Rail Journeys

Vintage Southern France and the Pyrenees

Tour Date: 6 June to 17 June 2024
Location: France

The PTG slogan is “rail and culture” 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 travelling on scenic railways that climb mountains; or you want to potter around at your leisure – there is something for everyone on this tour which covers the length of France, from the Alps to the Pyrenees!

Using a combination of standard premier travel on Eurostar and first-class travel on the TGV, overland travellers depart London St Pancras on Thursday, with an overnight stay in Paris, before being whisked along the beautiful Cote D’Azur arriving in Nice mid-afternoon on Friday.

The tour includes many scenic highlights: the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, the Mediterranean coast of France, the hills of Provence and the Cevennes; as well as many places of historical interest including the Roman amphitheatre in the beautiful city of Nimes.

The railway highlights include a number of routes listed as some finest in Europe (by the European Rail Timetable) such as the Mediterranean coast east of Marseille towards the Italian border and the lines heading inland from Nice to Digne-les-Bains and Tende. The tour also includes two steam rides on some lovely heritage railways, but the highlight is the famous Little Yellow Train that takes us high up into the Pyrenees.

Tour Highlights

  • No fly option
  • Steam trains
  • Rack Railway
  • Our own coach to take our luggage
  • Mostly first class train travel (except on Eurostar)
  • Historic towns

Tour Itinerary

After a leisurely breakfast we continue our journey to Nice, catching the TGV at 12:29. We arrive in Nice at 14:58 just as our rooms become available for checkin, and after a short coach transfer to the hotel, the remainder of the day will be free for you to enjoy Nice, walking through the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old City – described as a “Baroque Experience” – then strolling along the Promenade des Anglais seafront. Note that for the transport enthusiasts there are modern trams in Nice, and a tram stop not far from our hotel. Alternatively, if you are flying, you will arrive via Nice airport and transfer directly to the hotel.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Today we will ride a slow train on the line SNCF calls the “Train des Merveilles”, from Nice to Tende following the Roya Valley and crossing the Alps into Italy. There are many viaducts and even more tunnels with wild mountain-and-valley scenery. This is an exceptional route and of interest to any railway enthusiast; it includes three spirals and a summit higher than Ben Nevis. We alight at Tende, a charming Alpine town nestled in the deep valley. After time to explore it and have lunch, we travel back down the line as far as Breil-sur-Roya to visit this excellent railway museum. Return to Nice by train at the end of the afternoon. Tonight, we have our Welcome Dinner in a restaurant near the hotel.


We have a ride the long non-electrified metre gauge CF Provence line from Nice to Digne, a distance of 151 km in a new 2-car DMU with large windows on a very scenic line, on the “Train des Pignes”. We alight at Puget-Theniers to join the steam train hauled by an ex-CP (Portugal) 2-4-6-0T mallet along the same line to Annot. Annot is a fascinating little town in the mountains, and if you venture behind the main square, it seems you have stepped back in time to the 1500s, with old, but well-kept, buildings and narrow streets. We return to Nice by coach in time for dinner.

Train des Pignes
Ex-CP Mallet loco now working here in France.
Train des Pignes

This morning we travel by train from Nice to Nimes. In the afternoon, we will be joined by a local guide for a guided walk through the historic centre of Nimes. During the walk, we will see some of the Roman buildings still standing such as the Amphitheatre considered to be “the best preserved in the whole of the Roman Empire” and the Maison Carée, a remarkably well-preserved square temple. The amphitheatre may be being prepared for Bastille Day celebrations, but if it is possible to visit it, we will.

We have a very scenic train trip through the Cévennes from Nimes to La Bastide-St. Laurent. We return 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 with a visit to the workshops. There are some fantastic views of the river valley and the Cévennes scenery. After our visit, we return to Nimes by coach.

Train a Vapeur des Cévennes

Today we will travel to Avignon (a walled city next the River Rhone) and Pont du Gard, an impressive Roman aqueduct built in the 1st century AD. Beginning in Avignon, we have a guided tour around the Papal Palace (the biggest Gothic palace ever built, anywhere), followed by free time for lunch and your own exploration. With around 650,000 visitors each year it is regularly among the top ten attractions in France. With its size, architecture and historical significance the Palace regularly serves as an exhibition centre. 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” says. After lunch we go to Ponte du Gard and another guided tour, with the chance to visit the excellent museum. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueducts and is the best preserved along with the aqueduct of Segovia. Because of its historic importance it has been 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.

Pont du Gard
The Papal Palace, Avignon

The highlight today is a trip on the very scenic Le Train Rouge, as we transfer to Perpignan for one night. We begin the day with a train journey from Nimes to Carcassonne, and, if it is running with a suitable timetable, the branch south to Quillan. There our coach will meet us and take us to Axat, the upper terminus of Le Train Rouge. After time for lunch we head to Axat station. If the weather is dry, the first part of the journey through mountains and gorges will be on open wagons. Half way down we change a historic railcar to complete the journey to Rivesaltes. Our coach will be waiting to take us to the hotel in Perpignan.

