[EN] Provence Heritage #1 – Trains from Provence

Discovering Provence from the inside, this is the goal of “Provence Heritage” (originally named “Provence Backstage”). Pictures will come from André Abbe’s collection: 100 000 photos from Provence and the rest of the world from 1970 until 2000. Others will be taken from friends and family.

For the #1 edition, we took the train! Welcome on board.

In Provence, the train is a love story

Roquebrune sur Argens station in 1986. Until the 50s, it was working. Now the station is a… house! In the back, this big great rock is Roquebrune’s rock. Roquebrune is the village where my father’s family has been since the 16th century (before this, no-one has any idea as they didn’t bother writing births certificates). Photo André Abbe

Hello, my name is François Abbe. Very proud to start this series. How does the name “Provence Heritage” sound?

Time is short for all of us. So we’ll focus on the essential. You should get a daily inside-story about Provence told by a Provençal family.

Today, one way to discover Provence from the inside: the train.

Hi to Ana, Martin and Tien from NYC. Martin loves taking the train when coming to Europe.

Say hello to the “Train des Pignes”

Émile Michel and a friend wave at the « Train des Pignes » (Pinecone train) in 1995 at Mézels (Alpes de Haute Provence) - Photo André Abbe

The Pinecone Train is a “must” in Provence. It starts in Nice and goes north to Digne (Alpes de Haute Provence). This picture from André Abbe is mad. The scene seems totally insignificant: the Michel family, friends who are farmers, wave to the train driver. But it was a special day: the train passed by on the day they had killed their pig. Who has ever eaten meat from pork raised and butchered on a farm? “Emile Michel and one of his friends greet the passengers of the Train des Pignes on the Nice-Digne line. After having killed the pig, they prepare the meat products (charcuterie).

It was about forty years ago. The Michels no longer kill pigs on their farm in Mézel, but cats are welcome, fed and stay there,” writes André Abbe.

A ghost train in Provence

In June 1985, shepherds and their herd left Briançonnet to follow the Daluis’ Canyon. In 1923 a train line between Pont de Gueydan and Guillaumes (Alpes Maritimes) opened. It was closed in 1929. What’s left: seventeen tunnels. Photo: André Abbe

Let’s go backstage to meet Julien Raynaud. Julien is one of the many true Stars from Provence. You’ll hardly find Julien on mass media. André followed Julien and his herd of sheep to the top of the Mercantour Park in the Southern Alps around ten times. So they became friends over the years.

François Abbe

Here is what André has to say about this picture:

“90 years ago, in 1929, the Pont de Gueydan-Guillaumes (Alpes Maritimes) railway line was closed. …. It had been opened in 1923, requiring the construction of 17 tunnels. This work was not wasted. Nowadays this road runs through them. The cool shade of the tunnels was appreciated when we passed with Julien Raynaud’s herd in June.”

And in French:

“Il y a 90 ans tout juste en 1929 était fermée la ligne de chemin de fer Pont de Gueydan- Guillaumes (Alpes Maritimes)…. Elle avait été ouverte en 1923, nécessitant la percée de 17 tunnels.

Ce travail n’a pas été perdu. C’est aujourd’hui la route qui les traverse. L’ombre fraîche des tunnels était appréciée quand nous passions avec le troupeau de Julien Raynaud, en juin.”


The Bride bridge

The Bride bridge (Pont de la mariée) is a left-over from the train line between Pont de Gueydan and Guillaumes (Alpes Maritimes) opened in 1923 and closed in 1929. Photo: André Abbe

The train line ran for 6 years before closing. Then the bridge became a road. And now this bridge is for pedestrians only! But this bridge is not “just a bridge”: it is the first-ever concrete bridge in France! The bridge takes its name from the bridge who accidentally jumped over and fell during her honeymoon in 1927

André original text in French:

Voici le pont de la Mariée dans le Haut Pays niçois pour évoquer un divorce en 1388 et un mariage en 1860…

Il existe à Nice une plaque commémorant la dédition de Nice à la Savoie en 1388, acte à l’origine du particularisme niçois et de la fierté niçoise. Auparavant Nice n’était pas française mais provençale et notre capitale était Aix. On y parlait provençal et les Niçois ont continué à parler leur langue jusqu’en 1860, date de l’annexion à la France de Nice et de la Savoie. Un mariage à l’italienne, le roi de Sardaigne s’était gardé Tende, la Brigue et quelques dizaines de milliers d’hectares pour pouvoir y chasser.

