By Trevor Garrod
For over two decades I have organised group visits by train to the Continent, using the services of an AERA member, and had one such group booked to go to Montpellier in May 2020. Obviously the visit had to be postponed more than once, but almost all the participants still wanted to go when it became possible again.
In the end I took ten in October 2021 – when we still had to complete passenger locator forms, sign declarations of honour, show proof of vaccination and book a test on our return.
The other group of ten went May 4th – 11th this year, with only tickets, passports and proof of vaccination now required. It was easy to buy carnets of RATP tickets for them in the bar-buffet on the 10.22 Eurostar and relatively easy to cross Paris on metro lines 4 and 14 to the station at Bercy from which trains to Clermont Ferrand depart. Sandwiches, salads and drinks were purchased at this modest 1970s terminus, originally built for Motorrail trains, and the three and a half hour journey by Intercites trains (with an efficient trolley service) we arrived at Clermont Ferrand at 19.31 and went straight to our hotel almost opposite the modern airy station.
The highlight of our stay in the Auvergne was a city bus ride and then a trip on the electric cogwheel railway to the summit of the Puy de Dome, slightly higher than Ben Nevis, where we lunched n the cafeteria with views across the unique landscape of extinct volcanoes covered in their bright green springtime foliage.
Our journey south continued by the one through train a day from Clermont Ferrand to Beziers leaving at 13.05. Actually it was a smart 3-car diesel multiple unit to the small junction of Neussargues, where everyone had to change to an electric multiple unit for the Ligne des Causses – a single track winding through lonely hill country, electrified in the 1930s and once used by long-distance trains from Paris. Arguably a good candidate for bimodes. We passed along a gorge under the spectacular road viaduct at Millau and eventually reached sea level in Beziers at 19.30. A fast train took us along the coast, reaching Montpellier’s central St Roch station at nightfall and our hotel just across the road.
After four days exploring this impressive city on foot and by tram, then train and/or bus to Sete, Nimes, the Pont du Gard and the walled town of Aigues Mortes, we returned home the fast way – leaving Montpellier at 09.18 by TGV up the Rhone Valley, then RER from Paris Gare de Lyon to Paris Nord and arriving back in St Pancras at 17.35, also giving time for most of us to have a pleasant Parisian lunch at a brasserie in the rue de Dunkerque.