Évol, Département Pyrénées-Orientales and surroundings
While yesterday was all about nature and exercise, today is about technology and technology that reduces the need for exercise. Lucky me.
This area has the highest count of sun hours in Europe. And for that reason the Heliodyssee-Grand Four Solaire of Odeillo, the great solar oven was built in the Capcir. I always wanted to see it since is was on the cover of my physics book more than 30 years ago.
Picture copyright of Google Maps.
Alas, it shall not be. It is not quiet clear if the Grand Four is open for visitors at the moment. And the road to Odeillo is closed for roadworks. The detour is also closed for road works.
Thus we settle for a smaller working model in Mount-Luis.
With the added advantage that the lad can set fire to some stuff.
Then it is down the valley of the Têt to Villefranche to Conflent. Another of Vauban’s magnificent fortifications. Thus there is no excuse that I totally missed taking meaningful pictures of this small town.
But before, have a look at these impressive bridges. We are coming to them in a minute.
The highlight at the end of the holiday is the ride on a very unique train, le Petit Train Jeaune, the little yellow train.
It is not only unique in one, but in quite a few categories. Its narrow gauge, its the only narrow gauge railway in the SNCF network, it has got a third rail (which supplies the the power, a bit like at some undergrounds), serves the highest station in France, Bolquère at an elevation of 1593m and it is part of the Unesco World Heritage List since 2002. The track is most spectacular und the rolling stock is rather unusual.
We tried to get some tickets online as well as at the station in Villefranhce-de-Conflent. And failed.
About-France has a helpful website about the train, and also a clever strategy how you can actually pre-book tickets. Wikipedia also writes about the Ligne the Cerdagne as its officially called. And there is a very interesting TV program about it, alas in German.
With the service part done with, we arrive at the station in Villefranche-de-Conflent well in time. Villefranche is the centre of operation for the line and is a very impressive station for a town with just 200 residents.
Four mainline tracks, with the narrow gauge tracks at the other side of the shelter.
We don’t know it yet, but we will travel in the old train. Very good.
All here is manual. The conductor/guard checks all the paper tickets and punches a little hole into them. But eventually the about eighty passengers have boarded the train and we start at time.
Past a turntable:
Soon the track starts to rise. Over 40 kms it climbs over a 1000 metres in altitude. Not only the nature is breathtaking. Also the amount and quality of engineering works is astounding.
Note how this small station building clings to the mountain side.
Just one of a few dozens, mostly shortish, tunnels.
The whole area is famous for its hot springs and its associated bathes. With the approach of evidence based medicine they are not as popular as they used to be. A lot of hotels are thus empty or in ruins.
This is a particular nice example, fully covered in ivy, that colours it red in autumn.
With the help of the Pont Séjourné, opened 1910, the line crosses the River Têt.
There are over 20 stations along the line, but regularly it only stops at a couple of them. But you can just wait at any station and flag the train down, or tell the conductor, were you wish to get of. As those guys do.
The biggest engineering highlight must be the Pont de Cassagne.
The siffler sign announces a level- crossing and tells the driver to the sound the signal.
Our train reaches his terminus at Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via. But there are although trains that travel the whole line to Latour-de-Carol.
We have 30 minutes stop before the train returns to Villefranche.
Font-Romeau is too far away to walk there and back in 30 minutes. So we just enjoy the sun and the scenery of the Cerdagne.
The line has reached the high plateau and the scenery is much more benign that deeper down the narrow valley.
Winter is round the corner.
After a very enjoyable ride down the valley we settle for a very nice dinner at Le Patio in Villefranche. Then back for an early night at our mountain home.