Cantabria – ‘Making Tracks’, TransCantabrico ‘Gran Lujo’ Train & Parador Santiago de Compostela
Andrew Forbes travels through northern Spain, discovering the magical ‘Camino de Santiago’ in timeless elegance aboard the TransCantabrico ‘Gran Lujo’ Train.
For over a thousand years people have been taking the spiritual and meditative journey along the ‘The Way of St. James’ to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Santiago de Compostela. As one of the great cities of pilgrimage on the planet, Santiago de Compostela has captured the imagination of generations, and still now it is a magnate for those looking for a moment to escape the demands of modern life.
Yet we’re not about to embark on an arduous walking trail. Instead we are travelling aboard the sumptuous navy and cream ‘El TransCantábrico’ train.
Luxury trains are enjoying a renaissance as travellers understand that it is not always just about the destination; increasingly it is about enjoying the experience of getting there. This decadent journey across northern Spain is one of history, culture and cuisine; an experience that is highly personalised and friendly.
Parador Reis Católicos
Our adventure begins at the place where for centuries many journeys end; at the breathtaking 15th century ‘El Hostel dos Reis Católicos’ in Santiago de Compostela.
This medieval building, overlooking the iconic Plaza de Obradoiro and close to the city’s famous cathedral, is the perfect place to meet our fellow passengers.
Considered one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world, Santiago’s five star Parador in Spain’s north western province of Galicia is truly spectacular. Its elegant cloistered courtyards, extravagant guest suites and historic public spaces make it the perfect gateway for a journey of luxury and discovery.
We leave Santiago and meet our new home for the next eight days; the stunning, incomparable ‘El TransCantábrico’. This vintage train, with her impeccable carriages reflects a bygone, romantic golden era of travel; yet it features the very latest in luxury accommodation, dining and service. In the true spirit of exclusive, luxury train travel, ‘El TransCantábrico’ takes her guests on a spellbinding tour of magical destinations, whilst also indulging her passengers’ nostalgia for luxury train travel.
Shortly after boarding and settling into our opulent cabins the historic train gently shakes into action and gradually accelerates, leaving the station with a finesse and style long since lost in modern travel. From now on we are treated like Royalty, rediscovering the glory days of rail travel.
To meet the discerning expectations of the fortunate guests that take this remarkable journey, the ‘El TransCantábrico’ has recently fully renovated all its onboard suites. Where once there were two cabins, there is now one expanded suite. Each of these new deluxe wood panelled, air conditioned suites has twin or a king size bed with luxury linens, private PC with Internet access, flat screen TVs, games console, and a decadent bathroom with sauna and hydro massage shower. You may need to pinch yourself, as you might forget that this is train and not a luxury hotel. There is also the great added benefit that there is no unpacking and re-packing during the tour. As if by magic the destinations come to you; each day is a new discovery, a city ready to be explored.
From the enchanting city of Santiago to the gastronomic delights of San Sebastian, the journey takes in some of Spain’s most compelling history and culture. From the oldest cave paintings in Europe, the Palaeolithic art of Cantabria’s Altamira cave; to the vibrancy and modernity of Bilbao, guests are treated to a privileged cultural experience that is second to none.
From the west, the train follows the ‘Camino de Santiago’ backwards, towards the east, taking in the highlights of Galicia including charming fishing villages that seem lost in time. Crossing over into Asturias, the dramatic mountain ranges of the Picos de Europa offer the same stunning scenery that greeted the sailors that returned from discovering the Americas centuries ago.
The regional capitals of Oviedo, Santander and Bilbao offer a cornucopia of architectural and cultural sights that are enhanced by luxury private coach excursions to ancient, hidden mountain and valley towns that stir the heart.
Wines & Gastronomy
Yet it’s not all art, architecture and stunning landscapes; this train journey is more than an insight into history. It is a culinary journey, allowing one to truly understand the people and the land through their regional food and drink.
As such, gastronomy is one of the defining elements of this experience. In addition to the exquisite train dining cars, serving daily breakfasts and on board meals, guests are invited to indulge in the region’s finest cuisine during off-train excursions. Before long, we are discovering regional wines and dishes; creating memories to cherish.
Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country and Castilla y León are the provinces visited on this rail journey and they represent some of the culinary highlights of Spain, a nation that has dominated modern innovations in cuisine. Carefully selected regional restaurants, which complement the elaborate onboard service, give an unprecedented insight into the quality and variety of northern Spanish food and wine.
This is the best in land cruising. As we sit back and relax in the historic lounge cars with luxury details like fresh flowers, the lush scenery and striking architecture of Spain passes the windows, whetting our appetite for the days to come.
Drawing to a gentle stop in each city station, this gleaming train without doubt provides an unequalled arrival and one that gives us all the feeling of being true VIPs.
In line with the expectations of discerning travellers, the train offers a number of onboard services such as fully inclusive dining including wines, liqueurs and coffee; daily laundry service; multi lingual guides, daily press, and a inconspicuous security service assuring total peace of mind.
The onboard team, in their crisp navy uniforms are discreet yet attentive; one moment making way as you pass through the corridors of this unique train; and the next anticipating your favourite drink in the bar car. The crew are used to catering for the international elite.
So, if you relish the idea of the journey being as important as the destination, then eight very special days on board ‘El TransCantábrico’ could very well be your journey of a lifetime.
©COPYRIGHT ANDREW FORBES