Top 10 train rides to visit France differently

When was the last time you said to yourself, “Damn, that train ride? Well ok, no one says “deadly” anymore, but you get the idea… Because contrary to what many think, the train is not just a common means of transport at more or less high speed. It is also an original way to (re)discover certain corners of France thanks to old rehabilitated lines and their matching locomotives.

1. Mont Blanc Express

This line is Express only in name. Farewell to the TGV: here we take the time to watch the landscapes crossed from Chamonix or Saint-Gervais-les Bains. From small mountain villages to green valleys, passing by snow-capped mountains, this Mont-Blanc-Express will make you discover little bits of Switzerland, Italy and France, with stops (11 in total) to go stretch your legs towards the Mer de Glace, the Aiguille du Midi, or the famous Brévent.

2. The Haut-Quercy Railway (Lot)

Known in the region as Truffadou, the Haut-Quercy railway invites you to make a rail on the side of cliffs. Clinging to a height of 80 meters, this old line carved into the rock travels 13km through the Dordogne Valley with a dizzying stop on the Mirandol terrace. It’s beautiful, it’s high, and what’s more, it’s run by volunteers. Open from April 1 to October 31.

3. The Train of Wonders from Nice to Tende

Just to change from the daily grind, head to Wonderland departing from Nice for a trip that will take you through the Paillon Valley and that of Roya-Bévéra to drop you off at the gates of the Mercantour National Park. Failing to send wood or coal, this electric train climbs into postcard landscapes, crosses Saorgue, the most beautiful village in France, before dropping its passengers at the foot of the fortified medieval city of Tende for a stop at the Museum des Merveilles dedicated to the rock past of the region. As for the bravest, they will put on their boots of 7 leagues to hike in the neighboring valley.

4. The Pignes train from Nice to Digne-les-bains

We stay in Nice with a panoramic trip between the Côte d’Azur and the Alpes de Haute-Provence, passing through the hinterland of Nice. Those who prefer to ride on steam will make the trip on Sundays between May and October, and on Fridays from mid-July to mid-August, their buttocks resting on old wooden benches, and their nostrils glued to the window so as not to miss a thing. a spectacle. The rest of the time, the journey is provided 4 times a day by a modern red and yellow train that is practical if not as typical as the landscapes it crosses.

5. The red train of Cathar Country and Fenouillèdes

Despite its 100 years, this tourist train which connects Axat in the Aude to Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées-Orientales, still has the line. In summer, the railcar shares its tracks with a discovery train and its open-air wagon for an initiatory journey between vineyards, green valleys, desert plains and jaw-dropping gorges. Several routes are possible with thematic activities offered to the undecided. The others, lovers of the unexpected, will prefer to get off at one of the stops to launch an assault on a Via Ferrata, a Cathar castle, or a charcuterie platter washed down with a little local wine.

6. The Somme Bay Railway

Back to the good old days of steam locomotives, wooden wagons and trips at 20 km/h through wild landscapes between marshes, salt meadows, streams and willow forests. The 27 km of the old sea bathing network dating from 1887 crosses the four main resorts of the Bay, with the possibility of crossing it by boat from Saint-Very-sur-Somme or Crotoy. A good plan in Somme.

7. The Mastrou railway (Ardèche)

The little train goes into the Ardèche mountains, meandering through the soft gorges from the station of Tournon St Jean to the village of Lamastre, which by the way means “trouble” in Occitan. In order not to stay there, in the “trouble”, do not miss the (only) return train which leaves the station around 3 p.m. And if the Mastrou is not enough for you, the train des gorges, also departing from Tournon St Jean, offers a trip through the wild landscapes of the region, towards the rural station of Colombier (countryside = in the middle of nowhere and c is that beautiful!).

8. The Limousin-Périgord Steam Train (Haute-Vienne)

The Americans had the right to Marty McFly and Emmett Doc Brown with their DeLorean to travel in time. Limogeauds passing through or in the area, for their part, will prefer to take advantage of their steam locomotives from the 1950s for a stroll in the past and in the region. From the end of June to the beginning of September, several routes criss-cross the Gorges de la Vienne and the surrounding bocages departing from Limoges and Eymoutiers.

Top 10 train rides to visit france differently
Photo credits (creative commons): Didier Duforest

9. The Vendée Railway

2h30 to cover 22 km. No, you are not on line A of the RER on a weekday, but in Vendée between the towns of Mortagne-sur-Sèvre and Les Herbiers, aboard a good old steam train. And if the landscapes offer a setting worthy of the name, the show also takes place in the “Orient-Express” dining car of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, with small and large dishes concocted by a Meilleur Ouvrier de France chef. .

10. The Train of Artouste (Pyrenees-Atlantiques)

It is the highest train in Europe which climbs with the strength of its small muscular wheels to almost 2000m altitude to reach the glacial lake of Artouste nestled in the Ossau valley and bordered by the National Park of Pyrenees. After a refreshing break of 1h20, it will be time to say goodbye to marmots as wild as Parisian pigeons, to return home by the same means of transport.

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