When you’ve had enough of the 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.
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
Update 2021: The Tempête Alex storm last year flooded the rivers and washed away a lot of infrastructure in the back country. The train des Merveilles is now running again but between Breil-sur-Roya and Tende it goes at a very reduced speed, taking an hour and 15 minutes between the two towns.
Leaving from the regular Nice-Ville Gare Thiers train station (tram stop Gare Thiers), the Train des Merveilles 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.
Stop in Sospel, or continue on for one of the most picturesque villages, lakeside Breil-sur-Roya, and further up the perched village of Tende, with its rustic charm and mysterious museum full of fascinating petroglyphs and ancient artifacts found in the surrounding Valley of Marvels.
Schedule and Fares: Click here for an interactive schedule in English, and you can even buy your tickets online. This route is included in the Zou Day Passes, Weekly and Monthly Passes and Carte Isabelle, so just get on the train and go, no lines, no tickets. But if you are getting some other discount (like from the Zou 50/75 discount card for instance), the website sellers can’t take them into account, so either order online and pay full price, or buy your ticket in the train station from the machine or ticket office and get your discount.
Be sure to download the MaGare SNCF app so that you can know if your train is going to be late.
A one-way ticket to Sospel runs 5€, to Breil-sur-Roya (1 hour) 7.50€, and to Tende is 10€, but you’re free to stop off in Breil, then catch the later train between the two towns. At 20€ for a round trip to Tende, you are better off taking the Pass Touristique Day Pass for 16€ for one, 26€ for 2, 36€ for 3, or 46€ for 4, available from June to end of September, or the 35€ Isabelle Family Pass, available all year long. Click here for more details on train passes and discount options.
The Train des Pignes
To go up into the mountains in the other direction, you go to a different Nice train station, called the Chemins de Fer de Provence (tram stop Liberation) that is dedicated to this one mountain run. This train is named after the pine forest that lines the route, and it follows along the Var river to the fabulously preserved walled-and-moated village of Entrevaux, then the town of Annot, finishing much farther on in Digne-les-Bains.
Schedule: To get to Entrevaux takes an hour and 15 minutes, and there are usually 4 trains a day. Here is the 2021 summer schedule.
Insider tip: there are often 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 just really not as fun. You can check the website, but I suggest going by the train station ahead of buying your ticket just to be sure.
Cost: A round-trip ticket to Entrevaux costs 24.40€, children under 12 are 12.20€, children under 4 ride free.
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.
In addition to the regular trains, there is also an authentic old-fashioned steam train that goes up and back once a day, for a very memorable day-trip… Choo-choo! This steam train has separate tickets which you can buy on their site here. A round-trip ticket costs 22€, children under 12 are 18€, family of 2 adults and 2 children 60€, children under 4 ride free.
See Related Pages:
- Coastal Trains on the Riviera
- Cheap Train Tickets and Rail Pass Deals
- Taking the Train from Nice to Italy
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