Le Train Rouge
Le Castillet, Perpignan

We will travel from Perpignan to Villefranche-Vernet where we pick up our Little Yellow Train, one of the great railway journeys of the world – a historic metre-gauge electric railway in the French Pyrenees, opened in 1909, and still going strong. The line rises through dramatic scenery from an altitude of 427 metres at its lower terminus at Villefranche de Conflent, to a summit at Bolquère Eyne, France’s highest railway station, lying at an altitude of 1592 metres (5226 ft) above sea level. It then drops down to a high Pyrenean valley, and its terminus at Latour de Carol. On arriving at Latour de Carol, we immediately join our standard gauge train direct to Toulouse, arriving late afternoon. Overnight in Toulouse.

The Little Yellow Train

In the morning we visit the 500-mm narrow gauge Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn. Due to a weak bridge awaiting repair, they run a diesel train over part of the line, and we will have a charter on this, followed by a visit to the depot and workshops. Return to Toulouse for a free afternoon to explore this attractive city, known as the “pink city” due to the unique architecture made of pinkish terracotta bricks. Transport highlights include a tram line and a driverless metro.

Our coach will take us 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 wanted 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. At the end of the afternoon, we return to Toulouse by coach, and meet up for our Farewell Dinner in a restaurant near the hotel.

Canal du Midi

Return home overland to Paris and London (arriving 17:35), or by air from Toulouse airport. Direct flights are available to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Bristol, Birmingham and Edinburgh. For Manchester, travel by rail to Bordeaux and fly back direct from there.

This is a moderately active tour, and there will be some walking, such as from railway stations to cruise piers or funiculars. If you are travelling over land, you will need to be able to carry your own luggage between the railway station and bus or hotel.

Prices & Options

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • From St.Pancras (by rail)*: £2,645
  • From Heathrow: £2,495
  • From Gatwick:  £2,495
  • From Stansted: £2,445
  • From Luton: £2,445
  • From Bristol:  £2,445
  • From Birmingham: £2,495
  • From Manchester: £2,495
  • From Edinburgh: £2,495
  • Join in Nice: £2,195

* if you book early your fare includes and Interrail Pass which gives you free first class travel from, and back to, your home station.
It is possible to fly one way and one way by rail if you prefer.

Group Discounts

  • Group of 4 or more deduct £150 per person

Single Use Room Supplements

  • Main hotels incl Marseille: £640
  • Main hotels from Nice: £575
  • hotels incl Marseille: £295
  • hotels from Nice: £250


  • £750

Price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Our own coach which will carry our luggage from hotel to hotel from Lyon to St Jean de Luz.
  • En-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted from Nice to Bayonne.

Transport & Accommodation


  • Marseille (1 night, for overland passengers on the outward journey) – TBC
  • Mercure Nice Centre Notre Dame (3 nights)
  • Novotel Nimes Centre Atria (3 nights)
  • Suites Novotel Perpignan (1 night)
  • Hotel Mercure Toulouse Wilson (3 nights)

Overland Travel – escorted from Lille and back to Paris

  • 6 June – Eurostar 11:04 St Pancras to Paris, TGV to Marseille, Overnight in Marseille
  • 7 June – TGV 12:28 Marseille to Nice (arriving 14:55)
  • 17 June – TGV 10:34 Toulouse to Paris (arr 14:49), Eurostar 16:10 Paris to St Pancras (arr 17:35)

Direct Flights

  • BA0354 15:15 Heathrow to Nice (arr 18:20)
  • BA0373 11:15 Toulouse to Heathrow (arr 12:15)
  • EZ8425 13:10 Gatwick to Nice (arr 16:15)
  • EZ6506 15:40 Toulouse to Gatwick (arr 16:30)
  • FR1874 09:00 Stansted to Nice (arr 12:10)
  • FR0282 22:15 Toulouse to Stansted (arr 23:25)
  • EZ2429 18:35 Luton to Nice (arr 21:40)
  • Return flight is to Gatwick or Stansted
  • EZ2765 11:00 Bristol to Nice (arr 14:05)
  • EZ2784 10:30 Toulouse to Bristol (arr 11:20)
  • LS1317 12:10 Birmingham to Nice (arr 15:20)
  • FR2445 19:30 Toulouse to Birmingham (arr 20:25)
  • LS0833 13:00 Manchester to Nice (arr 16:20)
  • EZ2112 14:00 Bordeaux to Manchester (arr 15:00)
  • EZ3245 18:05 Edinburgh to Nice (arr 21:45)
  • FR1065 19:10 Toulouse to Edinburgh (arr 20:35) on the 16th