Culture

Vintage Central France and the Pyrenees

12 to 23 July
France

Our journey through the beauty of Central France and the mountains of the Pyrenees takes in picturesque historic towns, steam trains, rack railways and a canal cruise. Beginning in London, we catch the Eurostar to Paris and then onwards by train to the city of Orléans, where we spend our first night. From here we have a day out by train along the Loire Valley to Blois, including a visit to the château. We continue our travels to the south to Cahors, the capital of Lot Department. Its site is dramatic, being contained on three sides within a U-shaped bend in the River Lot known as the presqu’île (“peninsula”). Cahors is known as the centre of AOC ‘black’ wine, which has been made since the Middle Ages. Important sights include the 14th century Valentré Bridge, and St Etienne Cathedral, a national monument. We then head high up into the Pyrenees via Toulouse on the very scenic line to Latour de Carol. From our base just across the border in Spain, where our hotel is in the station building in Puigcerdá, we ride up the Nuria Rack Railway to see the shrine at the top. We continue east to Perpignan on the famous Little Yellow Train, and from Perpignan we experience another railway, Le Train Rouge. With a day in the historic Walled City of Carcassonne, including a cruise on Canal du Midi, our adventure continues to Toulouse. We have our first steam train here on the Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn and we will also be able to visit its new and growing museum. Our last base on the tour is the coastal resort and border town of Hendaye, with, of course a trip up Rhune Rack Railway on the way. On our last day, we visit one of the regions best museums, the Basque Railway Museum, including another steam train trip. This holiday certainly has a lot of variety

Highlights

  • Three preserved railways, including two steam trains
  • Le Petit Train Jaune (Little Yellow Train)
  • The Núria Rack Railway with stunning scenery
  • Rhune Rack Railway – views over two countries
  • Carcassonne canal cruise
  • Medieval villages
  • Château de Blois and the walled City of Carcassonne

Tour Manager: David   david@ptg.co.uk

Itinerary – updated 31.10.2017

Thursday 12th July Leaving St Pancras on a lunchtime departure, we head through the Channel Tunnel to Paris Nord. Here our coach will be waiting to transport us across the French capital to Austerlitz Station, from where we have a train to the city of Orleans, famous for its connections to Joan of Arc. Late afternoon arrival, giving free time for dinner and to explore the city.

Friday 13th July (B) A rail trip alongside the River Loire is the order of the day and we will visit the scenic town of Blois, including entry to its château. The Château de Blois, a Renaissance château once occupied by King Louis XII, is located in the centre of the city, where an 18th-century stone bridge spans the Loire. As Blois is built on a pair of steep hills, winding and steep pathways run through the city, culminating in long staircases at various points. Return to Orleans late afternoon.

Saturday 14th July (B) We arrive in Cahors at lunch time, giving us the whole afternoon to explore this medieval town. It is best known for the 14th century Valentré Bridge and St Etienne Cathedral. Also, be sure to try the local “black” wine. As well as being Bastille Day, the annual Cahors Blues Festival will also be taking place this weekend, so the town is sure to be full of life! Overnight in Cahors.

Sunday 15th July (B) We leave Lot behind today, and head south through Toulouse and up into the Pyrenees. The line from Toulouse to Latour de Carol is exceptionally scenic as it rises up into the mountains, eventually reaching a height of 4,000 feet. Our home for the next two nights is just over the border in Spain, in the small town of Puigcerdá, where our Hotel Parada is the perfect PTG hotel, located in the century-old railway station building!

Monday 16th July (B) Puigcerdá is served by the “Cercanías” suburban line from Barcelona to Latour de Carol, and we will make a short journey on it as far as Ribes de Freser, the starting point of the Nuria Rack Railway. Through breath-taking scenery, we climb to a height of over 6,000 feet to the Nuria Valley, the valley itself surrounded by peaks over 9,000 feet high.  We will have time at the top to explore the sanctuary.

Tuesday 17th July (B) The Little Yellow Train is one of France’s best-known trains. Catching the morning departure from Latour de Carol we climb to a height of over 5,200 feet to a summit at Bolquère Eyne, France’s highest railway station. From now on we gradually descend until we reach Villefranche de Conflent. Highlights of the trip include the Séjourné Viaduct suspended 65 metres above ground and the Gisclard Bridge at 80 metres above a precipice. After a break in Villefranche, we continue by rail to Perpignan, where our coach will be waiting to take us to our hotel for the next two nights.

