Transcantábrico Gran Lujo: A Luxury Travel Tale on Rails Through Northern Spain
Step aboard the Transcantábrico Gran Lujo and embark on an adventurous train journey through Northern Spain
A travelogue from Transcantabrico Gran Lujo
- one of the world's most luxurious train journeys.
(The account is from the 2019 program, which may have changed since then).
This rail journey for epicureans began in August with a guided tour of San Sebastian, which had awoken in a radiant, welcoming mood, teeming with people heading to the beaches of Ondarreta, La Concha, and La Zurriola. The passengers on the Transcantabrico Gran Lujo, the protagonists of this five-star tourist adventure, were received by Renfe at the Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra, built in the 19th century and overlooking the bay. This historic hotel has hosted numerous celebrities over the years.
It's lunchtime, and the famous pintxo bars on Pescadería Street in San Sebastian beckon. This marks the culinary start for the group, which is later followed by a warm crabmeat salad, grilled turbot with orio sauce, steak, and cheese cream.
The journey begins: Travelers, to the Transcantabrico! The stroll through Bella Easo, as San Sebastian is also known, the visit to the basilica of Santa Maria del Coro, and the numbered balconies of Constitution Square mark the beginning of a tourist agenda that will later lead travelers to the cosmopolitan Bilbao.
The luxurious bus that will be our companion for the next few days stops at the embarkation point for the world's most luxurious train cruise, which operates from March 23 to December and covers the route with narrow-gauge railways between San Sebastian and Santiago, and vice versa. This eight-day, seven-night adventure is designed to satisfy customers interested in combining gastronomy with a comfortable immersion in the green heritage of Spain. These customers are both domestic and foreign, with an almost 50/50 distribution depending on the season, and they want to enjoy the northern landscape as well as dishes like sirloin in Cabrales sauce and a Galician seafood platter while exploring places like the Guggenheim Museum, tasting an Asturian fabada and Gran Bouquet cider, and visiting Altamira Caves and the Asturian cliffs, Picos de Europa.
Onboard, the train moves
Transcantabrico moves slowly along the Cantabrian coast, at a speed of 45 kilometers per hour, allowing passengers to admire the beautiful and diverse details of the landscape as well as the rich cultural heritage accessible to travelers from places as diverse as Ibiza, Catalonia, Navarre, Guadalajara, Madrid, and even Tasmania (Australia).
We arrive from San Sebastian to Bilbao by bus to board the train and overnight in Villasana de Mena. The first dinner on the cruise is served at the Ibaia restaurant in Gordexola, in the Vizcaya region. Dishes like Basque tomato sauce, cod in pilpil sauce, and panchineta are served. The group spends its first night in a train suite. To facilitate sleep, it is arranged that the train stops at night at narrow-gauge stations along the route. Quiet, without nighttime traffic or disturbances.
In the morning, those who want breakfast can do so between 8:30 and 9:30 in the dining car, located next to a kitchen car equipped to serve meals for tourist trips, conferences, or business travel. The train starts moving at 8 in the morning. Here begins the sensory refinement. While still in bed, cuddling in soft sheets, passengers can delight in observing the changing shades of the Cantabrian green through the suite window.
Breakfast can be chosen from a buffet or ordered à la carte. The attentive and smiling waiter welcomes passengers in the dining car, where passengers gradually get to know each other. National and foreign newspapers and a collection of novels complete the library of this mobile watchtower. Before 10 o'clock, we board the comfortable escort bus that takes us to the Guggenheim Museum without crowding or waiting. It is much appreciated. Travelers explore the various exhibition rooms of "L'art en guerre. France, 1938-1947: from Picasso to Dubuffet."
Lunch is served on the train, and in the afternoon, we reach Santander, with beautiful views and heights over El Sardinero that evoke the city's history and abundant offerings. There is time for a leisurely walk on the city's beach and dinner at La Mulata. Some of the diners make jokes about the commercial signage, which they associate with the havoc caused by mulattoes among the Antillean Creoles, unaware that mulata is actually a type of shellfish in the crab and spider crab family. Cantabria offers entertainment in Potes, the bustling tourist market, Lignum Crucis in Santo Toribio de Liébana, the university and architecture of Comillas, La Bodega Palace in Cabezón de la Sal, and an immersion in the cobblestone streets of Santillana del Mar, rich in legends and medieval structures.
Transcantabrico continues through Asturias
Transcantábrico continues its route between Ribadesella and Arriondas. A detailed explanation of grapes and distillation techniques gathers passengers in a winery on the way to the Covadonga Sanctuary. After the lecture and generous wine tasting, people buy cheese, fragrant jams, and other delicacies. We are on the move again. Driving on the winding roads of the Picos de Europa mountains, the most rugged mountain range on the Iberian Peninsula, through Asturias, Cantabria, and León, brings us closer to steep slopes and nearly bare, rocky, and impressive peaks. Overcoming vertigo and passing through mists and gradients, we reach the shores of Lake Enol, which is 750 meters long and 400 meters wide, located at an altitude of 1,070 meters, the largest of the Covadonga lakes, 21 kilometers from Cangas de Onís. Group photo and a fantastic sirloin steak at Casa Fermín in Oviedo.
Leaving behind the peaks and orujos, the train heads from Candás to Luarca, with a previous stop at the Oscar Niemeyer Center in Avilés and the Laboral University in Gijón.
Transcantábrico approaches its final stop amidst hórreos (granaries) and the colonial-style houses known as "indianos" in Ribadeo and its port, in Viveiro and the five beaches on its La Mariña coastline. The farewell party in the pub car, adorned with streamers, brings together the crew and passengers, who dance together like a train. Early in the morning, we depart for Ferrol with the final destination at Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, where a local guide will detail the city's history, heritage, and symbolism during the last group gathering. Hugs, email exchanges, and until next time. It's time to board, now heading to San Sebastian, for passengers summoned to the parador in the square, considered the oldest hotel in the world because in the 15th century it was a hospital and pilgrim's inn. Travelers on the train, a very special train.Back