I’m considering Eurostar deals to get to the train jaune, the little yellow train in the French Pyranees because it’s supposed to be one of the most spectacular train journeys in Europe, as well as the highest by altitude. Le Petit Train Jaune is the popular name for the Cerdagne line in the southwest corner of France, close to the border with Spain, a narrow gauge railway running through the Cerdagne mountains from Villefranche de Conflent to Latour de Carol. The attraction for tourism is obvious, with open top carriages and panoramic views from the highest railway line in Europe – yes even higher than those little trains in the Swiss and French Alps.
So working backwards from the train jaune, how do you get there by connecting Eurostar deals and TGV all the way from London?
To The Train Jaune via Andorra
Well on the Spanish side, the independent principality of Andorra which actually borders with France as well, is quite close to the western terminal of the train jaune, but you need to get a taxi between Andorra and Latour de Carol since the bus service was apparently withdrawn in 2005. The taxi from L’Hospitalet near Andorra to La tour de Carol costs around 50-60 euro which is quite steep for a 20km trip.
It is possible though to miss out Andorra entirely by catching the overnight ‘Lunéa’ sleeper train from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz as follows:
Eurostar Deals to l’Hospitalet près l’Andorre
Get tickets for the London to Paris Eurostar which departs from London St Pancras station at 16:22 and arrives at Paris Gare du Nord at 19:47. The best Eurostar deals for this train (from £39 one-way or £69 return 2nd class) are available close to 3 months in advance. You then travel across Paris by metro to Gare d’Austerlitz. Proceed from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to l’Hospitalet près l’Andorre overnight by ‘Lunéa’ sleeper train, leaving Paris (Gare d’Austerlitz) at 21:56 and arriving at l’Hospitalet at 07:20. This train has 1st class 4-berth couchettes, 2nd class 6-berth couchettes and 2nd class reclining seats. It does not run on 24th or 31st December. It can sometimes be affected by engineering works, so check the service for your date of travel using www.raileurope.co.uk or www.tgv-europe.com.
A daily bus service then connects with the train from Paris, leaving L’Hospitalet station forecourt at 07:35 for Pas de la Casa (arriving 08:15), Soldeu (08:40), Encamp, and Andorra La Vella, arriving 09:05. It’s a very scenic ride through the Pyrenees – try and get the front seats for the best views. The bus is operated by La Hispano Andorrana SL, www.andorrabus.com. Subject to cancellation when the mountain passes are blocked by snow!
OK, I’ve just realised that what I’ve just done is to plan a long journey to get to Andorra which then requires another bus and a taxi in order to get the the little yellow train – le petit train jaune! Not the best solution at all.
Eurostar Deals to Perpignan
From the other end of the line, the Eastern or French side, it looks more straightforward since there is a direct connection from Perpignan to Villefranche de Conflent, where the little yellow train starts. And you can get to Perpignan by Eurostar deals from London for as little as £101.00 with a journey time fo from 08h32m with only one change from Paris Gare du Nord to Paris Gare de Lyon. I just checked and some return tickets are even available for as little as £89.50 each way, All the way from London to the far southwest corner of France, which seems like one of the best Eurostar deals of the decade to me!
Eurostar Deals - London to Perpignan
At Perpignan there is a standard SNCF train to Villefranche de Conflent from which you can transfer onto le petit train jaune for the most amazing journey high up in the Pyrenees, passing through little Catalan villages where life is so different to Paris or London.
This train is a real adventure for young and old alike.
Alternatives to Eurostar Deals
Whichever route you take by train it’s going to take the best part of 24 hours on and off travelling to get there. You could always fly direct by Ryanair from London Stansted to Perpignan ( until 28 Oct 11 / restarts 25 Mar 2012 ) or from Southampton to Perpignan with Flybe from 19/5/2012 so is it going to be worth it?
On Board the Train Jaune
The actual train ride, especially in the open top carriages, really looks like a panoramic film, accompanied by a soundtrack from the pivoting bogeys, situated halfway up the steep slopes of the valley of the Tet. The little yellow train then crosses the mountain pass into smooth bucolic open spaces at the foot of Canigou, the Cambre d’Aze, Carlit and Puigmal, catching sight of the silhouette of the Serra del Cadi in the distance.
At the cusp of a bend, we see a village or a Romanesque church, then navigate the entrance to the narrow valleys of the Upper Conflent, normally available only to hikers. In winter there are magnificent ski slopes along the sides of Cerdagne.
Le Train Jaune is considered one of the best Catalan heritage railways, since it has some quite remarkable features. This is the highest railway line in France (without rack and pinion) with a high point at the station of Bolquère Eyne which rises to 1592 meters above sea level, a vertical climb of 1165 meters from the station of Villefranche at 427 meters. Inclines reach 6% over a significant portion of the route and follow very tight curves which necessitate a careful low-speed journey.
Finally, the yellow train passes through the rich countryside of the Regional Natural Park of Pyrénées Orientales. The train Jaune actually connects two UNESCO World Heritage sites – Villefranche de Conflent and Mont-Louis, known worldwide for their medieval fortifications built by Vauban, 1633 – 1707, the foremost military engineer of his age.
This is the only railway line that connects the Cerdagne to the plain of Roussillon, opening up the region as a recognised public service.
The yellow train has been an electrified line right from its construction, 100 years ago, and so is perfectly in line with modern environmentally friendly transportation practises.
But the main attractions at the ned of the day, after travelling all those rail miles to get there, starting with the Eurostar or whatever, the point is to take in the views, the atmosphere and the fresh, pine-scented, mountain air These pictures may give just a taste of that:
Eurostar Deals – London to Perpignan
The Cerdagne line is better known as “Le Train Jaune” or “El Tren Groc” in Catalan, owing to the livery worn by its rolling-stock which reflects the colours of the Catalan flag.