One of the more unique and family fun adventures I have had in Provence was taking a ride on the Vélorail de la Sainte Baume.
The idea behind the vélorail concept began in 2004 as a way to promote tourism while at the same time preserving the history of the French railway system. The Vélorail of France Federation went about creating small railroad “cars” that connected “bicycles” on each track with 3 seats in the back for a total of 5 people maximum per car, of which 2 can pedal in order to make the car move. Note: You must have 2 people on the ride in order to petal effectively. The result: a slightly sportive (don’t worry, it’s not a marathon) and fun way to see the area.
How it works
Once you have boarded your “bike/train”, there is a 10 minute introduction that gives you the information on what to do and what not to do. I do not know if anyone in the crew speaks English, but the basics are simple: Have fun, don’t follow the car in front of you too closely, you must do the entire ride, the two people who are pedaling must coordinate the use of their breaks at the same time, and the back break should be used in a gentle motion (meaning do not pull up too hard on the break or you’ll be sorry). A little excerpt on this last one: We were told that a guy had pulled up too hard on the back break resulting in it getting stuck and he had to pedal the entire way back with the break on. You do not want to experience that, trust me.
The entire roundtrip tour is about 2 hours. It goes from the little village of Pourcieux to the larger ville of Saint-Maximin-de-la-Sainte-Baume and is about 15 km in total (7 ½ km each way). When heading out of Pourcieux you will be going slightly uphill for the first 3 km or so and then the rest is a fabulous downhill ride just until you reach Saint-Maximin. Once you arrive there, you will be instructed by one of the crew to disembark so he can turn the rail car around for heading back. Once all groups have arrived and everyone has had a water break, you will head back in the opposite direction. This time you will be going slightly up hill for the first 4 ½ km and making a decent the rest of the way.
What you will see
Along your two hour sight-seeing tour as you pedal through the countryside, you will see the Chateau of Pourcieux (on the right almost immediately from take-off and if you miss it remember to look left once you are nearly back that the Pourcieux train station), the beautiful vineyards of Provence, the country homes, and the sweeping landscape of the valley and hills of Sainte Baume. You get to travel under and over bridges and through a tunnel. Since my family is American we had to do the “choo-choo” sound going into the tunnel. I don’t know if this is customary in any other country since the rail cars in front of us and behind us thought we were crazy, but that’s okay because we are!
You are not allowed to get off the ride at any time, but you can slow down as many times as you want in order to take photos or make a change in the people who are pedaling.
The uphill pedal is not very hard at all; you absolutely do not need to be an athlete in order to do it. I saw both children and grandmas getting their pedaling on, so you need not worry that it will be too exhausting. The downhill part is the best fun of all, you can actually get going really fast if you want to and then you sound like a real train! It’s great!
This was so much fun that I would love to check out the other Vélorails around France and experience the rest of France this way, too. I’ve actually put that on my travel wish list. It’s such a wonderful way to see France, get some exercise and just have family fun because nearly everyone can do it.
Where it’s located, parking, operating hours, pricing and reservations…
The starting point of the adventure is in the very small Provencal, village of Pourcieux. This is the only place where you can board the ride.
Parking is free and located just next to the train station and around the corner.
Pricing is 27 Euros per group (not per person). This makes for a cost effective way to see this area of Provence and is definitely a bargain.
The Vélorail website states that pets are not allowed to ride, but I did see two groups of people bring their small dogs. For the safety of your pet, I highly counsel you not to bring them. If you decide to do so, it will be at your own risk and you could be turned away by the company and not allowed to ride.
The Vélorail is open 7 days a week, weather permitting and if no work is being done on the rail lines.
Between 01 November and 20 November, there are 3 departure times– 10:00am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm
Between 21 November and 28 February, there are 2 departure time– 11:00am and 2:00pm
In Summer, Spring and Autumn:
Between 01 March and 31 March, there are 3 departure time– 11:00am, 1:30pm and 4:00pm
Between 01 April and 31 October, there are 3 departure times—10:00am, 1:30pm and 4:00pm
ATTENTION: You must call ahead to make a reservation: 33(0)18.104.22.168.87. If you do not speak French, please ask if someone at the office speaks English in order for you to reserve your spot. You can also go to the station during a departure time and make your reservation there. While waiting for your departure, the village of Pourcieux is a nice place to discover.
IMPORTANT: You must check in at the Pourcieux train station 30 minutes before your departure or you risk your spot being given to another group.
If you would like more information, you can visit the website for this particular vélorail adaventure.
The website is only in French; therefore I’ve given the basic information in English for those who do not speak French. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or are having trouble understanding something on their site.
I would love to hear how your adventure went so please let me know by leaving me a comment below.
The location map, along with my Google Local Guide review, is here.