Price
$3,985 per person
Duration
11 Days
Destination
France

Vintage Southern France and the Pyrenees

by rail
  • Information
  • Itinerary
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  • Tour Map
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Some Details

Departure Location
Nice, France
Return Location
Bayonne, France
Tour Leader(s)
with David Gourlay
Tour Date
9 Sep 2022 - 19 Sep 2022
Extras
Double or twin: $3,985 Single supplement: $395
Price includes
  • 10 nights’ accommodation in comfortable, centrally located hotels
  • All excursions and entrance fees to attractions, as listed in the itinerary
  • Comprehensive sightseeing with expert local guides
  • Luxury chartered coach, with luggage transport throughout the tour
  • Many meals as specified in the itinerary
  • Itinerary
Itinerary

Day 1 • Friday:

ARRIVE NICE

Arrive in Nice and transfer to our centrally located hotel by tram, where we check-in for three nights. Enjoy the rest of the day to settle in or begin exploring this enticing city.

Overnight: Mercure Nice Centre Notre Dame

Day 2 • Saturday:

NICE – TENDE – CUENO – VENTIMIGLIA – NICE

Today we will ride a slow train on the line SNCF calls the “Train des Merveilles”, Nice – Tende – Cuneo following the Roya Valley and crossing the Alps into Italy. There are many viaducts and even more tunnels with wild mountain-and-valley scenery. This is an exceptional route and of interest to any railway enthusiast; it includes three spirals and a summit higher than Ben Nevis. We suggest alighting in the fascinating mountain town of Tende for some sightseeing and lunch. Alternatively, catch the Italian train through to Cuneo. Return on the train down to the coast on the Italian operated line to Ventimiglia, where we change back to a French train for the trip along the coast, passing under Monaco. Alternatively, choose a relaxing day in Nice, walking through the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old City – described as a “Baroque Experience” – then strolling along the Promenade des Anglais seafront to take lunch at the Casino. Note that for the transport enthusiasts there are modern trams in Nice, and a tram stop not far from our hotel. Tonight, we have our Welcome Dinner in a restaurant near the hotel.

Overnight: Mercure Nice Centre Notre Dame (B, D)

Day 3 • Sunday:

NICE – DIGNE – NICE

Today we ride the long non-electrified metre gauge CF Provence line from Nice to Digne, a distance of 151 km in a new 2-car DMU with large windows on a very scenic line, on the “Train des Pignes”. You will have the option of alighting at Puget-Theniers to join the steam train hauled by an ex CP (Portugal) 2-4-6-0T mallet, or alternatively, visit the historic village of Entrevaux or remain on the diesel train to the end of the line at Digne-les-Bains high in Alpes Maritimes. We return to Nice in time for dinner.

Overnight: Mercure Nice Centre Notre Dame (B)

Day 4 • Monday:

NICE – NÎMES

This morning we travel by train from Nice to Nimes. In the afternoon, we will be joined by a local guide for a guided walk through the historic centre of Nimes. Included in the guided walk are some Roman buildings still standing such as the Amphitheatre “the best preserved in the whole of the Roman Empire” and the Maison Carrée, a remarkably well-preserved square temple. We will visit the amphitheatre, which is still in use and regularly hosts concerts.

Overnight: Novotel Nîmes Centre Atria (B)

Day 5 • Tuesday:

NÎMES – LA BASTIDE ST. LAURENT – ST JEAN DU GARD – NÎMES

We’ll start our day today with an incredibly scenic train trip through the Cévennes mountains from Nimes to La Bastide-St. Laurent, before returning to Alès, where our coach will be waiting to transfer us to Saint Jean-du-Gard. This is our departure point for the “Train a Vapeur des Cévennes”, whose ex SNCF 2-8-0 steam locomotive was only recommissioned in 2011. This is a lovely 13 km return train journey along the Gardons valley. Soak up the picturesque views of the river valley and the Cévennes scenery. After our journey, we’ll return to Nîmes by coach.

