We’ve been wanting to venture farther from the coast with our bikes, but not having a car to take them has made that difficult. So we looked into taking a train and found one that goes leaves to Tende, a small town that sits alongside the Italian border in the national Mercantour park, and allows bikes on board. The train follows what was the old “Route de Sel” or salt route.
Salt production and trading has been carried on in the Nice-Piedmonte region for over two thousand years. It was transported by boat along the Mediterranean coast to Nice and then brought inland through the mountains by mule. Salt was an essential part of the lives of those living in the Piedmonte/Savoy region, known as “white gold,” used to preserve foods during the summer in order to last through the winter, and for nourishment.
During the Bronze Age these were simple paths that followed the Roya River into upper Italy. Later, the Romans built roads, but by the 9th century they had disappeared, mostly destroyed by locals to protect themselves against invading barbarians using them. In the 14th century trade began once again as the Count of Savoy took control of the salt trade and improved the route. By the end of the 16th century the route was a road once again, linking Nice and Turin, and upwards of 30,000 mules loaded with salt made the trip each year. The train route followed during the 19th century.
What a surprise was in store for us, for not only was it a comfortable train and ride, with plenty of space for our bikes and us, but there was also a guide on board who provided a running commentary, in French and English, about the history of the places the train passed through on its journey north.
The train departs the Nice station daily at 9:17, from June until the end of September, (on weekends only in May and October), arriving in Tende at around 11:30. One can go the whole distance or get off at any of the 14 stops along the way. And the tickets prices are reasonable, our one-way tickets cost us together just 13 euros.
We were in for another surprise for as soon as we got off the train it began to rain. We rode into Brei-sur-Roya, but it only started raining harder so we stopped at a cafe for strong cappuccinos. After a half-hour the rain eased up so we decided to try our luck. Continue reading