The gentle sway of the cars, the elegant train stations, discovering landscapes other means of transport cannot reach, and the endless rail lines extending towards infinity take us back to childhood memories of holidays and family reunions…traveling by train is not too different from embarking in an inner journey.
In 2011 the State-owned Spanish railways (RENFE) launched the Transcantábrico Super Luxury train, specially designed for those who like to take their time and enjoy the vintage glamour of yore; historic town and villages steeped in art and culture, glorious landscapes, and haute cuisine. The lucky travelers depart from the historic Galician city of Santiago de Compostela and sojourn through northern Spain towards beautiful San Sebastian, in Gipuzcoa.
Transcantábrico Super Luxury was recently named “most luxurious train in the world” by a group of respected experts in London. Discerning travelers immediately caught up with its reputation, and pretty soon it would take upwards of six months to get a reservation. Tourists came from as far away as Canada, Argentina, Japan, the U.S., as well as other European countries to witness firsthand the beauty of the North of Spain in style and comfort.
Among the passengers we found a few honeymooners, couples celebrating their anniversaries, and adventurous travelers in search of that elusive glamour of emblematic passengers trains like the Orient Express. Some companies even conduct business aboard, since the cars can be easily converted into conference rooms.
The train has 12 luxurious cars: four common lounges, a panoramic car, dining room, tearoom and pub. All are original 1923 Pullman, veritable jewels carefully restored with fine woods, perfect finishes and soft lighting to evoke the atmosphere of the Belle Époque.
A la carte breakfast is served daily in the common areas, and passengers are regaled with exclusive dishes prepared by the expert hands of celebrated Asturian chef, Ramón Velorio. But we can’t ignore the fact that this region of Spain in known for its exquisite gastronomy. Along the shores of the Bay of Biscay (Mar Cantábrico), cuisine becomes miraculous and magnificent. Experts and gourmands would agree that the northern coast of Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque country) offers exceptional Spanish food and is home to some of the best restaurants in the world: Arzak, Akelarre, Casa Solla, Mugaritz and El Corral del Indianu, among several others. Passengers will be privy to these epicurean amenities as the train staff chooses the best restaurant along the route to stop for meals.
The rest of the cars house the bedroom suites, where travelers can retire to enjoy their privacy, and a fully equipped kitchen, specialized in dishes from every region the train visits. The seven sleeping cars feature 14 elegant Luxury Suites with double beds, a closet with extra space for luggage, a charming and comfortable living room and a full bathroom with hydro-massage shower and steam bath. All the comforts of the 21st century are framed within the most elegant atmosphere. The train rests at night in quiet areas within the stations to allow travelers a full night’s rest, and each train has an expedition leader, available 24 hours to facilitate information and traveling tips to the passengers.
The Transcantábrico Super Luxury cruise lasts 8 days and 7 nights, going from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela or vice versa. The train stops along the way to visit quaint villages and towns, always with multilingual guides. The route offers attractions of unmatched beauty as it passes through the four different regions, a microcosm of contrasts between the sea and the mountains, the cities and the countryside; combining lush landscapes and renowned cuisine with the monumental heritage of its eventful history and ancient culture. San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Potes, the Sanctuary of Santo Toribio de Liébana, Comillas, Cabezón de la Sal, Santillana del Mar, the Cave of Altamira, Llanes, Arriondas, Europe’s Peaks National Park, the Sanctuary of Covadonga, Cangas de Onís, Oviedo, Gijón, Luarca, Ribadeo, Viveiro and Santiago de Compostela will make this luxury trip unforgettable. But the five-star train itself is the main attraction, a guardian of bygone times when the journey was more important than the destination. ■
PHOTOS:All photos courtesy RENFEE.