Culture

Southern France and the Pyrenees

20 to 30 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, from Lyon through the Pyrenees to south-west France and the Basque Country.

The tour includes many scenic highlights: the mountains of the Pyrenees and the hills of the Cevennes, as well as many places of historic interest including Lyon, Carcassonne, and the Roman amphitheatre in the beautiful city of Nîmes.

We will have train rides along some very scenic lines, main lines and preserved railways, and four trips on steam trains: Ardeche, Cevennes, Tarn and the Basque Railway Museum as well as cruises in Lyon and Carcassonne.

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.

Highlights

  • Spectacular railways through the Alpes Maritimes
  • Papal Palace in Avignon and the amphitheatre in Nîmes
  • Ride on four steam railways through lovely scenery
  • The walled city of Carcassonne and canal cruise on the Canal du Midi
  • La Rhune rack railway
  • Azpeitia railway museum and steam train
  • Accompanied by road coach for the whole tour from Lyon to St Jean de Luz
  • First class rail travel where possible
  • No fly option
Itinerary

Day 1 Friday 20 September (B) There are several rail options from St Pancras to Lyon. Alternatively, flights from London to Lyon, from where we transfer to our hotel by tram.

Day 2 Saturday 21 September (B,L) Lyon is France’s third largest city after Paris and Marseille, and today we have the chance to get to know this city. Lying at the confluence of two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, Lyon has been inhabited since Roman times, and there are several Roman sites that survive, including a theatre. Nowadays, Lyon has been described as the “gastronomic capital of the world”, and two of France’s best-known wine-growing regions (Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône) are located near the city. This morning we will have a walking tour of the historic centre with a local guide, finishing at the river where we join our river cruiser for our welcome lunch on a relaxing sightseeing cruise on both the Rhône and the Saône. Remainder of the day free for your own exploration. For transport fans, Lyon has a metro, trams, trolleybuses and funiculars.

Day 3 Sunday 22 September (B) This morning we travel to the town of Tournon on our coach for an all-day trip on the Train de L’Ardèche. A succession of magnificent views and fine man-made structures line the route which opened in 1891. Passengers will have both the pleasure and the privilege of travelling in carriages pulled by locomotives which are almost all listed historic “monuments”. After time for lunch and to stretch our legs in the charming town of Lamastre, we board our train for the return journey to Tournon, where our coach will be waiting to take us the short distance to our hotel in Valence.

Day 4 Monday 23 September (B) We move on to Nîmes today, but we break our journey in Avignon – a walled city next the River Rhône. Attractions include the Papal Palace. the biggest Gothic palace ever built, anywhere. With around 650,000 visitors each year it is among the top ten attractions in France, regularly serving 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. Continue to Nîmes by train at the end of the afternoon.

Day 5 Tuesday 24 September (B) We begin today by visiting the Pont du Gard – an impressive Roman aqueduct built in the 1st century AD. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and, along with the aqueduct of Segovia, the best preserved and justifiably 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. In the afternoon, we will be joined by a local guide for a guided walk through the historic centre of Nîmes. Included in the guided walk are some Roman buildings still standing such as the Amphitheatre, regarded as “the best preserved in the whole of the Roman Empire”, and the Maison Carée, “a remarkably well-preserved square temple”. We will visit the amphitheatre, which is still in use and regularly hosts concerts.

Day 6 Wednesday 25 September (B) We have a very scenic train trip through the Cévennes from Nîmes to La Bastide-St. Laurent before returning 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 enjoying fantastic views of the river valley and the Cévennes scenery. After our visit, we return to Nîmes by coach.

Day 7 Thursday 26 September (B) We take the morning service train to the medieval walled city of Carcassonne where you will have free time to explore the narrow streets and the castle. The walled city is one of France’s “must see” attractions, yet in the 19th century, the government decided to demolish it. Fortunately, it won a reprieve, and is still here today. This afternoon we will have a cruise on the UNESCO World Heritage Canal du Midi, from where we will have views of the walled city. At the end of the afternoon we continue by rail to Toulouse.

Day 8 Friday 27 September (B) In the morning we ride 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 metro in Toulouse.

Day 9 Saturday 28 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 the pretty harbour town of St Jean de Luz.

Day 10 Sunday 29 September (B) Rail option: In the morning we travel by coach to the Basque railway 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, our coach will take us to Zumaia station on the Euskotren metre-gauge network where we catch a train to San Sebastian. Culture option: Alternatively, spend the day in San Sebastian, a resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country. It is known for its beaches Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta with a popular bayfront promenade, and world-renowned restaurants. We will return to Hendaye by train, where our coach will be waiting to take us back to St Jean de Luz.

Day 11 Monday 30 September (B) We return to the UK on the TGV from Hendaye and Eurostar. Alternatively, flights are available from Biarritz Airport to Gatwick the next day so a night in Biarritz is included. Day 12 Tuesday 1 October (B) Transfer to Biarritz airport for the flight back to London Gatwick at 16.20 (based on 2018 Easyjet timetable).

A 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 optional walking tours, one of which has a 15-minute walk from the station to the historic centre, and in Lyon we will use public transport to reach the historic centre. Some railway stations do not have lifts or escalators.

Flights

EZY8415 08.15 London Gatwick to Lyon (arr 10.55) OR
EZY8419 19.45 London Gatwick to Lyon (arr 22.25)

EZY8318 16.20 Biarritz to London Gatwick (arr 17.10)

By Rail

10.58 London St Pancras to Lille Europe (arr 13.26)
15.54 Lille to Lyon (arr 19.00)

09.12 Hendaye to Paris Montparnasse (arr 14.12)
16.13 Paris Nord to London St Pancras (arr 17.39)

Place(s) available

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • Full 12 day holiday flying out to Lyon and back from Biarritz: £1,980
  • Full 12 day holiday out by rail and fly back from Biarritz: £2,075
  • Full 11 day no-fly holiday out and back by rail: £2,150
  • 11 day holiday from Lyon to Biarritz: £1,775

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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