Cantabrian Coast

Spain by Train

From its beginnings more than three decades ago, northern Spain’s Transcantábrico tourist train has been a leader in luxury rail travel. It rolls on narrow-gauge track across the coastal regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and Basque Country—an area known as Green Spain. 

With salon cars and sleeper-car suites refurbished from vintage railcars including Pullmans, the elegant train evokes the charm of early 20th century rail travel. Offered by Renfe, Spain’s state-owned rail operator, the nostalgic journeys continue with expanded schedules. In 2020, the new Costa Verde Express will join Transcantábrico Gran Lujo in multi-day trips through the hinterlands of Spain’s most verdant land. 

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Traveling between Bilbao in Basque Country and the Asturian city of Gijon, Costa Verde Express includes daily sightseeing excursions by luxury coach while the train is in stations. You visit quaint fishing villages, medieval towns, beaches, and scenic wonders such as Picos de Europa National Park. Guided tours are offered at cultural attractions like the Altamira Neo-cave of Paleolithic Art and Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, which renowned architect Frank Gehry designed. 

Given Green Spain’s rich culinary traditions and highly rated restaurants, it’s no surprise that gastronomy is a highlight of the journey, both on the train and at its various stops. Seafood is king along with traditional dishes such as Asturian fabada (bean stew) and Ibérico ham. You can deep-dive into the food culture at street markets, sampling regional delicacies including Cantabria’s world-famous anchovies and boiled pulpo (octopus). Tip: pull up a stool for the favorite Basque bar food pinxtos, a colorful array of mini tapas, best enjoyed with a txakoli white wine.

Costa Verde Express will offer five-night journeys, while Transcantábrico Gran Lujo runs seven-night trips. Renfe also operates an inland route in Green Spain and a southern route in Andalusia from Seville, and several trains run short sightseeing trips from Madrid. 

Sleeper-car compartments vary by train from cozy double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms to deluxe suites that include a living room. Stewards attend to passengers with white-glove service, adding to the sense that you’re traveling not only through Spain but back to the golden age of rail.

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