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New Luxe Train in Northern Spain Is Anything But Plain

By Owen C. Hardy

Grand Lujo Luxury SuiteMay 15 marks the maiden public voyage of El Transcantábrico’s ‘Gran Lujo’ luxury service between San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela, The International Railway Traveler® is delighted to report.  The new train is being unveiled now as we speak in Spain.

The trains’ seven Gran Lujo cars will accommodate 28 passengers in just two compartments per car—14 “Suites Privilege” in all.

Not only does that mean greater comfort and individual service on board. It also means smaller groups for touring and dining.

The suites can work for two or three passengers. They have double or twin lower beds — with lots of storage underneath — and the long sofa turns into a bed at night for a third person, if desired.

Luxury suites comprise double bed, lounge, ensuite facilities

Suites are equipped with wardrobe, plenty of luggage storage, a small but comfortable lounge area, two televisions, video game console, stereo, computer with free internet access, cordless phone, double air conditioning units, minibar and full bathroom with shower and steam sauna. (These are some of the fanciest showers we’ve ever seen on a train.) Our IRT guests on board El Transcantábrico last fall loved having the only Suite Privilege on board. The suites were so popular, the train manager told us in an interview, FEVE decided to build an entire train with them.

The train’s four cozy public cars include a newly designed lounge with panoramic window.

Ensuite facilities include toilet, sink and shower/steam sauna

Unlike most private trains, El Transcantábrico covers a modest distance: just 400 miles. Nights are spent parked at quiet sidings for restful sleep. Breakfast is always on board. Lunches and dinners are taken in an array of restaurants along the way, providing guests an unparalleled survey of the regions’ superb seafood, breads, cheeses and wines. All wines are included with lunch and dinner.

Each restaurant is world class, with its own specialties and seasonal dishes. And each region is almost a country within itself.

Daily visits off-train are made in a special Transcantábrico motorcoach, which accompanies the train throughout the journey, as does a multi-lingual guide. Among the highlights of the trip are visits to small villages;  towns like Oviedo with its pre-Romanesque monuments; and a visit to oustanding Picos de Europa National Park.

You’ll also love Bilbao’s ultramodern Guggenheim Museum as well as Santiago’s 935-year-old cathedral, terminus of the famed “Pilgrimage of St. James” as well as the reputed resting place of the Apostle. And finishing up — or starting — in San Sebastian, perched by the sea, and home of a world of exciting restaurants, is fabulous.

Dining car table lamp
Scenery ranges from rivers, mountains to broad seascapes

Best of all is the train itself and its friendly and experienced staff. El Transcantábrico has two lounges, one of which serves as a dining car for breakfast, a bar car and a ‘disco’ car with live music and a dance floor. Originally 1920s-era British Pullman coaches, they have been lovingly restored.

The price for this week of luxury is 3,750 Euros per person, double (about $5,575 US on 5/3/11). And that includes just about everything except air fare, gratuity to staff and incidentals. (We highly recommend pre- and post-tour  nights in both Santiago and San Sebastian. We can advise you which ones we loved.)

This year, the El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo service runs 25 times between Santiago and San Sebastian. Watch this site for 2012 schedule and prices. We’re told they will be revealed soon. And if it’s similar to this year, early booking pays off handsomely.

For more information, call (800) 478-4881 within the U.S., (502) 454-0277 elsewhere. To book now, click here.  If you’re interested in a date, we can confirm immediately if it’s available.

Once you check out the itinerary, please let us know what intrigues. We love this train, its staff and Northern Spain!