The French auto-rail service from Calais to the South of France is no longer in operation, so in order to make use of one you will need to cross the Channel to Paris.
The SNCF French Railways service from the centre of Paris (Bercy) runs to Avignon, Bordeaux, Biarritz, Brive, Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël, Lyon, Marseille, Narbonne, Nice, Toulon and Toulouse.
During July and August the trains run to most destinations on a daily basis, although the frequency varies by destination, and is down to once or twice a week during the winter months.
The auto-train also operates between other major cities in France, notably: Bordeaux-Fréjus, Metz-Auray, Metz-Nantes, Nantes-Fréjus, Strasbourg-Auray and Strasbourg-Nantes.
These trains do not carry passengers, which means you do not have to travel at the same time. So you could enjoy a day or two in Paris, and later travel to the Cote d’Azur, where you can pick up your car which has been transported to your destination on a separate train!
There is a charge of €15 per day for parking the car, which may not actually be at the train station, although you will get free transport to it. The car park and the opening times will be stated on your ticket.
Of course, this also means you have no need to take a train yourself, for you can then fly to your destination when you want. If you do travel by overnight train, take proper cautions against the risk of theft, as you do not know with whom you may be sharing a cabin!
Not all types of vehicles are accepted on all the trains. Large people carriers and 4x4 vehicles are only be permitted to depart from Paris, and not from regional stations. Similarly, caravans, campers and large vans are not permitted on any of the trains.
The full list of Automobiles de Grandes Dimensions (les AGD) that can only travel from Paris can be found here.
In all other cases the vehicle must be no wider than 2.50m, with a width between the exterior of the tyres no greater than 1.85m. The height must be no greater than 1.63m (including roof rack) and there must be a ground clearance greater than 10 centimetres.
Prices start at €79 one way, although there are few Tarif Prems available at this rate. These tickets are available 90 days in advance so it does not always pay to book too far in advance. Prices rise to around €300 one way, depending on destination and vehicle.
You can make a booking on the train at Voyages-sncf.com. Alternatively you can ring 3635 from France or 0033-892353535 from the UK. Calls cost €0.34 per minute from a standard line.
Whether having driven down from Ripley to Paris you still think it is worth it to take the train, is obviously a matter on which only you can decide!