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SOUTHERN FRANCE AND THE PYRENEES
SEPTEMBER 20-30, 2019
This is our “rail and culture tour” 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 traveling on scenic railways that climb mountains; or you want to explore 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. This 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.
Day 1 Friday September 20: (B)
There are several rail options to Lyon. Alternatively, flights to Lyon, from where we transfer to our hotel by tram.
Day 2 Saturday September 21: (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 theater. 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 center 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 September 22: (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 traveling 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 September 23: (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 center. 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” plays.. Continue to Nîmes by train at the end of the afternoon.
Day 5 Tuesday September 24: (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 center 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 September 25: (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 September 26: (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.
Above photos of the medieval walled city of Carcassonne
Day 8 Friday September 27: (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.
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.
to Toulouse, which is nicknamed la Ville Rose (“the Pink City”)
Day 9 Saturday September 28: (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 harbor town of St Jean de Luz.
The CF Rhune rack railway
Day 10 Sunday September 29: (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 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 meter-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 September 30: (B)
End of tour at Hendaye and flights home.
ALL PRICES ARE PER PERSON
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$575
DEPOSIT TO HOLD YOUR SPACE CONFIRMED$700
FINAL PAYMENT DUE BY JULY 20, 2019
TOUR CONDITIONS FOR 2020 **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.