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Central France and the
Railways of the Pyrenees
July 12-23, 2018
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 the city of Orléans, where we spend our first night. From here we have a day on the 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 center 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 tour certainly has a lot of variety!
Day 1 Thursday July 12:
Hotel check-in in the city of Orléans, famous for its connections to Joan of Arc. Free time for dinner and to explore the city on your own. You do have the option of joining our guide and some of the group in Paris at the rail station for the train trip to Orleans.
Day 2 Friday July 13: (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 center 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 Orléans late afternoon.
The Château de Blois
Day 3 Saturday July 14: (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.
The 14th century Valentre Bridge in Cahors
Day 4 Sunday July 15: (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 located in the century-old railway station building!
Day 5 Monday July 16: (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 Núria Rack Railway. Through breath-taking scenery, we climb to a height of over 6,000 feet to the Núria Valley, the valley itself surrounded by peaks over 9,000 feet high. We will have time at the top to explore the sanctuary.
Scenery along the rail line of the Núria Rack Railway reaching up to 6,000 feet
Day 6 Tuesday July 17: (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 213 feet above ground and the Gisclard Bridge which is 263 feet 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.
The popular “Little Yellow Train” climbing up to 5,200 feet at Bolquère Eyne, France’s
highest railway station
Day 7 Wednesday July 18: (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.
Heading for Axat in the foothills of the Pyrenees
Day 8 Thursday July 19: (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. 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 the Canal du Midi in the afternoon. At the end of the afternoon we continue by rail to Toulouse.
Above photos of the medieval walled city of Carcassonne
Above photos afternoon cruise on the Canal du Midi
Day 9 Friday July 20: (B)
This morning we have a steam-hauled private charter on the 500mm gauge Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn. This railway line has recovered almost three miles 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 and 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.
Charter steam-hauled private train on the 500mm gauge Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn.
Visiting the workshops of the 500mm gauge Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn.
Afternoon visit to Toulouse, which is nicknamed la Ville Rose (“the Pink City”)
Day 10 Saturday July 21: (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 pretty seaside border town of Hendaye. Overnight in Hendaye.
The CF Rhune rack railway
Day 11 Sunday July 22: (B)
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 4 mile railway line. After our visit, our coach takes us to Zumaia station where those who wish can use the Euskotren meter gauge line to reach San Sebastian for free time here, continuing to Hendaye on another Euskotren later in the afternoon. Alternatively remain on the coach and return to Hendaye for a free afternoon there.
Day 12 Monday 23 July (B)
We transfer by bus to Bilbao airport for flights home or alternatively catch the morning TGV from Hendaye to Paris
ALL PRICES ARE PER PERSON
JOIN IN ORLEANS AND END IN HENDAYE OR BILBAO$2.675
JOIN AND END TOUR IN PARIS$2,775
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$675
DEPOSIT TO HOLD SPACE CONFIRMED$1,000
FINAL PAYMENT DUE BY APRIL 23, 2018
EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT BOOK BY DECEMBER 1, 2017$300
TOUR CONDITIONS FOR 2018 **PLEASE READ CAREFULLY**
Tour Price: All tour prices are subject to change without notice, at any time. All prices based on double room occupancy. Those people that use a credit card for payments a 3% conveyance fee will be added to the tour price. We reserve the right to change tour prices if necessary without prior notice.