If you think that Provence’s most challenging train route is just for tourists, then think again. The Train des Pignes’ (www.trainprovence.com) single gauge railway rattles through tunnels, bridges, and viaducts to connect the region’s most isolated communities. The scenery is immense. The topography shunts from the palm trees of Nice to the rugged Gorges de Vésubie, before hitting the Alpine woodland of Puget-Théniers and the (almost) year-round snows before Digne-les-Bains.
The coal burners aboard the first steam trains were lit with pignes (pinecones), hence the train’s current name. The original steam engine still plies the route every Sunday morning in summer. It’s run by volunteers who are particularly receptive to rail enthusiasts. More modern trains make the same journey three to four times daily.