N’allez pas dire aux Niçois qu’ils parlent un dialecte de provençal maritime à peine teinté d’éléments piémontais et italiens. Vous vous feriez mal voir. C’est un sujet sensible de la fierté niçoise.


Can we save Provence from a high-speed train TGV line mass destruction?

Until the 1950s, you could cross the Var department by train, going from Nice (Alpes Maritimes) to Meyrargues (Bouches du Rhône). Here and there you can still find old train lines. Picture: old map - unknown source

Should we destroy Provence’s vineyards, forests, houses, and wonderful scenery to extend the high-speed train line to Italy? Of course not! 

What’s crazy: we had ancient train lines (see above with the Daluis Canyon and Trains des Pignes). 

But France has a fabulous TGV (high speed train in French) network that keeps expanding. It will shortly go 100% high-speed from Paris to Madrid in Spain. In Provence, it stops in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille. Do we really need a direct TGV from Amsterdam to Rome? Or a second line along the Mediterranean coast to increase local passenger traffic? Modernizing the existing train line definitely stays the only option!

PS: don’t worry, we will not cover politically oriented topics on this page. Abbe Photo is a non-profit organization focused on heritage photo archives from my father André Abbe !

Trains in Provence are a family affair

Jean-Pierre Violino’s grand-father Joseph worked for the train company (standing up in the picture). This picture was taken at the Théoule-sur-Mer train station (Alpes Maritimes) in 1928 or 1929. Joseph wears a war cross and a military medal. Before that, Jean-Pierre’s grand-father’s father worked on the train… no, it’s a joke!

Hello to a friend: Jean-Pierre Violino. He got married in 2022 to Géraldine and we are so proud of them. Jean-Pierre’s father worked at the ticket office of Saint-Raphaël’s train station. Nowadays you’ll be lucky if you can buy a ticket from a person! 


From Provence to the middle of the African desert

“In November 1997, in the middle of the Mauritanian desert, we stopped our Land Rover to watch the longest train in the world go by, carrying iron ore to a port on the ocean.” says André Abbe who also took the photo

“Provence Heritage” is the name of the series. Why? Because André Abbe took around 100 000 pictures. After being a winegrower, he became a photographer because he wanted to travel. And photography was a good way to make money in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. So we’ll travel from time to time.

In 1997, André worked permanently for the France 3 TV channel. But he kept traveling. Here in the Mauritania desert in Africa where he saw the longest train in the world. It transported 200 train cars of iron, as well as passengers, food, and animals. Check out the beautiful Al Jazeera article


André’s texts in French are first published on non-profit Passadoc. Please find the translation:

“My attention is focused on the screen of my TV. I learned that today there will be 1 out of 3 TGV trains coming from Paris to our region and 3 out of 5 regional trains running between Marseille and Nice.

This railway arithmetic reminds me of railway geometry.

What do you think about Provence Heritage?

Did you enjoy reading this? How could we improve it? Please tell us.

Do you want to receive the next episode via e-mail?

Enter you e-mail then click SEND:

When you click SEND, you consent to sending your e-mail address to non-profit society Abbe Photo. You will then receive e-mails from Abbe Photo. You choose how often you want to receive those e-mails.

Your personal details will never be shared or sold to a third party. If you wish to be withdrawn from our lists, you can do it at any time by clicking on the link of every e-mail or by sending an e-mail to francois @ abbe.photo (please remove spaces).

Articles liés