With the holiday period fast approaching, Renfe has presented the new season of its luxury ‘tourist trains’ on board the Al Andalus.
The Spanish railway giant operates two different trains as part of its exclusive holiday packages:the Al Andalus, running mainly in Southern Spain; and the Transcantábrico, which explores Spain’s northern coast.
The carriages of both trains were made at roughly the same time: during the 1920s. They are the epitome of luxury train travel; in fact, the carriages of the Al Andalus train were even originally used to take the British royal family between Calais and the French Riviera on holiday. Having been renovated more recently, they remain true to their origins, combining a beautiful art-deco setting with the comforts of modern technology.
Both trains have two tiers of suites in their sleeper carriages: deluxe and junior. Whilst any of them would be spacious and comfortable enough, the Transcantábrico’s deluxe suite seems head and shoulders above the rest. Not only does it have a king-size bedroom, but it has a sitting room with a generous sofa, too. All rooms come with an ensuite bathroom.
As well set-out as the suites are, though, it is the communal carriages which stand out. Of course each train’s layout is unique, but both of them have lounge, bar and dining carriages. The lounge is set out in a simple, natural colour scheme and would be a great place to relax on the large, plush sofas and read – or even make use of the train’s wifi service. Both the bar and dining carriages, whilst still letting in plenty of natural light, are decorated in darker, grander colours, creating a different atmosphere entirely. The little details make all the difference: there are art-deco draw curtains on all the windows and table lamps for the lavish multi-course evening meals.
All of this has led to wider recognition for these two trains. In 2009 the Society of International Train Travellers included the Transcantábrico in its list of the world’s top 25 trains. And as they become more and more renowned, Renfe gets closer to its ultimate goal of recreating a modern-day Orient Express experience.
However, the keyword here is experience. While the interior of the trains is certainly reminiscent of the former railway legend, the experience is not.
In any single journey, passengers will not be travelling for more than four hours. What’s more, the trains will stop in stations overnight, which is a shame, as waking up on the move is surely part of the charm of such a trip. In fact, most of a passenger’s waking hours are spent off the train, exploring both the cities and countryside that Spain has to offer.
This is a different experience entirely, but is one that may actually be much more appealing. It gives people the opportunity actively to explore and become more familiar with the areas, through which they have been travelling, as opposed to gazing at them passively.
The Al Andalus takes its passengers on a tour of the southern cities of Spain, such as Seville and Cordoba. Here they will discover Andalusian culture and the way that the area’s Moorish heritage has influenced it.
It also runs some special trips. This includes a route through Extremadura up to Madrid and Aranjuez, which will take in a nice cross-section of Spanish culture, giving passengers a taste of Castilian Spain as well as more regional cultures.
In addition, there will be wine tours which explore the Douro river and the area of Rioja. People will be able to peruse the best wines that Spain has on offer – including visits to prominent wineries and museums while getting to know the culture of the areas, from which they come.
The Transcantábrico focuses on the northern coastline of Spain, visiting many places of significant cultural and historical value between Santiago de Compostela and San Sebastián. The rural countryside traversed on this route is arguably some of the most picturesque in Europe; the seafood is just as highly regarded.
On the topic of food, the packages do include meals at local restaurants while not on the train, which gives people the opportunity to get acquainted with real Spanish cuisine: another important part of the country’s culture. On top of this, there is onboard entertainment in the evenings, such as traditional flamenco dancing and music.
So although Renfe seems to be suggesting that these holiday packages will be similar to the Orient Express, it looks in reality like an altogether different trip: a better trip. It combines the luxury of travelling by an Orient-Express-style train with real cultural exploration of the surroundings. People should think of this venture as more of a travelling holiday, stopping in several different places along the way. The only difference is that you cut out the hassle of getting to the train station and buying reams of tickets, as the luxury hotel, in which you wake up, will also take you to wherever you are going. The best of both worlds.
Courtesy: Sur in English
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