As the cost of living crisis grips Europe, Spain is to launch an offer for free or discounted rail journeys. The initiative will run between 1 September and 31 December and is primarily aimed at commuters, with distinct parts to the scheme.
Firstly, passengers will be refunded for a €10 season ticket used on 16 local rail trips over a four-month period, with ticket sales opening on 24 August (renfe.com) – users must register online first and single or return tickets will not be valid.
Season tickets of €20 bought for medium-distance trains will also qualify. In both cases, refunds will be issued once the scheme has closed.
Simultaneously, journeys of less than 250km on Avant trains will be available at a 50 per cent discount, see renfe.com.
Tourists who are planning to stay in, and return to, Spain over the course of a few months will be best-placed to take advantage of the scheme, but its launch also highlights the scenic Spanish rail trips on offer year-round.
Here are seven journeys to try this autumn and beyond.
Medium-distance train, 63 miles/103km, Typical price without discount: £116/€137
If you are planning a trip to Barcelona, why not add a stop in Girona? Head for the red steel bridge Pont de les Peixateries Velles constructed by Gustave Eiffel before he designed the more famous tower in Paris. And if you can get a spot, try the Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca (cellercanroca.com). From there you can hop on smaller Cercanias trains to Cerdanyola del Valles, right on the edge of the Collserola National Park (parcnaturalcollserola.cat). Go for a stroll through the park, take a dip in the icy rivers or try mountain biking.
Local train, 108 miles/174km, €10 /£8.40 season ticket
If nature is more your thing, you might want to take a ride south of Barcelona towards the Ebro Delta (Delta d’Ebre), where one of Spain’s biggest rivers spills into the sea. Watch the pink flamingos and pick up some paella rice, which is the biggest crop in the delta. On the way, you could make a pit stop at the Roman city of Tarragona and explore the well-preserved amphitheatre. Alternatively, alight at Altafulla, which has one of the best crowd-free beaches in Catalonia.
Medium-distance train, 217 miles/351km, €110/£93 return
Take it slow through Spain’s Pyrenees on a journey to Canfranc. Once known as the “Titanic of the mountains”, this huge and ill-fated train station in the town of Canfranc, 1,000 metres (3,280 ft) above sea level near the border with France, will be reborn as a five-star hotel, 52 years after it closed. Canfranc’s name recalls the Second World War, when it was an escape point from Nazi-occupied France. A lifetime later, it was visited by Michael Portillo for his BBC series.
Medium-distance train between Seville and Cordoba, 87 miles/104km, €50/£43 return
From Seville, you can easily reach los pueblos blancos (the white villages). The jewel among these is Cordoba, which is about an hour away. As you stroll through the tiny streets, take in the grand mosque-cathedral. Puerto de Santa María is another city worth adding to your itinerary. Not strictly a pueblo blanco, it is, however, the home of sherry and the famous Osborne drinks company, which was founded by a British family 250 years ago.
Medium-distance train, 133 miles/214km, €40/£34 return
Take the train out of the Spanish capital heading south and you enter the world of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Head for Almagro, which is best-known for its international classical drama festival that takes place each July. The Plaza Mayor, which looks like something out of the 18th century, has been declared a place of historical interest. Almagro retains much of its 18th-century splendour and stands out from the rugged landscape of Castilla la Mancha – it is also relatively tourist-free.
Medium-distance train, 38 miles/60km, €110/£93 return
Make your way from Malaga to Jaén and you will be in Spain’s “green desert”, surrounded by fields of olives. From here, take the train on to the cities of Úbeda and Baeza and you enter a different world, one more akin to 15t-century Renaissance Italy. You could easily be in elegant Brescia or Ferrara, rather than the middle of Andalucia. Just as Barcelona had Antoní Gaudí, Úbeda and Baeza owe their grandeur to the inspiration of architect Andrés de Vandelvira. Among his standout works are La Iglesia de San Nicolás in Ubeda and the Cathedral de la Natividad de Nuestra Señora de Baeza.
Medium-distance train, 56 miles/90km, €40/£34
Pamplona is far more than its bull-running festival. The Plaza de Castillo, the central square, is a centre for socialising and home to Café Iruña, which was once visited by Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises is based in Pamplona. Seek out a little culture at Museo Universidad de Navarra; its collection includes works by Picasso and Kandinsky (museo.unav.edu).
From Pamplona, the train whisks you through the lush green countryside around San Sebastian. Once there, make your way to La Concha, the huge beach where the locals spend their summers, then head to the old town for some of best pintxos (tapas on sticks) in Spain.
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