The Scenic Yellow Train Ride Through the French Pyrenees

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The Yellow Train is a local commuter train running through the French Pyrenees’s national park from Villefrance-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol/Enveitg at Spanish border. It runs on a 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) gauge railway. Construction started in 1903 and the section to Mont-Louis was completed in 1910, followed by an extension to Latour-de-Carol/Enveitg in 1927. The trains are powered by electricity at 850 volts DC, supplied by third rail.

The Yellow Train on the road
The Yellow Train on the road

The line is single-track with passing loops at, for example, Mont-Louis La Cabanasse.  It follows an impressive 63 km long route along the national railway line.  From its lower terminal at Villefranche-de-Conflent at an altitude of 427 meters, the railway rises through a scenery to its summit at an altitude of 1592m above sea level. The summit is at the highest railway station Bolqure Eyne in France. After that, the railway then falls through the Pyrenees’ valley to the final station at Latour de Cartol.

The main stops of the Yellow Train

The train stops at many towns and villages. Among them, three are of interest.

  • Villefrance-de-Conflent, where the yellow train starts. It is a UNESCO city hidden in the Pyrenees.
  • Mont-Louis La Cabanasse,  which also has a UNESCO site.
  • Latour de Carol Envetic, which is hardly known for tourists but probably well-known by train lovers all around the world.

Most of stops are “request stops”, the train only stops at a station when someone requires to get on of off.

The Yellow Train
The Yellow Train

The Yellow Train Schedule

The Yellow Train runs several times a day between Villefrance-de-Conflent to Monte Louis, but less frequent further to the Spanish border. It takes at least 3 hours from Villefrance-de-Conflent to Latour de Carol Envetic. So It is not necessary to take an entire return journey within a day.  However, you can take the part between Villefrance-de-Conflent to Mont-Louis La Cabanasse.  Please see below my plan for the day trip.

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Our plan for the Yellow Train Ride

It was in the summer when we took the ride. To better utilize the traveling time, we arranged our ride in this way.  In the morning around 8:00 we drove to Villefrance-de-Conflent and bought return tickets for Villefrance-de-conflent<=>Mont-Louis La Cabanasse. The train departures at lunchtime.

Therefore, we had several hours free before lunch. So we drove to Mont-Louis La Cabanasse and visited the place. En Route we stopped at several places to catch the bridge and gorge views, specially the unusual rail suspension bridge at Pont Gisclard between Sauto and Planès.

Gisclard suspension bridge
Gisclard suspension bridge

After visiting the Mont-Louis La Cabanasse, we drove back to Villefrance-en-Conflent to take the train departure at lunch time. We took the Yellow Train to Mont-Louis La Cabanasse, and took the next train right away back to Villefrance-de-Conflent.

In the late afternoon, we were back to Villefrance-de-Conflent. It was just the best time to see the places because most tourists were leaving. We had no problem to park our car right outside the wall.

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Scenic sites along the route

Between Villefrance-de-Conflent and Mont-Louis La Cabanasse there are two bridges crossing the gorges, the Pont Séjourné and the Gisclard suspension bridge. The train crosses over the bridges, but you can only capture a partial view of them. You can, however, drive there to enjoy the views. The roads between the two places are well-maintained and there are not so many traffic even during the summer holiday times. There are several observation points along the roads.

Compartment of the Yellow Train
Compartment of the Yellow Train
town Hall in Olette, a small town not far from Villefranche-de-Conflent
town Hall in Olette, a small town not far from Villefranche-de-Conflent

During this unique journey, the Yellow Train climbs up the steep mountains and down to the valleys, crosses wonderful mountainous landscapes and passes many tunnels.  It has open compartments for tourists to see the surrounding natures and engineering objects along the route. It is a very scenic ride through the Mountains and gorges. Therefore it is more or less a train for sightseeing.

It was a very hot day, we decided to sit inside instead of the open compartment to avoid getting sun burn. Our family was the only guest in the compartment. There were only a few passengers in the entire train. On the way up the train drove slowly but on the way down it drove very quick. Between the compartments there are standing platforms where we also enjoyed spectacular panoramic views.  It is a good position for us to take some scenic pictures.

Pont Séjourné, the stone arch railway bridges in Pyrénées-Orientales
Pont Séjourné, the stone arch railway bridges in Pyrénées-Orientales

The landscape and culture (mix of French, Spanish and Catalan) in this area are quite different from the well known Côte d’Azur. It is a very popular holiday destination among French and Spanish. Actually, we saw many Spanish and French tourists taking the Yellow Train.

Conclusion

The Yellow Train is a symbol of Catalonia.  Historically it linked Cerdanya’s high plains to the rest of the region. Today The Yellow Train of the Pyrenees is one of many tourist attractions in France. It offers a unique journey that ranks among the top railway routes in the world. Besides the scenic views, it is also famous of its connection with three different rail systems, the standard gauge used by French rail system, the Iberian gauge of the line starting at Latour-de-Carol/Enveitg, and metre gauge of the Yellow Train. If you take the Yellow Train to the end station, you will see the three systems at Latour-de-Carol/Enveitg. It is worth to take a Yellow Train ride when you are in the area and is a nice thing to do with kids.

View of the valley from the Yellow Train
View of the valley from the Yellow Train

Tips for Yellow Train Ride

  • The schedule of the Yellow Train changes from time to time.  Please always check it online timetable.
  • In the summer time, the first train in the morning is usually busy and full. You probably won’t get tickets if you are not early enough. So allow yourself to have enough time to arrange the tickets.
  • The Yellow Train runs all year round, its timetable has seasonal variations. Buy tickets at the station ticket offices
  • Make sure to take a Yellow Train leaflet. It describes all the points of interest, and is written by the Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees.

 

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