The Bogtrotter

Steaming through the Gardon valley by train

by on Oct.17, 2009, under France, French Experiences

Preserved railway lines are something I always think of as typically English. Who else would spend so much time and effort lovingly restoring an outmoded, dirty, slow form of transport?

So imagine my pleasant surprise at finding a steam train line running throuth the heart of the Cevennes mountains. The Train a Vapeur des Cevennes runs from Anduze to St Jean Du Gard is 13 km, taking a route first opened in 1909 by SNCF after 12 years of planning and construction.

Steaming along in the Cevennes

Steaming along in the Cevennes

The line was closed in 1971, but taken over by volunteers in the mid-1980s and re-opened as a tourist line.

Many of the services are steam-operated but some (particularly the later or off-peak services) are diesel-powered, so check before you arrive if steam is your thing. Several of the carriages are open-sided, giving you the best views over the amazing landscape. But be warned – it can get dirty as the steam and smoke from the engine get funnelled down the train as you go through the tunnels and under the bridges.

View from the Train

View from the Train

The train pulls out of Anduze straight into an 833m tunnel, where the sounds and smells are intensified by the lack of light. As you leave the tunnel you cross onto the viaduct over the river at La Porte des Cevennes. The tracks then creep along the valley side until you reach the magnificent gardens of La Bambouseraie, for the trains only scheduled stop.

A collection of viaducts and river crossings follow, with stunning views out across the valleys and woodlands below. As you approach St Jean du Gard, the valley becomes more defined and the train settles in the valley bottom for the final push up to the station. Once there the village is the ideal location for a spot of lunch or a quiet drink, a classic French rural village where you can lose yourself for a couple of hours.

St Jean Du Gard Station

St Jean Du Gard Station

If you are making a day of it you can stop for a couple of hours at La Bambouseraie on the way back, before taking the last train of the day for the final return to Anduze.

You can find out more about the Train a Vapeur des Cevennes on their web site, including timetables and prices.

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