The Tourist Train of Central VarThe Tourist Train of Central Var runs from Carnoules to Brignoles, rolling, leafy landscapes tucked between Paul Cézanne's beloved Mont Sainte Victoire and the Gorges du Verdon.

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THE ROUTE

The line first opened between 1875 and 1880. During the last century it remained closed for 60 years, but reopened for tourist excursions in 2001. The trip takes between 70 and 80 minutes, depending on the direction of travel.

It's hoped shortly to extend the Tourist Train of Central Var (Le Train Touristique du Centre Var) as far as Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume. This would roughly double the route, which currently runs 24 km / 14 miles.

An illustrated map of the Var Tourist Train's full itinerary is pictured below. Click on the map to enlarge the image.

Trains run between April and October on Sundays (and Wednesdays as well in July and August); their frequency in each direction depends on the time of year.

In the spring and autumn, you will have to start your journey in Carnoules if you want to do a round-trip within the day. However, you can do a round-trip out of Brignoles in the summer season.

Special events include an Easter train with an Easter egg hunt. In winter, a Halloween train runs on 31 October and there is a Father Christmas train (train du Père Noël) in December. The trains are also available for private group hire throughout the year.

Var Tourist Train Route MapThree vintage rail cars from the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s ply the route: a Picasso X-3976, a Caravelle X-4567 and a Caravelle X-2200. An historic steam locomotive, the 141 R 1126, can be seen puffing out of Brignoles station in Daniel Auteuil's 2011 film of Marcel Pagnol's The Well-Digger's Daughter.

You can travel along another section of this route by Vélorail, a sort of giant bicycle that runs along a railway track.

How to get there: you can reach Carnoules by SNCF train on the Marseille-Toulon-Les Arcs-Draguignan line. Note that the tourist train leaves from the Gare des Platanes, a station on the edge of the town, a 25 minute walk from the main SNCF station in the centre.

By car, Carnoules is just off the A57 Toulon-Nice motorway.

Website for the Tourist Train of Central Var

WHAT TO SEE

The route skirts numerous typical provençal villages such as Besse sur Issole, Forcalqueiret, Camps la Source and La Celle.

Vintage poster for the Tourist Train of Central VarA guide may point out special attractions over the train's public address system (though not necessarily in English) and members of the train crew have to hop out periodically to man the level crossings.

The first sight as you leave from Carnoules is the open-air rail depot at Besse where train buffs can view a range of historic engines. The tourist train will either stop here briefly or pass through slowly enough for you to get a good look.

Besse's other big claim to fame is one Gaspard de Besse, an 18th century bandit who, Robin Hood-like, stole from the rich to give to the poor.

All trains stop at the renovated station of Saint Anastasie sur Issole - in fact it's the only stop, since all the other stations along the line are now private houses.

It has a shop selling souvenirs and local produce, including wine, jams and honey. If you pass through at lunchtime, you can also picnic there or eat at the bar (see below).

Pictured top left: a Caravelle X-4567 passing the ruined Château de Castellas near the towns of Forcalqueiret and Garéoult, outside Saint Anastasie.

At the next station, Camps la Source, you can still see the water tower which once used to fill to water tanks of the steam engines. At just over 300 metres / 980 feet, this is also the highest point on the line.

 

On the downhill run into Brignoles, the train passes the former pink marble quarry of Candelon and the village of La Celle, with its 11th century abbey (pictured).

La Celle AbbeyIn Brignoles itself, you can visit the Museum of Brignoles (Musée du Pays Brignolais) in the Palace of Provençal Counts (Le Palais des Comtes de Provence). It covers local crafts and traditions, archeology, sacred art and natural sciences.

Of special interest: the oldest known Christian sarcophagus dating from the third century and - a real curiosity, this - a boat made in 1848 out of concrete. Joseph Lambot had invented ferro-concrete - a mixture of iron and cement which was an early precursor or what we now call reinforced concrete - and built the boat in order to demonstrate it. It seems the contraption actually floated.

There's also a carved stone known as the Embouligo (Navel), because kissing the navel of the figure on it is traditionally reputed to have you married or giving birth within the year.

Musée du Pays Brignolais, 83170 Brignoles. Tel: (+33) 4 94 69 45 18. Website for the Musée du Pays Brignolais

WHERE TO STAY AND TO EAT AND DRINK

Cold drinks are sold in the train itself and in Carnoules a shady car-park next to the station is available for picnicking. If you want to dine out, L'Auberge de la Tuilière is an early 19th century provençal mas, or farmhouse, surrounded by a vine-covered a terrace and garden. It serves gastronomic lunches and dinners.

On the menu you might find foie gras with asparagus and raspberry vinegar, scallops Japanese-style and unusual pâtisserie with fillings such as preserved tomatos. Rooms are also available. L'Auberge de la Tuilière, RN 97, 83660 Carnoules. Tel: (+33) 4 94 48 32 39. Website for L'Auberge de la Tuilière

In Sainte Anastasie a picnic area has been set up near the station. In the village itself, the picturesque Café des Amis serves regional produce such as locally reared rabbit and chicken. Le Café des Amis, 23, rue Notre Dame, 83136 Sainte Anastasie sur Issole. Tel: (+33) 4 94 37 50 01. Advance reservation advised in summer.

In Brignoles there are several options for places to stay. Click here to find a hotel in Brignoles.

 

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