Culture

Vintage Central France and the Pyrenees

10 to 21 September
France

The PTG slogan is “rail and culture” and that is exactly what this tour sets out to achieve, with a combination of modern and historic trains and fascinating towns and scenery, making this one of our most popular tours.

Whether you are in search of culture and antiquity, with fine architecture and interesting places to visit; or you enjoy travelling on scenic railways that climb mountains; or you want to potter around at your leisure – there is something for everyone on this tour which covers the length of France, hops across into Italy and dives under Monaco!

Using a combination of standard premier travel on Eurostar and first-class travel on TGV, overland travellers stay overnight in Avignon, before being whisked along the beautiful Cote D’Azur arriving in Nice late afternoon.

The tour includes many scenic highlights: the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, the Mediterranean coast of France, the hills of Provence and the Cevennes; as well as many places of historical interest including the Roman amphitheatre in the beautiful city of Nimes.

The railway highlights include a number of routes listed as some finest in Europe (by the European Rail Timetable) such as the Mediterranean coast east of Marseille to the Italian border and the lines heading inland from Nice to Digne-les-Bains and Tende. The tour also includes four steam rides on some lovely heritage railways, but the highlight is the famous Little Yellow Train that takes us high up into the Pyrenees.

Highlights

  • No fly option
  • Steam trains
  • Rack Railway
  • Our own coach to take our luggage
  • First class train travel
  • Historic towns
  • Canal cruise

Your Tour Manager for this trip is David. Should you have any queries about the itinerary or if you wish to have a chat with him about the trip, please feel free to e-mail him on david@ptg.co.uk.

From: London St Pancras, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Manchester, Edinburgh

Itinerary

Day 1 Thursday 10 September (B) Leaving London St Pancras after lunch, we travel by Eurostar to Paris, where we change to a TGV to take us to Avignon for our overnight stay. Alternatively, fly out tomorrow from various UK airports directly to Nice.

Day 2 Friday 11 September (B) After lunch we join the TGV service that will take us through to the very elegant coastal resort of Nice, capital of the famous Côte d’Azur. We arrive late afternoon and check in for three nights at a very centrally located hotel. Or fly out from the UK today to Nice from Gatwick (13:25), Stansted (12:00), Luton (18:30), Manchester (14:35) and Edinburgh (17:55).

Day 3 Saturday 12 September (B,D) 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.

Day 4 Sunday 13 September (B) 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.

Day 5 Monday 14 September (B) 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.

Day 6 Tuesday 15 September (B) We have a very scenic train trip through the Cévennes from Nimes to La Bastide-St. Laurent. We return to Alés where our coach will be waiting to transfer us to Saint Jean-du-Gard, and 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 train journey along the Gardons valley and we do a return trip with a visit to the workshops. There are some fantastic views of the river valley and the Cévennes scenery. After our visit, we return to Nimes by coach.

Day 7 Wednesday 16 September (B) Today we will travel to Avignon – a walled city next 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.

Day 8 Thursday 17 September (B,L) 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.

Day 9 Friday 18 September (B) 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.

Day 10 Saturday 19 September (B) 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.

Day 11 Sunday 20 September (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 Bayonne.

Day 12 Monday 21 September (B) Return home overland to Paris and London, or alight at Bordeaux for flights to Luton (17:10), Gatwick (18:45), Manchester (14:50) or Edinburgh (18:30 via Paris).

A generally relatively easy tour as we have our own coach following us to carry our bags and for transfers between the hotel and the station when it is more than a few minutes’ walk. There are two optional walking tours, one of which has a 15-minute walk from the station to the historic centre. Some railway stations do not have lifts or escalators.

Place(s) available

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • From London St Pancras: £2,325
  • From Gatwick: £2,195
  • From Stansted: £2,175
  • From Luton: £2,155
  • From Manchester: £2,195
  • From Edinburgh: £2,250
  • From Nice to Biarritz: £1,995

Options

  • Single room supplement: £395

Deposit

  • £500

Price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Our own coach which will carry our luggage from hotel to hotel from Lyon to St Jean de Luz.
  • En-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted from Lyon to Bilbao.
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