A few weeks back I was headed for Villefranche-de-Conflent in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The reason? To ride the famous Train Jaune or Canari as it is also called. I set off early in the morning to catch the 9.50 from Villefranche to Latour-de-Carol, from a drizzly St Chinian. I had family staying, and we’d decided that if we didn’t go that day we’d never make it, so despite the dismal weather we were on our way. As we got nearer Perpignan the rain stopped and it got a little brighter, although no blue skies in sight. The station in Villefranche has an enormous car park, but since it was out of season we were one of the first to arrive and patiently queued up behind the rope.
Once the driver and the guard had arrived we boarded the train and managed to get seats in the one open carriages – yess!! Whilst waiting we had debated the merits of being in the open at length, but decided the views would be well worth it!
And soon we were on our way, climbing into the Pyrenees, past villages, looking down into ravines and past abandoned stations. The railway line was built in the early 1900s with the aim to connect the Cerdagne region to the rest of France. Planning had started in 1800s but the complications of the terrain and the intervening first world war meant that the last section from Bourg-Madame to Latour-de-Carol was only opened in 1927.
As we continued our climb the clouds started to lift and bit by bit it got warmer! The last picture above is of Le Pont Séjourné, one of the most famous bridges along the line. Unfortunately from the train you don’t get to see the full extent of this impressive structure, it’s better viewed from the road :-(.
But the views more than made up for that, as we were leaving the clouds behind us. The line is single track for most of its length, so the up and down trains have to pass one another at certain stations along the way. Here we are at Fontpedrouse, waiting for the down train.
Et voila, we have arrived at Mont-Louis, where we board the down train! On the winter timetable the wait between trains can be around 4 hours, and with the weather starting to cloud over we decided not to take a chance. Mont-Louis is very close to the highest railway station at Bolquere (1593m), but we’ll explore that another time! Oh and can you guess why the train is nicknamed Le Canari?
Red and yellow are the Catalan colours, and we were in the midst of French Catalunya. Oh, and I’ve forgotten the tunnels – there are a good many of them, and they are great fun – everyone in the open cars took pictures of one-another in the dark and some howled :-)! The little huts along the way were built as a means of turning off the electric current on sections of the line. The trains are powered by means of a third rail and 850 Volt. On the left of the picture above you can just see the hydroelectric power station which generates the electricity needed for the trains.
Here’s another view of the Pont Séjourné, and below the ancient bridge across the Tet river, linking Villefranche-de-Conflent to the fort on the hillside above.
I leave you here with a picture of the rocks above the station in Villefranche – the rocks have the most wonderful colouring, they almost glow. The Train Jaune is definitely a trip to take at some time; if you suffer from vertigo you can always sit inside in one of the covered carriages.
I’ll tell you about my visit of Villefranche in another post…