Some small trains are still in service, providing access to towns and villages back away from the coast.
Many of these are short-line, narrow-gauge railways, and range from one-car to four- or five-car trains, and often run seasonally. The trains themselves are picturesque, with seasonal inclusion of steam locomotives and refurbished antique rail cars.
A couple of longer route, regularly scheduled small trains are the Nice-Digne Train des Pignes and the Nice-Cuneo Train des Merveilles, see below.
The Lost Railways of Provence are the old railway lines that ran through the hills of the back country from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.
Train des Pignes
The scenic but slow Train des Pignes connects the coast (at Nice) with Digne-les-Bains in the heart of the back country [Nice-Digne rail map], with stops at some of the prettiest old villages in Beyond. Service is several times a day, and takes about 3 hours from one end to the other.
The stations are small and personal, and are worth a visit in their own right. Barrème, on the Nice-Digne line of the Train des Pignes, has an archeological museum with local fossils and showing local geological history going back several thousand years. The photo above shows a one-car train passing through the flag-stop station of Mezel.
• Get there early so
you can get good seats. Small trains can get crowded quickly.
Train des Merveilles
The Train des Merveilles goes up the beautiful Roya Valley into Italy.
Not quite as small as the Train des Pignes but off the beaten path and with a beautiful mountain route, the Train des Merveilles goes between Nice and Cuneo (Italy), via Tende in the Roya Valley.
Cévennes Steam Train
The Steam Train of the Cévennes is a 40 minute ride between St Jean-du-Gard and Anduze. This lovely and popular line runs between March-April and early September, following the forested valleys for 13 km along the Gardon river. The area is the Cévennes national forest, west of Avignon and north of Montpellier
More information on Beyond's St Jean-du-Gard page.
Cathars Red Train
This 60 km route deep into the old Cathars country west of Perpignan is called the Red Train (Le Train Rouge), or officially Train du Pays Cathare et du Fenouillèdes. This is a 100-year-old railway line, partly following the Aude river valley and passing through vineyards and past chateaux, over viaducts and through tunnels.
The train runs mainly from April until mid-November, with half-day and full-day trips. You can also do shorter trips between the villages along the route. Special theme trains are available for Patrimoine day (15 Sept), Halloween (31 Oct) and Father Christmas (December).