Wednesday 18th July (B) After a morning coach transfer to Rivesaltes, we take a train on the very scenic “Le Train Rouge”. Leaving Rivesaltes on a heritage diesel unit, we travel as far as St Paul de Fenouillet. Here we may change to a diesel loco hauled train, with open air carriages if the weather permits, which will take us right to the end of the line at Axat. This second section of line is well known for its viaducts and tunnels as we travel though the foothills of the Pyrenees. Free time in Axat for lunch and stretching our legs before we re-join our train to return to Rivesaltes and Perpignan.

Thursday 19th July (B) We catch the morning service train via Narbonne to the medieval walled city of Carcassonne where you will have free time to explore the narrow streets and the castle. The fortified town consists essentially of a concentric design of two outer walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th Century and is still known as “The Inquisition Tower”. Remain here for the day, or join the optional canal cruise on Canal du Midi in the afternoon. At the end of the afternoon we continue by rail to Toulouse.

Friday 20th July (B) This morning we have a steam-hauled private charter on the 500-mm gauge Chemin de Fer du Tarn. This railway line has recovered almost four kilometres of track from an old steam tramway line that ran through the county.  A very pretty line, we will have the chance to stop for photos and run-pasts. We will also visit their workshops and new museum. We return to Toulouse for a free afternoon to explore this city, which has both trams and metro. A city with unique architecture made of pinkish terracotta bricks, which earned it the nickname la Ville Rose (“the Pink City”), Toulouse counts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Canal du Midi (designated in 1996 and shared with other cities), and the Basilica of St. Sernin, the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, designated in 1998 because of its significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

Saturday 21st July (B) 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 Basque capital, Bilbao. Overnight in Bilbao.

Sunday 22nd April (B) Rail option: In the morning we travel by coach to the Basque Rail Museum at Azpeitia. Here we find a wonderful collection of narrow gauge locomotives, carriages, trams and even an ex London Transport trolleybus. There is also a steam crane which is still operational, and a tram which they can run along a very short section of track. We will have our final steam-hauled train today, along the museum’s 5 km stretch of track. After our visit, we return to Bilbao, with the option of returning by rail. Culture option: Alternatively, spend the day in Bilbao. No longer the grey, industrial city it was in the 1970s, Bilbao boasts a plethora of things to see and do. Most famous of all is the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry and considered as one of the most important structures of contemporary architecture, the building being wrapped in titanium panels. Also visit the colourful Old Town, known as the “Seven Streets”, as they were the seven streets that formed the medieval town. For transport fans, a trip on the futuristic metro system, designed by Sir Norman Foster (the station entrances are known locally as “fosteritos”) is a must. Be sure to visit the UNESCO listed Viscaya Bridge, the world-famous transporter bridge, where people and vehicles cross the river in a suspended gondola.

Monday 23rd April (B) Our coach takes us to Bilbao Airport for our flights home.

To enjoy this trip to the fullest, you will need to be able to walk a few hundred metres and climb stairs in metro and railway stations etc. Occasionally we need to walk short distances with our luggage.

Hotels

IBIS Orleans Centre Gare, Orleans (2 nights)
Brithotel, Cahors (1 night)
Hotel Parada, Puigcerdá (2 nights)
Suites Novotel, Perpignan (2 nights)
Hotel Mercure Toulouse Wilson, Toulouse (2 nights)
Hotel Ercilla, Bilbao (2 nights)

Outward Overland

EST9024  12.24 from London St Pancras to Paris Nord (arr 15.47)
IC14059 17.26 Paris Austerlitz to Orléans (arr 18.36)

Return Flight Options

EZY3226 11.00 Bilbao to London Stansted (arr 11.50)
BA467 12.20 Bilbao to London Heathrow (arr 13.15)
EZY1878 15.20 Bilboa to Manchester (arr 16.20)

Place(s) available

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • Full 12 day holiday from St Pancras and back from Bilbao by air: £1,950
  • Joining in Orleans, finish in Hendaye or Bilbao: £1,850

Options

  • Single room supplement: £425
  • Return by rail rather than flying: £125

Deposit

  • £500

Price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • En-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted from London St Pancras and back to Bilbao.
Online Booking
Room Type:
Air/Rail Option:
Quantity :

Please note that you cannot book a flight inclusive trip on our website but if you select the flight option you prefer then we will contact you with the flight details and convert your booking into a flight inclusive package.

 

Click here to see our Booking Conditions

Click here to see our Privacy Policy

 

We recommend you also check the FCO website for the latest travel advice https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice