Running from Rivesaltes, just off the N9 north of Perpignan, to Axat, high up in the Fenouillèdes is a railway line 100 years old. It was built at the very beginning of the XX century to connect Rivesaltes to Carcasonne. Sadly the spectacular stretch between Quillan and St Martin-Lys became unsafe and was cut. However three men, train enthusiasts, were determined to breathe new life into the old line and in 1993 the Association of the Train du Pays Cathare et du Fenouillèdes was formed.
The SNCF was selling off its 1960s “Picasso” autorails at a reasonable price, so they purchased some and it was in 2002 that they began circulating between Cases de Pene and Lapradelle.
The Route and Wine Tasting
At Rivesaltes station, the bright red and white carriages of the TPCF await you, small and gentle beside the speeding TGVs and international freight trains. The country through which it passes is a land of vines and Cathar Castles, a slow climbing journey of over 60 kms. As it leaves Cases de Pène, on the left hand side you can see the tiny hermitage church of Notre Dame de Pène, on the right the vineyards of Château de Jau. Tasting lunches and dinners held by the lake in the shade of a 300 year-old mulberry tree are a must-do for all wine enthusiasts.
June to the last Sunday of September. 0468389138.
Next stop: Estagel, birthplace of François Arago.
Look out for Mas Amiel with its multiple glass ‘bonbonnes’ full of naturally sweet wine. This 80 hectare domaine was won in a game of cards two centuries ago by Raymond Etienne Amiel, and originally belonged to the gambling Bishop of Perpignan. And the Chateau de Queribus standing on the skyline across the vines as you draw into Maury. Maury station is owned by Cave of the Vignerons of Maury, 0468590095, get off here for tasting and castle visits.
On the front of the station, you will also get a taster of something else that Maury is famous for – its murals! Is that really a dog standing in front of a wine barrel? In fact, is that really a wine barrel? These incredible ‘Trompe l”Oeil’ throughout the village were painted by Bernard Gout from Perpignan and are well worth a wander round the village to look at.
At St Paul de Fenouillet, on some trips, a bus is laid on to explore the Gorges de Galamus with its spectacular and dramatic scenery, for a delightful picnic by the pretty rock pools.
The train moves on to Caudiès de Fenouillèdes, last stop in the P-O and main office of the TPCF. At Lapradelle the train stops on the 1904 viaduct to allow you to admire the Chateau of Puilaurens. A series of tunnels and a sharp climb end on a viaduct over the Aude and more fantastic views before finally stopping in the pretty little town of Axat. In the reception hut is a perfect model of Axat Station in the 60s made by one of the founder members of the TPCF.
The timetable and differing circuits vary from month to month. All are exciting and fun. Why not meet Father Christmas on the train in December, rub noses with the Easter bunny at Easter or try the Scary Halloween Special on 31 October? The train can also be booked for private parties.
Tickets and info: 0468599618. www.tpcf.fr