The Train d’Artouste: Europe’s highest narrow-gauge train

In the heart of the French Pyrenees, the Train d’Artouste offers a thrilling and breathtaking ride through one of France’s most pristine and wild landscapes. As the highest narrow-gauge railway in Europe, it takes passengers on a mesmerizing journey, 2,000 meters above sea level, with the dense fog adding an extra layer of excitement and uncertainty.

The Train d’Artouste promises an experience like no other, where passengers are treated to unobstructed views of the rugged alpine terrain, surrounded by a captivating cloud of mist. The railway’s daring path hugs the mountain’s edge, offering a vertiginous drop to the valley below, making every turn an exhilarating experience. The changing weather adds an element of unpredictability, with moments of bright blue skies transitioning to foggy mysteries.

The adventure begins with a trip through the Bear Tunnel, where passengers dodge droplets from the cave roof before emerging into the sunlight, revealing the lush Vallon du Soussouéou, the clouds below, and distant backlit mountains. According to Jean-Christophe Lalanne, the Train d’Artouste’s station director, the uniqueness of their open-air trains lies in the opportunity to fully immerse oneself in the natural beauty of the Pyrenees.

The Pyrenees, a mountainous chain separating south-western France from north-western Spain, is home to various adrenaline-inducing railways. The Train de la Rhune takes passengers to the summit of La Rhune, offering views of the ocean, while the Train Jaune traverses 19 tunnels and 40 bridges. However, the Train d’Artouste stands out for its intimate, unobstructed mountain experience, allowing passengers to feel the wind, sun, and hear the sounds of the mountains without the confines of coach roofs or walls.

The journey begins at Lac de Fabrèges, just 7 kilometers from the Spanish border, where passengers embark on a 10-minute gondola ride that climbs 1,900 meters to reach the departing train station. The charming red-and-canary-yellow carriages, resembling oversized toy trains, welcome passengers for a 10-kilometer, 55-minute one-way ride along the mountain’s edge, concluding at the Lac d’Artouste station. There, passengers can disembark to explore the beauty of Lac d’Artouste and the surrounding mountains for a half or full day, or even embark on multi-day hiking trips.

Throughout the train ride, the landscape unfolds in all its glory, featuring wild pink rhododendrons, pine trees defying gravity on the cliffside, cascading waterfalls, and oblivious chubby marmots. The open-air experience amplifies the rhythmic sounds of the train as it clacks along the tracks, creating a captivating metronome-like beat that accompanies passengers throughout their journey.

The Train d’Artouste offers a unique and unforgettable experience, allowing travelers to intimately connect with the wild beauty of the Pyrenees, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking adventure and a taste of nature’s wonders.- BBC

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