Since the 9th century, pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela (the tomb of St. James) have traversed the lush landscapes and seaside paths of Northern Spain’s Cantabrian coast—an area known as Green Spain. Trekking the ancient pilgrim routes is still wildly popular, but the area can also be discovered aboard the Transcantabrico luxury train, a “mobile hotel” that connects the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Euskadi (Basque Country) by way of a scenic journey.
El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo offers seven-night trips between the elegant Basque city of San Sebastián and World Heritage town Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Its sister train, the new Costa Verde Express, will run five-night trips beginning May 2020. Both tours include excursions by luxury coach to quaint fishing villages, medieval towns and natural attractions.
Itineraries highlight cultural heritage and architecture, from Paleolithic cave art and magnificent Romanesque cathedrals to the modernist Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Nature’s art can be found in the rock formations of Cathedrals Beach and at idyllic Picos de Europa National Park.
Dinner on the diner car showcases Green Spain’s diverse gastronomy, as do area restaurants including Bodega-style wine bars and Michelin-starred favorites. Fresh seafood features prominently and regional specialties abound, from the famous Cantabrian anchovies and whimsical Basque pintxos (toothpick-tapas) to Asturian artisanal cheeses, wonderfully paired with local ciders. Galicia proudly shares its legendary almond Torta de Santiago.
Called jewels of railway heritage, the narrow-gauge tourist trains feature refurbished salon cars that are original Pullmans from the 1920s. Sleeper cars have cozy double bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, and Gran Lujo’s luxury suites include a sitting area. Top-notch train stewards attend to passengers with white-glove service.
Besides the train, Spain’s greenest expanse offers extraordinary travel experiences, from stunning design hotels to magical paradores that ooze history and character in converted monasteries, manors and castles.