of one day in Genoa before going on to Cinque Terre for about four more days. That would break up the trip a bit and allow me to purchase the C.T. leg of the trip in the Genoa train station. Assume they have electronic ticket machines in lobby. I do want to see a bit of Genoa, too. Does this sound practical?