Mountain Trains

Had enough of beaches and palm trees?  Head to the hills to experience an alpine ambiance and a different kind of French charm… and all easily accessible by train from Nice.

You can make for the mountains via two different trains, the Train des Merveilles or the Train des Pignes, with each leaving from a different train station, going a different direction, and traversing different valleys with completely different landscapes.  Which one to choose?

The Train des Merveilles

The mountain village of Tende

Tende

Leaving from the regular Nice-Ville Gare Thiers train station (tram stop Gare Thiers), the Train des Merveilles (‘of marvels‘) climbs the mountainous terrain through a series of viaducts and tunnels, following the Roya river.  This train is especially wonderful to take in the autumn, when the turning leaves make for fabulous photos.

You’ll be tempted to stop in Sospel, but better yet continue on to the most picturesque village, lakeside Breil-sur-Roya, and further up the perched village of Tende, with its rustic charm and (free) mysterious museum full of fascinating petroglyphs and ancient artifacts found in the surrounding Valley of Marvels. 

Schedule: Click here for the complete current schedule which shows all the stops, or just use this much easier interactive schedule (in English!) with TrainLine. Be sure to download the MaGare SNCF app so that you can know in real-time if your train is going to be late, especially for coming back down.

Fares: A one-way ticket to Breil-sur-Roya (1 hour+) 10.30€, and to Tende is 15.30€, but you’re free to stop off in Breil, then catch the later train between the two towns.  At 30€ for a full-fare round-trip train ticket from Nice to Tende, you should be aware that this route is included in the Train Day/Week/Family Passes, so if you have one of these, just get on the train and go, no lines, no tickets, plus you’ll save a bundle.

  • Pass Touristique Day Pass for 16€ for one, 26€ for 2, 36€ for 3, or 46€ for 4 available from May to end of September.  Get it online or at train ticket machines.
  • Isabelle Family Day Pass for 35€, good for 2 adults and 2 kids (or 1 adult and 3 kids), available all year long.  Get it online or at train ticket machines.
  • Pass SudAzur train/tram/bus pass for 3-days (35€), one week (50€), or two weeks (80€), available from July to mid-November, only from tram ticket machines.

Click here for more details on train passes and discount options and how to get them.

The Train des Pignes

Train going through the mountainsTo go up into the mountains in the other direction, you go to a completely different Nice train station that is dedicated to just this one mountain run. To find this tiny train station, get off the tram at the Liberation stop, then walk 2 blocks west, looking for signs that say Chemins de Fer de Provence 4 Rue Alfred Binet.

The Train des Pignes train is named after the pine forest that lines the route, because the train used to be so slow (back in the day) that riders could jump off and gather pinecones (for pine nuts, used in local cuisine).  This train follows along the river Var through a multitude of tunnels and over spectacular bridges, as the valleys get deeper and the cliffs get steeper!  Superb scenery.

Bridge over the moat to EntrevauxAfter an hour and a half, you’ll see the most spectacular town on the route, the medieval walled-and-moated village of Entrevaux, which looks right out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but is the real deal.  Cross over the drawbridge and enter into a world that you thought only existed in the books of your childhood.

Schedule:  To get to Entrevaux takes an hour and 30 minutes, and there are usually 4 trains a day, but this varies by season and day of the week.  Here is the 2023/24 schedule but noting all the asterisks and codes, it’s best to actually go to the station first to confirm the trains running on the dates you want, and confirm the pricing.

Insider tip: there are often repair works happening on this train line, and if you are made to get off the train to take a bus part of the way, it’s really a buzz-kill.  You can check the website, but again, I strongly suggest popping by the train station in person ahead of buying your ticket just to be sure.

Cost:  A regular round-trip ticket to Entrevaux costs 21.40€, children under 12 are around Screen grab from Chemin de Fer Train App10.80€, and children under 4 are free on your lap.

But new for 2023:  You can now take the first 40 minutes of this train, up to the Utelle/Chaudan station, for the price of a city bus ride, 1€70 using your rechargeable bus/tram card (but this is not the beautiful part of the trip, so not really worth doing on its own unless you are going to Ikea or Leroy Merlin.)

So if you are in the know, use your Nice bus/tram card which is good for the first half of the trip for the price of a bus ride…1.70€, and just buy a train ticket for Utelle-Entrevau, which is 13.80€ round trip or 7€ for children.

Free Audioguide App:  Download the free Chemin de Fer de Provence app available in the App Store or Google Play, for a guided tour (in English) along the train route, which will really enrich the voyage.

Authentic Steam Locomotive

You can get off at the Puget-Theniers stop and then continue the last part of the journey on an authentic old-fashioned steam train that goes from the town of Puget-Theniers to Entrevaux and back once a day… Choo-choo!  This steam train has separate (more expensive) tickets which you can also buy at the train station (18€ rt) but the best and most convenient is just to buy the combo ticket (so, regular train to Puget-Theniers, then switching to steam train to Entrevaux) for 37.40€ round trip.  Again, go to the train station ahead of time and suss it all out.

Which One to Choose?

So back to my question about which train to choose for your mountain day… I recommend the Train des Merveilles because:

  • There are more trains and they run more frequently, giving you more flexibility.
  • The fare is a deal if you get a day pass, tickets/passes are easy to buy, and the schedule is easy to verify ahead of time online.
  • There are more towns to visit and more to see and do in the towns.

The Train des Pignes is charming and I do love Entrevaux, but after the village exploration and lunch, unless you hike up to the tower (which is pretty interesting), there is not much else to do and it is a bummer if you have to hang out an extra two hours for the train back. Plus the trains are are often late, and unexpected roadworks are common, delaying your voyage.   Also, the online information is so opaque and changeable that you end up having to go in person to confirm everything, which is maddening.

See Related Pages: 

Back up to main Train Page

Photo credits:  Tende by Ondřej Žváček, Train des Pignes by Eric Coffinet, Entrevaux by Mossot, all licensed under Creative Commons.

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