The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Wonderous mountain train - a day trip from Nice

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.

train des merveilles

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. 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.

train trip 1

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.

train trip 2

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.

train trip 3

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!

train trip 4

gare de st dalmas de tende

train des merveilles 2

Tende

train trip 5

Tende train des merveilles

Have you ever taken a fun or unusual train trip?  Do you like train travel?  I'd love to hear from you.

 

If you enjoyed this please PIN it!

Mountain Train Trip from Nice France

 

Last modified on

Comments

  • Guest
    Adelina | Pack Me To Saturday, 08 March 2014

    Gorgeous gorgeous! I love train rides. There is something that just seems so romantic! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 08 March 2014

    I agree Adelina, though this one with 14 year old and 8 year old in tow wasn't so much romantic as adventurous! :o

  • Guest
    SJ Friday, 07 March 2014

    Many you guys do some cool stuff! I did the train trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg overnight - LOVED IT. Thanks again for linking up with us to #SundayTraveler

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 08 March 2014

    The Moscow-St Peterburg express is a classy train; I've done it too! Thanks for hosting SJ

  • Guest
    Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy Thursday, 06 March 2014

    I loooove trains! I've been to Nice before and this looks like a fun trip :) Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler :)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 06 March 2014

    Thanks for hosting Ashley!

  • Guest
    Gabor Kovacs Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    Seems to be a wonderful train journey! It is not so far from Barcelona and we go to visit Southern France quite often, we might check this out in the near future! Thanks for the great tip!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 06 March 2014

    We're only about 6 hours drive from Barcelona, not so far at all. :)

  • Guest
    Angela Monday, 03 March 2014

    Looks like a great trip. I have really been meaning to ride trains more. However, they have become increasingly popular, which drives up the costs. Since I am no longer eligible for the student rate, it is sometimes more cost efficient to rent a car.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 03 March 2014

    I know what you mean Angela, trains can be absurdly expensive in Europe.

  • Guest
    Dave Cole Sunday, 02 March 2014

    Train stopped running here in Ethiopia in 2008, so I desperately miss rail travel! This seems to be the best of it - views and comfort. Incredible pics :)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 03 March 2014

    How sad that the trains stopped all those years ago. I can understand that you miss them.

  • Guest
    Bianca Sunday, 02 March 2014

    I love train journeys. Especially if they are as scenic as the place in your pictures.

    KÖLNER DOM | COLOGNE CATHERDRAL

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 03 March 2014

    happy to hear from a fellow train lover!

  • Guest
    frankaboutcroatia Sunday, 02 March 2014

    It would be cool if you can find that footage of you sitting near Indira Gandhi on a train.
    I love trains too. Scenery from Nice to Tende, as seen on your photos, is gorgeous. Would love to walk those hilltop villages.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 03 March 2014

    I fear that footage is lost forever, though I agree it would be cool to find. The area around Tende is excellent walking country. Come on over!

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Thursday, 26 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 26 September 2013

    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. :)

  • Guest
    Delia @ Blog Formatting Sunday, 22 September 2013

    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 :)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    Thanks for reading Delia. I'm happy your kids enjoyed their first train ride.
    :D

  • Guest
    Catherine Sunday, 22 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Sunday, 22 September 2013

    What a great experience Catherine, though I guess it sounds way more romantic nowadays than it felt then!

  • Guest
    Samantha King Friday, 20 September 2013

    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 ;)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Sunday, 22 September 2013

    I love how you express yourself too Samantha - "visual word choice" - such a nice thing to say, thank you!

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Thursday, 19 September 2013

    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!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Sunday, 22 September 2013

    The Polar Express sounds lovely Wendy, thanks for your kind words about my photos.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 19 September 2013

    My pleasure Remy! You'll have lovely scenery near Vienna, lucky you.

  • Guest
    Remy Thursday, 19 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Rochelle Barlow Thursday, 19 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 19 September 2013

    Sounds great to go in an open top train. I'd love to do that! :)

  • Guest
    Marge Thursday, 19 September 2013

    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.
    fitandbeyond40.com

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 19 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    tracie eastman Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 19 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Kim Carberry Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    Wow! Amazing scenery and views!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 19 September 2013

    Thanks! :o

  • Guest
    Sue Glashower Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    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! :D

  • vidyasury
    vidyasury Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    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!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    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.

  • Guest
    Juie Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Great new photos!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    Thanks Juie :)

Leave your comment

Guest
Guest Saturday, 16 December 2017

About Me

phoebe-portrait


facebookpinteresttwitter follow Lou Messugo on Google+Active-Instagram-2-icon

notebook

Trips100 - Travel Blogs
Trips100

 Living in France

AllAboutFranceBadge

BritMums
Expat in France
expat partner's survival guide