Spain on Track
Spain’s geography is quite unique in Europe: Madrid, its centrally-located capital city, stands surrounded by a host of regional capitals spread along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, including Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Bilbo. And that’s probably why planes would easily have replaced trains if not for two major rail rejuvenation projects in the Eighties: the AVE, super-fast trains that run up to 220mph while linking major cities with Madrid, and hotel-trains, Spain’s “hotels on wheels” that serve routes with lesser traffic. Both are highly convenient, offer a superior experience, and boast one of the best on-board (fresh) food service in Europe.
Seasoned American travelers typically use AVE when visiting Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. Yet, why not be a bit inventive and explore such hidden gems as Valencia, Bilbo (a city re-energized by contemporary art), and Malaga. Don’t hesitate to hop on a hotel train (Premier compartments offer privacy and comfort, with shower), and discover what makes Spain so wonderfully diverse.
And if you want to seriously venture off the beaten-track, take an AVE train from Madrid or Barcelona to Zaragoza. There, take “El camello” (the camel), a back-in-the-day regional train. The track snakes between medieval castles in the ocher-tinted Aragon desert and ends up in a stunningly surreal place in the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains: Canfranc Railway Station. The largest in Europe when it opened in 1928, it was an ambitious project meant to link the France and Spain network. But the Great Depression and the Spanish civil war affirmed its demise. Yet, its architecture remains incredible, and you’ll feel like you’re frozen in time as you walk past abandoned tracks, buildings, and carriages. As for the Spanish rail-side, it’s now being restored to its original glory, with a luxury hotel and casino. Did we hear someone say “dinero?”
For more information on Spain contact the Spain Tourist Board.