Being from Nice, people are often puzzled as to why anyone would leave such a wonderful place to live in London. Well it is one of the most vibrant, exciting and lively cities on earth, nonetheless at times cold, damp and polluted.
For various reasons, life has brought me here and I don’t regret it for a second.
Do I ever miss the south of France? Of course I do. Cycling in the autumn sun on the Promenade des Anglais, sitting on the rocks, at the Cap de Nice, outside the port watching the ferries setting out for Corsica with their myriad of travellers excitingly waving from the decks, spending an evening under the stars listening to music in the Arenes de Cimiez during the Jazz Festival… who wouldn’t?
Amongst all these memories, there is one which stands out and that I want to share with you today in the hope that maybe you will too decide to make the jump and hop on board…
The Train des Pignes is one of the best kept secrets of the French Riviera and an outstanding day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of Nice. For 100 years now, the Chemins de Fer de Provence transport company has provided regular service between Nice and Puget-Théniers, in a traditional railcar, going across two departments (the Alpes-Maritimes and the Alpes de Haute-Provence), around 20 villages, 16 viaducts, 15 metal bridges and through 50 tunnels.
The train ride through the mountain is indeed spectacular – particularly between Entrevaux and Saint Andre Les Alpes. It is quite an amazing experience to find yourself staring – from what looks like the tiniest train track- at the river 90ft below. You can get off and on at any stops you choose, or you can arrange in advance to get off at one of the designated tourist stops for a pre-paid lunch and/ or tour. Two good examples being the beautiful medieval village of Entrevaux or Saint Andre Les Alpes
Everything about this trip is magical, even the name of the train! For some, the term “Train de Pignes” (pignes meaning pinecones) comes from a legend: one day when there was not enough coal to move the locomotive the train driver collected pinecones from the banks of the railway and used them for fuel.
For others, the name comes from the slowness of the train, allowing passengers to get off and back on the moving train while having enough time to pick pine cones lining the track. In the summer months, the historic steam locomotive is still used. During the rest of the year a diesel engine pulls the train.
So the next time you are aboard a London commuter train rushing to get to work as I sometimes do, have a thought for the Train de Pignes… The magic and wonder will hopefully make the crowded journey a bit more passable!