|Steam service on the remarkable Chemin de Fer de Provence|
Scenic steam railways in England
Chemins de fer à vapeur en Angleterre
Heritage & tourist railways in Spain
France travel pages : Scenic railways in France
|France's scenic railways |
Unlike the United Kingdom or the USA, France did not close down half or
more of her railway or railroad network in the nineteen-sixties and
seventies, at the start of the motorway age. As a result, modern France
still boasts a dense rail network, including a lot of rural branch
lines, some of them quite long, that would have been savagely axed many
years ago if France had had a Docteur Beeching.
Thanks to a network of minor and sometimes very scenic railway lines, amateurs of rail tourism, or those equipped with a Eurail or Interrail pass, or indeed any visitor, can visit some of the parts of France that other means of transport do not reach.
Evidently, the most scenic rail routes are to be found in the
mountainous regions of France, which means the southern half. Below is
a list of some of the more interesting of these routes, including some
Long distance routes
The most interesting long-distance scenic tourist rail routes in France
are those crossing the Massif Central mountains, in central
southern France. And they are genuinely long-distance, and very
1. (Clermont-Ferrand) - Arvant - St.Flour - Millau - Beziers
:: the longest (Arvant-Béziers is over 300 km) and perhaps most
unlikely of France's long-distance single-track lines, often threatened
with closure, is still open. There is one train a day in each
direction. This line is known as "la ligne des Causses" or "la ligne de l'Aubrac",
and it takes a day to travel the full length. The line is remarkable
insofar as it runs across the top of the plateaux of the Massif
Central, up to an altitude of 1100 metres, and is also electrified.
Highlights include the Viaduc de Garabit (photo right), one of the
masterpieces of Gustave Eiffel, spanning the gorge of the river
Truyère, and the descent into the deep valley of the Tarn. The line
actually runs underneath the modern Millau viaduct, on the A75
motorway; it also goes through Roquefort, home of the famous cheese.
2. (Clermont-Ferrand) - Arvant - Langogne, Alès, Nimes : "La Ligne des Cévennes" :
the second long distance route across the Massif Central, busier than
the Ligne des Causses, (up to four trains per day each way). This line
is also more spectacular, as it runs through the upper end of the
Allier gorge (photo left), in a section where no roads go, and drops
down towards Nimes through the spectacular Cevennes mountains, on a
twisting line with dozens of tunnels and impressive viaducts. In
summer, special tourist trains operate between Langeac and Langogne.
Regularly threatened with closure, this line has just been reprieved,
and major renovation has taken place since 2009. In summer, there is a
Corail or Teoz train from Clermont Ferrand to Marseille.... but for how
Tip: amateurs of rail-tourism may like to do the round trip
from Clermont Ferrand or Arvant to Béziers (stay overnight - or stay overnight at Sète, on the coast), then TGV
from Beziers to Nimes, and return to point of departure by the Cevennes
3. (Clermont-Ferrand) - Arvant - Aurillac - Figeac - Toulouse : the
route is the same as route 1 above, as far as Neussargues, a
once-important railway junction in the middle of nowhere. From there,
it rises to almost 1100 m at the Lioran pass (col du Lioran), with its
station at the foot of the ski slopes, and in walking distance of the
cablecar. The line then follows the Cère valley to Aurillac, before
dropping down through chestnut forests to the town of Figeac, in the
Lot. After that, it twists along the steep sided Aveyron valley,
through a series of tunnels, past picturesque villages, before the
final stretch to Toulouse.
1. Clermont-Ferrand - St Georges d'Aurac - Le Puy - St Etienne - Thiers - Clermont Ferrand.
A branch line circuit taking in two 1000 metre summits, the remarkable
city of Le Puy en Velay, and about 40 kilometres of the gorges of the
The only private public-service railway in France
Nice - Digne-les-Bains This is the surviving part of the once extensive Chemins de Fer de Provence.
It is a one-metre gauge private railway (owned by Veolia), linking
Nice, on the coast, with Digne les Bains, a distance of 151 km. The
route is operated by diesel railcar (not the most comfortable), and
runs through the spectacular scenery of the mediterranean Alps. The
single journey takes about 3 1/4 hours. In summer, there is a steam service at weekends over a short section of the line. Check the website.
Tourist trains and other scenic routes:
Auvergne: Voies Ferrées du Velay - Velay railway
37 km metre-gauge line between Dunières (Haute Loire) and Saint Agrève
(Ardèche) - once part of the Vivarais railway. Much of the line
is at an altitude of over 1000 metres, running through a very sparsely
populated area; steam services in summer on some trains. Website
Brittany: The Trieux estuary steam railway, between Paimpol and Pontrieux in the Côtes d'Armor. Website
Charentes: Train des Mouettes - the Seagull line
21 Km from Saujon (between Royan and Saintes) to la Tremblade, along the valley of the Seudre. Steam on summer weekdays.
Languedoc: The Yellow Train of the Pyrenees
famous mountain train running from Villefranche-Vernet les Bains,
near Perpignan , to Latour de Carol, at 1200 metres altitude, on the
Spanish border, a distance of 63 km. The line winds up through the
French Pyrenees, amid spectacular scenery, to a summit at 1593m. The
name derives from the colour of the coaches, which are bright yellow;
particularly popular with tourists are the open coaches, offering
spectacular viewing of the surrounding mountains. See Yellow Train
Languedoc : Train du Pays Cathare et du Fenouillèdes
The Fenouilledès and Cathar Country railway opened as a tourist train in 2001; and in summer 2011 for the first time offered a steam
service over part of the route. The line runs from Rivesaltes, near
Perpignan, to Axat in the Pyrenees, through vineyards and fields and
forests, past towering Cathar country castles, over viaducts and
through tunnels. Open waggons on many trains Length: 60 km Website
Languedoc : Train à Vapeur des Cévennes
The Cévennes steam
line, a heritage line running between Anduze and St. Jean du Gard, in
the Cevennes hills of Languedoc. Steam trains daily between 1st April
and 31st August, and then five or six days a week until November
Midi-Pyrénées : Chemin de fer du Haut Quercy
A 6.5 km line from Martel to St. Martin de Martel, in the Lot department. Open April to September. Steam trains on Sundays and on five days a week (not Friday or Saturday) from 15th July to end of August. Website
Montenvers railway - Mer
de Glace railway. Metre gauge rack-and-pinion railway running
from the railway station at Chamonix, to an altitude of 1913
metres, on the slopes of Mont Blanc. Electric railway. Length; 5.1 kms.
Ardèche (Rhone valley)
No services announced for 2012.....
The Chemin de Fer du Vivarais is a delightful line winding up through
the hills of the Ardèche from Tournon, on the Rhône, to Lamastre, high
in the Cévennes. The line operated steam services in the summer season.
Sadly, there were no services in 2008 and 2009, there was still no
information about a possible relaunch in the coming season, but it
seems that a solution has been found, in conjunction with the local
authorities, and that services will resume at some point in the future.
Though when is a different matter ....
Eastern France: Jura and Vosges mountains.
1. Franche-Comté: (SNCF) Besançon - Morteau - Le Locle (Switzerland) - a line across the high Doubs
2. Dole - Mouchard - Saint Claude - (SNCF) beautiful line across the
Jura mountains, with a spectacular drop down into the deep valley of
3. Alsace: The Doller valley steam railway. 13.6 km from Cernay-Saint André to Sentheim, in the south eastern part of the Vosges mountains.
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