Overnight: Novotel Nîmes Centre Atria (B)

Day 6 • Wednesday:

NÎMES – AVIGNON – NÎMES

Today we will travel to Avignon – a walled city next to the River Rhone and Pont du Gard, an impressive Roman aqueduct built in the 1st century AD. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueducts and is the best preserved along with the aqueduct of Segovia. Because of its historic importance it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Today it is one of France’s five top tourist attractions with around 1.4 million visitors each year. We head to Avignon in time for lunch. Attractions here include the Papal Palace (the biggest Gothic palace ever built, anywhere). Today the Palace is a place of culture and primarily a tourist attraction. With around 650,000 visitors each year it is regularly among the top ten attractions in France. With its size, architecture and historical significance the Palace regularly serves as an exhibition centre. During your free time, we suggest you visit the famous medieval bridge, the Pont d’Avignon on which one dances as the 15th century song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” says. After our journey, we’ll return to Nîmes.

Overnight: Novotel Nîmes Centre Atria (B)

Day 7• Thursday:

AVIGNON – RIVESALTES – MAURY – ST PAUL DE FENOUILLET – AXAT – PERPIGNAN

We take the morning service train to Rivesaltes, the start of the preserved “Le Train Rouge”. We begin by riding on a former SNCF railcar as far as Maury where we stop for lunch at a local restaurant. After returning to the train, we travel as far as St Paul de Fenouillet where, weather permitting, we changed to a diesel loco-hauled train with open wagons so that we can enjoy the marvellous views as we climb into the mountains.

We reach the end of the line through a series of tunnels and alight at Axat, where our coach will be waiting to take us to our hotel in Perpignan.

Overnight: Suites Novotel Perpignan (B, L)

Day 8 • Friday:

PERPIGNAN – VILLEFRANCHE – VERNET – LATOUR DE CAROL – TOULOUSE

We will travel from Perpignan to Villefranche-Vernet where we pick up our Little Yellow Train, one of the great railway journeys of the world – a historic metre-gauge electric railway in the French Pyrenees, opened in 1909, and still going strong. The line rises through dramatic scenery from an altitude of 427 metres at its lower terminus at Villefranche de Conflent, to a summit at Bolquère Eyne, France’s highest railway station, lying at an altitude of 1592 metres (5226 ft) above sea level. It then drops down to a high Pyrenean valley, to its terminus at Latour de Carol. On arriving at Latour de Carol, we immediately join our standard gauge train direct to Toulouse, arriving late afternoon.

Overnight: Mercure Toulouse Wilson, Toulouse (B)

Day 9 • Saturday:

TOULOUSE – RAILWAY ‘’CHEMIN DE FER TOURISTIQUE DU TAR’’ – TOULOUSE

In the morning we travel on the 500-mm narrow gauge Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn where we have a steam-hauled charter over the whole line, including a visit to their workshops and the museum. The line is very pretty and steeply graded against outward-bound trains. At the far end of the line there are some beautiful gardens and non-rail fans may wish to pay a quick visit to them. We return to Toulouse for a free afternoon to explore this city, known as the “pink city” due to the unique architecture made of pinkish terracotta bricks. Note to transport enthusiasts: as well as the new tram line, there is also a driverless metro system in Toulouse.

Overnight: Mercure Toulouse Wilson, Toulouse (B)

Day 10 • Sunday:

TOULOUSE – BAYONNE

This morning we take the SNCF Lunéa service train westwards to Bayonne from where our coach brings us to the nearby CF Rhune rack railway.

This line still uses the original varnished wood-bodied electric locos and carriages supplied for the opening of the line. The most recently added stock was built in 1924! At the top, at a height of almost 3,000 feet, you look out over France in one direction and Spain in the other. After returning to the bottom, our coach takes us directly to our hotel in Bayonne.

Overnight: Hotel Mercure Bayonne Centre Le Grand (B)

Day 11 • Monday:

BAYONNE – DEPART

Our tour comes to an end today, with our coach standing by to take us to the train station or airport for our flights home. (B)

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      Vintage Southern France and the Pyrenees

      Price
      $3,985 per person
      Duration
      11 Days
      Destination
      France

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