In Nice? Take the Train des Pignes to Entrevaux!

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"see Entrevaux when you take the Train des Pignes"

Two scenic train rides from Nice into its alpine back country are on the itinerary of most Riviera visits: the Train des Merveilles (to Tende near the Italian frontier) and the Train des Pignes (to Digne-les-Bains in the northwest).

Ticking off the Train des Merveilles from our own travel schedule was one of the first things we did on the Riviera – we had not even moved for good in the area yet and were still looking for a new home. We finally decided to take the Train des Pignes last week, a full four years later.

Why did we wait for so long to “take off the other shoe”? As usual in such cases, for a mix of reasons. There was certainly no clear plan to avoid doing it, although it must be said that once you have done one Scenic Train Ride, there is far less urgency to do The Other One. But there were also some hard, logistical problems, most of them coming down to the railway schedules. They, after all, determine what you can reasonably do during a one-day trip on the Train des Pignes.

There are four departures from Nice on the Train des Pignes every day. The journey to Digne-les-Bains takes up 3.5 hours, almost twice as much as the ride from Nice to Tende on the Train des Merveilles. Travelling to Digne, this would mean that – unless you are prepared to take the first train at 6:55 in the morning (which requires an iron discipline even if you are based in Nice) – you would spend considerably more time on the train than at your destination.

Some people will not think that this is a problem, including many train enthusiasts for whom the ride on the Chemin de Fer de Provence is an adventure in its own right. For everybody else, however, there are alternatives: the train stops at quite a few attractive little hilltop towns, the first of which are only a little more than one hour away from Nice. But be careful and take a close look – again – at the railway timetables. If you take the 9.25 train out of Nice (the sensible choice), you will have to spend roughly seven hours at your destination unless you want to return more or less directly on the next train.

Seven hours can be quite a stretch, and we had visited enough historic hilltop villages in the Riviera’s back country to approach our trip to Entrevaux – which was the destination we had picked from the list of Train des Pignes stations – with a fair amount of trepidation.

"visit the old town of Entrevaux when you take the Train des Pignes"

In the end, however, time almost flew by. We took our time to take a close look at Entrevaux’s historic village centre …

"old town of Entrevaux"

… and sat down for lunch before going for a walk.

Many towns alongside the route of the Train des Pignes offer their visitors a short-to-medium-length walk in order to help them pass their time: Digne itself has the Sentier de Caguerenard (90 minutes from the Tourism Office) and Annot the Sentier Bleu des Gres d’Annot (2 hrs 30 minutes from the train station) while Entrevaux offers you the Chemin de Ronde that zig-zags up a steep mountain to the town’s most famous building, the medieval citadel.

This is an interesting walk, with many panoramic views over the town …

"view of old town of entrevaux - when you take the Train des Pignes"

… as well as its alpine surroundings, …

"alpine view from Entrevaux when you take the Train des Pignes"

… and the citadel itself was far more interesting than it may look from below.

It features several levels, including dungeons and prisons (last used for German officers in WWI) …

"view from prison cell in the citadel in Entrevaux - take the Train des Pignes"

 

… as well as a viewing platform on top, from where a sentinel would have kept the entire area under observation and where the commander of the fortress had his living quarters.

"view from highest part of the Citadel in Entrevaux - take the Train des Pignes"

The fortress as you see it today has been largely unchanged since the 16th century, although Vauban – perhaps the greatest military architect of all times – had been assigned by the Sun King Louis XIV to strengthen its defences. In the end, Vauban found little to improve in the building’s fabric itself.

He did, however, make it easier to supply the citadel and to reinforce it with fresh troops: the access road, the zig-zagging foot path up that leads up the hill, was his work. Until then, there had been virtually no contact between town and fortress.

"way up the Citadelle in Entrevaux"

In order to enter the foot path at the bottom of the hill, you have to purchase a jeton (€ 3 p.p.) and insert it into a turnstyle. You can buy these jetons at a coin-operated machine right next to the turnstyle, but if you do not have enough small change, you will need to do this at the downtown tourism office right behind the historic Porte Royale.

"Porte Royale of Entrevaux"

Be aware that they close for lunch, so it is probably best to do this first thing after your arrival.

Also note: the trains of the Chemin de Fer de Provence do NOT leave from Nice Ville (central station) but from a custom-built station on rue Alfred Binet.

How to find the Chemin de Fer de Provence in Nice

To get there, leave Nice Ville station through the main entrance, turn left and left again on the busy main road, continuing underneath the bridge into Av. Malaussena.

Just before you reach the Place du General de Gaulle (with a lively farmers’ market) turn left into Rue Clement Roassal and then just follow the signs (you are almost there).

The walk from station-to-station will take you approx. 10 to 15 minutes, which you must account for when planning your journey.

"Chemin de Fer de Provence in Nice to take the Train des Pignes"

 

On your next Riviera visit, make sure to take the Train des Pignes. It would be worth your while for sure!

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4 comments to In Nice? Take the Train des Pignes to Entrevaux!

  • To be honest with you, Rahul, I don’t know to what extent going by bus is a viable alternative. You probably can piece together a bus route from Nice to Entrevaux or even to Digne, but to actually use such a route – spending time at two or three stopovers – might take such a large chunk out of your day that the issue of “scenicness” will somehow fade into the background. (There is a direct bus from Nice to Entrevaux, no. 790, but the way I understand the schedule, there are only a few departures per week, and in practice, you are restricted to leaving Nice on a Sunday at 9:00 a.m. and to returning at 5 p.m.)
    Having said that, when taking the bus IS a viable alternative, you do indeed tend to see more. There is, for example, a superior alternative to the Train des Merveilles, the region’s other popular tourist railway, which is the bus 905 from Menton to Tende. We will blog about that sometime later this year.

  • Rahul

    Is it more scenic to go by bus, then by train?
    Read on the internet, the journey is more picturesque by bus?

  • You are absolutely right, Kathleen. We also enjoyed the train ride and the views along the trip!

  • Kathleen

    Took this trip on one of our regular trips to Nice. We also went as far as Entrevaux, train journey was memorable in itself!Well worth it!

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