Becky Allen and Mark Goodson explore a small slice of railway history in central Var on this 20km loop between Lorgues and Flayosc in Provence.
This 20km loop between Lorgues and Flayosc is a gentle half-day ride through woodland and vineyards of the central Var. Both villages have plenty of cafes and bars, and if you cycle on a Tuesday morning you can enjoy Lorgue's marvellous Provençal market. But what makes this ride really special is that the outward leg follows part of the old railway line that once linked Nice with Meyrargues, just north of Aix.
Only Nice-Dignes survives as a rail line, delivering walkers into the high county of the Alpes-Maritimes. The other two lines closed in 1948 and 1950, victim to falling passenger numbers and retreating German soldiers. Today, almost all of the coastal route has been converted into cycle path and there are plans to do the same with the central Var line.
They have a big job on their hands, but until their work's complete the tarmac and gravel section between Lorgues and Flayosc – suitable for most bikes – is a tantalising taste of things to come.
Park in the large, free car park by the wine and olive oil co-op in Lorgues. Head uphill, dog-legging past the town's enormous church, the Collégiale Saint Martin, and then left onto the main street past its elegant Mairie or town hall. At the end of street bear right onto the D10 towards Salernes.
At the first roundabout, continue on the D10 but at the second, smaller roundabout turn right onto the Chemin du train des pignes est. Just behind the road sign, with blue shutters, you'll see a house that between 1888 and 1950 was Lorgues station.
Continue along the Chemin du train des pignes est, first on tarmac and then gravel, for 8km to Flayosc. Although the trains are long gone, from the gentleness of its gradients and sweeping curves to its little cuttings and brief tunnels, the virtually traffic-free route constantly connects you with the small steam trains that trundled through this countryside before the second world war.
When the old rail line spits you out onto the main road, turn left uphill into Flayosc, where there are cafes and restaurants. For your return to Lorgues, leave Flayosc the way you came but this time continue on the D557. A short way outside the village turn right onto the very quiet D57 (direction Les Arcs) and then turn right onto the slightly busier D562 back to Lorgues.
Becky Allen is a freelance journalist based in Cambridge. You can read more of her work at www.beckyallen.org. Mark Goodson is a sales consultant and business coach. He enjoys cycling long distances, slowly. You can follow his adventures on Twitter @