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El Transcantábrico

North Coast train bypasses Spain's beaten track

El Transcantábrico along the Bay of Biscay

Discover the heritage and natural beauty of España Verde – Green Spain – aboard the El Transcantábrico luxury tour train. Shown: El Transcantábrico rolling through the countryside. Photo: ©RENFE.

Slower paced than tourist magnets like Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's North -- España Verde or Green Spain -- combines a rich landscape of beaches, forests, pastures and mountains with a heritage that reaches back to earliest times. It is a place best explored slowly, in the company of a few select travel companions. El Transcantábrico offers such an experience; a unique and intimate luxury rail tour following historic narrow-gauge track inaccessible to modern trains.

Prehistoric cave drawings, medieval shrines, rustic villages, and diverse museums blaze El Transcantábrico's meandering route. From Galicia, El Transcantábrico Clasico ventures east along the Bay of Biscay, and then south, into the heart of Castille. Its more extravagant cousin, El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, travels the coastal portion alone.

Both journeys unfold with visits to the pilgrim cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the walled city of Viveiro. The next few days are spent in Asturias, strolling Las Catedrales Beach, dining in the seaside resort of Luarca, viewing the pre-Romanesque monuments of Oviedon, and visiting Picos de Europa -- the loftiest peaks of the Cantabrian Range.

The journey's second half begins with a tour of the Paleolithic paintings of the Neo-Cave in Altamira and lunch in the medieval Cantabrian port of Santillana del Mar. A night's stay in Santander leaves time for an optional evening at the resort city's Gran Casino. A day spent in Basque Country includes a visit to Bilbao's modernist Guggenheim Museum. From there, El Transcantábrico destinations diverge.

Gran Lujo guests continue on to the renowned Basque resort of San Sebastián .

The Clasico rolls into Castilla y León, where tours of Palencia's Romanesque architecture, Olmeda's famous Roman Villa, and the heritage sights of León , bring the journey to a close.

Guests aboard the Clasico travel in luxury. Each hotel-style cabin has individual climate control and features mini-bar and private lavatory and shower. Overnights on quiet sidings assure a peaceful night's rest.

For a select few, Clasico's sister train holds even greater allure. El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo is a five-star hotel train featuring over-sized wood-paneled suites with flat-screen tv's, and personal computers.

Both trains feature four lounges including a bar car and a pub car offering dancing and nightly entertainment. The other two lounge cars provide space for reading, chatting, and sightseeing.

Dining is an epicurean event. Native cheeses, meats, produce and seafood contribute to regional cuisines said to be among Spain's best. For this reason most meals are enjoyed at fine restaurants along the route. Local wines and liqueurs are included. Buffet breakfasts and several other meals are served en train.

For over 25 years, El Transcantábrico has set a standard of excellence in luxury touring by rail. Amid remote and rugged landscapes, the journey's bill of landmark tours, scenic rambles, and gastronomic outings enchants the everyday tourist and sophisticated traveler alike. Unique in its own right, El Transcantábrico heightens the romance and timeless allure of España Verde.

El Transcantábrico Clasico and Gran Lujo tours depart on selected Saturdays from late March through early December. All are 8-day/7-night tours and include onboard sleeping accommodations, all meals (including wines, coffee and liquors), all off-train tour admissions. Both Clasico (Santiago de Compostela - León) and Gran Lujo (Santiago de Compostela - San Sebastián) tours may be booked in either direction. Multilingual guides are present for the entire trip. Off-train tours are by luxury coach. Trains are not wheelchair accessible however wheelchairs are available for off-train tours. Advanced booking discounts are available.

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