The railway journey from Nimes(30 Gard, Occitani) to Clermont Ferrand (63 Puy de Dome, ARA) offers you a different perspective on the Massif Central than most of us experience using the main north-south artery down the Autoroute du Soleil. Whilst the newer A75 route from Beziers to Clermont-Ferrand also offers some spectacular views, the train gives you more time to admire the landscape and takes you to places which the car cannot – and is one of the most scenic railways in France.
Crossing the wild country of the Cevennes in southern France this line passes through 106 tunnels and over almost 1,300 bridges, including the impressive 41 arch Chamborigaud Viaduct.
Easily reached by TGV from Paris Nîmes is the starting point of this leisurely journey through the remote, wild country of the Cevennes. Though only 303km long, the line burrows through 106 tunnels and crosses almost 1,300 bridges, including some of the most impressive viaducts on French railways, such as the 28-arch edifice at Chapeauroux and the 41-arch near-semicircle of Chamborigaud Viaduct.
The southern plain of vineyards, Lombardy poplars and Aleppo pines gives way to a few miles of hilly post-industrial landscape with occasional traces of mining activity gradually being reclaimed by nature. The long climb into the Cevennes and the summit at La Bastide (1,023m above sea level) is flanked by woods and the occasional agricultural terrace etched into the hillside. Running across a plateau, the train offers panoramic views across hills stretching to the horizon. Lonely stations in the middle of nowhere make one wonder at the optimism of the railway’s builders. But perhaps the finest stretch is the long section of track built on a masonry ledge above the River Allier with glorious views along the sinuous valley.
The journey takes about 5½ hours, and the 300km route passes through Ales, Chamborigaud, Villefort, Chapeauroux, Langogne, Langeac, Brioude and Issoire.
Also in the Cevennes there is a steam train (Train à Vapeur des Cevennes) which runs from Anduze to St Jean-de-Gard (30 Gard, Occitanie)April – October – for more info see www.trainavapeur.com. A night spectacular with a special train ride, fireworks and some surprises
- night of fairytales (Nuit des Contes) – 20 July 2019 at Thoiras-Corbes (30 Gard, Occitanie) – see http://nuitdescontes.free.fr
Another essential train ride is the Petit Train Jaune (Little Yellow Train) in the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees, east of Perpignan from Villefranche de Conflent (66 Pyrenees-Orientales, Occitanie)
Another acclaimed scenically beautiful rail route is in the French Comté – see la Ligne des Hirondelles (swallows)
By Train TGV fromthe UK and France with Rail Europe