Train journeys are my kind of thing; trains and I, we go way back. Apparently, or so the family folklore says, I was on a miniature train in Delhi when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi turned up for a bit of political campaigning and I was chosen to sit next to her for the film shoot. I must have been about 7 years old. Now whether this was the beginning of my love of train travel I can't say but since then I have taken some pretty interesting and scenic train journeys in Asia, Europe and Australia. So it was with great excitement that we recently took the grandly name "Train des Merveilles" from Nice to Tende and back.
Merveilles means marvels or wonders and to give it its due, the name doesn't actually refer to the train itself but to the area of the Mercantour National Park in the Southern Alps where the "Vallée des Merveilles" is situated. And this valley is so called because of the thousands of prehistoric rock engravings found there. And the train takes you to Tende which is one of the main places from which you can access this Valley of Marvels. The train itself, while perhaps not quite a "wonder", is modern, comfortable, decorated with images of the 3000 year old petroglyphs and very short. It's only one carriage long. The track, however, is somewhat of a marvel as it climbs from sea level to 1000m through 107 tunnels, 4 of which are spiral – a true engineering wonder built between the 1880s and 1928.
The trip from Nice to Tende takes you through some gorgeous scenery which is even more dramatic viewed from the vertiginous heights of the railway viaducts than it is from the road that follows along the bottom of the river valleys. When you're not in one of the tunnels you pass spectacularly isolated hilltop villages, pretty riverside towns, open green valleys and steep cliff faces. There are 9 stops (including a monumental station built by order of Mussolini in 1928 in St Dalmas de Tende), making it possible to visit some of these lovely villages instead of going all the way to Tende, but that would be for another day. The train is now primarily a tourist line and from June to September the 9.15am departure from Nice has a running commentary in English as well as French. The chatty lady from SNCF tells you all about the length of the tunnels, the particularity of each village and the landscape around. "So as I was saying in French..." she starts her morning in English...like I said, very chatty, not formal. We actually chose not to sit with her as our train was full enough to have a second train attached which didn't have the commentary. We decided we'd rather sit together with a bit of space than be squashed or even standing in the commentated carriage. I did, however, make the most of a couple of stops, swapping between the 2 trains (leaving behind the family) to see what she had to say. The return journey has no commentary.
The trip takes about 90 minutes which means you arrive in Tende late morning leaving you plenty of time to explore before the afternoon return. We chose to take a picnic and do a 4 hour walk taking in even more gorgeous mountain views and getting some delicious fresh alpine air. We had planned this so went equipped with walking boots, sun-cream and plenty of water. Other options in Tende include visiting the Musée des Merveilles to find out more about the rock carvings, scrambling up to the chapel perched high above the town or just exploring the narrow alleyways of its medieval heart. For the really adventurous there's a Via Ferrata on the craggy outcrop near the chapel. There are also walks that can take you back to some of the villages along the railway line, though we preferred to stay in and around Tende. To find out about the options available we went straight to the tourist office and were given a useful local map for our walk.
To get back to Nice you need to check the railway timetable at the station as it varies from day to day. There are direct trains and others that go via Ventimiglia. Ours, at 4.50pm, said it was only going as far as Breil sur Roya, but infact after a 15 minute stop there it continued all the way to Nice. No one seemed to know quite how far it was going (including the driver!) but we got back in just under two hours without having to change. It's only a little train trip, but it's a great one!
Have you ever taken a fun or unusual train trip? Do you like train travel? I'd love to hear from you.
Great new photos!
I love train journeys too - and have happy childhood memories of lots of trips. The aerial shots are fabulous. Sounds like a wonderful trip, Phoebe!
The aerial shots are taken from the train and our hike up the mountain which just shows how steep it was! Thanks for stopping by Vidya.
I would love to take a train trip in the future! When we were in Russia to adopt our daughter we traveled by train from St. Petersburg to Moscow but unfortunately it was during the night and we didn't get to see much of the countryside.
I've done that trip but in the other direction Sue! I took the train from Moscow to St P near the end of 2 months of train travel from Hanoi in Vietnam to Helsinki, Finland! Just like you it was overnight but it was in June so it didn't get dark! Didn't stop me from sleeping through most of it though. Nice to see you back on my blog!
Wow! Amazing scenery and views!
Wow seems like to much of an over used word in regards to your trip. Amazing views. I'm determined to get my passport this year so I can start traveling and seeing places like this in real life instead of vicariously through others.
That sounds like a great plan to me Tracie! But until you do have your passport, keep checking by here so get inspiration for your travels.
O my what great scenery!! Beautiful! I have to say I have only taken one train ride and it made me so nervous. I could not take the train rocking from side to side when we were going over the bridges. It was a lot of water I was looking down at...lol. I did not see any media buttons but I will look around. I am visiting from Blog Formatting.
Marge you wouldn't have liked this trip then as it was always very high up on very narrow single tracks. Not for anyone with vertigo! My media buttons are just under the tags at the end of the post, before the comments. I hope you found them and thanks for looking.
I love your photos and the walk through of your trip, it looks like it was a ton of fun!
I have been on a train trip once. I was in 5th grade. It was soo awesome. We rode from Houston to San Antonio and I sat in the train part that had an open roof. I have always dreamed of going on an overnight trip where I get to sleep in a train car and everything.
Sounds great to go in an open top train. I'd love to do that!
I love these pictures! I haven't had the chance to make a trip on train, but I'm looking forward to do it to Vienna! This is on my bucket list trips. Thanks for sharing your experience and these wonderful pictures.
My pleasure Remy! You'll have lovely scenery near Vienna, lucky you.
That is one beautiful train ride! I often take the commuter train to New York City, but my most memoriable train ride (Besides the one I took with my son with Thomas the Tank Engine pulling the car) was a "Polar Express" train ride at Christmastime with my family. It was a magical ride- full of Christmas carols, Santa Claus and hot chocolate! What amazing photos you took!
The Polar Express sounds lovely Wendy, thanks for your kind words about my photos.
What a great group of pics! Combine them with your visual word choice, & I felt like I was there...and, boy, I wish I was! I've never been to Europe
I love how you express yourself too Samantha - "visual word choice" - such a nice thing to say, thank you!
what a great day out. Thanks for sharing it. Must try to do it next time we are down your way. I went to school in the 1950s on a steam train, freezing cold in winter and stinking hot in summer.
What a great experience Catherine, though I guess it sounds way more romantic nowadays than it felt then!
Wonderful day trip, love the pictures, Phoebe! We took the train last summer - first time for the kids, and after a long while for us - it was a great experience that everyone loved! Thanks for the pictures, it's like I've been there
Thanks for reading Delia. I'm happy your kids enjoyed their first train ride.
I went on my first train trip as a 6 year old in 1956 from Townsville to Brisbane - I still remember the wonder and excitement of that trip and catch the train whenever I can.
That sounds like a fabulous train trip. I bet it was gorgeous. I've driven between Brisbane and Townsville, and flown, but never taken the train. Lucky you! Thanks for commenting.