I had been dying to go on the Train de Pignes (steam engine) for years, at least ten, but was told that the train is limited to Sunday only. Thoughts of jammed train cars with tourists is never part of my plan, and Monday offered a lesser crowd, primarily a window seat with a view.
I had to settle for a more modern train; the Chemin de Fer de Provence, a narrow-gauge rail, that runs during the week.
Entrevaux once a Roman town
Either train would promise adventure, and a scenic view of mountain valleys, and old train stations. There are several towns to explore and we chose Entrevaux, an impressive, picturesque, (Roman) town which overlooks the Var River. It’s not a cheap ride either – € 24.00 per person. If you are a student on a budget the bus is € 2.00.
We left at 9:25 am. The first 20 minutes of suburban Nice were boring, until I saw the steel-blue Var River, flowing downhill southeasterly, eventually empting up into the Mediterranean.
The river was alongside of the tracks most of the way, and as suburbia disappears, it is a wonderful addition to the wild scenery. A huge rabbit ran across the river bed too quickly for a picture. Granite sediments no doubt affect the water color because it doesn’t look real to me. After 75, minutes, 11 stops, tunnels and bridges, we arrived at Entravaux.
France defense against the Savoie invaders
The town is on the edge of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence; a couple of miles inside France. Plenty of history here between the House of Savoy and France. A typical turbulent past of conquering and stealing.
Gateway to France…
Entrevaux has retained its fortified village. The roof tops appear dilapidated, yet the clock tower posted the correct time. You have to walk on an ancient draw-bridge, over the river, like entering a magic kingdom.
The streets are narrow and the buildings tall, and clean; many flower pots punctuate the area to give color and warmth. Looking up at the Citadel, I was pleased we were not in a rush, and that it was a self-guided tour.
This town offered unusual history and exercise, with spectacular views from a rocky peak that overlooks the village with views of olive trees and mountains in the distance. Fall could be awesome here…
Entrevaux is dominated by the Citadel that is accessible on a half-mile footpath built in the 12th century. It was steep and rugged, yet worth the effort. As you walk up-ward, you get the sense how this was built into the mountain top.
It takes 25 minutes to walk up the zig-zag path, but for me, I made a few stops for photos, and to look out through the “loophole” in the ramparts.
Rather desolate, the fortress was used up until the beginning of the 20th century, and it served as a prison for German Officers during the WWI.
Some of the prison cells had views, but the built-in “stone shelf” bed, undoubtedly, was cold and uncomfortable, and appeared only about 5-feet long, consequently, too short to stretch out. We didn’t venture into the dungeons because they seemed too dark.
Built-in Prison bed
Above the prison was the top of the Citadel with a fantastic view of the valley.
For a jet fighter, the castle would be an easy target, but to the medieval warrior, almost certain death trying to scale its heights.
The town was so unique we decided to have lunch and stay longer; soak it all up and not rush. A little rain fell and we hid under the rampart gates, which gave us some protection on the way down.
The dark clouds were punctuated by blue skies, but the rainbows that we fully expected never materialized.
Port d’Italy – Entrevaux was once located on the border of France and Italy.
If you’ve been to a medieval town, they are usually similar in narrow streets. All have character and charm. Expect to find a few local artists, restaurants and cafes to enjoy. They make their living from tourists, so pick wisely.
We opted for the inside of the Auberge de Planet Restaurant, away from the rain and it didn’t disappoint us with a good choice of duck.
La Pain d’Epicerie – We visited this store and chatted with the owner, Helena. It was an opportunity to speak French and she was delighted. She toured us around her impeccable clean kitchen that she was very proud of.
We bought her chocolate cake, pain d’épice, which is famous here…it is unique and addictive and disappeared quickly that evening.
Helena was working on some bottled vinegar and we bought that too!
While resting and waiting for the 4:15 pm train for Nice, we enjoyed un café. Despite the drab weather it was satisfying to be in this medieval walled town. It was worth every breath, and every step.
In brief: We didn’t get to see the Cycle museum, flour mill or the olive mill. They are saved for another visit in October, I just might get on that Train de Pignes!
Several of us were right by these train tracks and the view to the left was totally a hoot! What do you call a row of VW vans? Maybe Vee-dub camp Fest…or surf’s up!