Forty years of Transcantábrico, the Spanish ‘Orient Express’

by Lorraine Williamson

DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIÁN – “The path is the most important, not the destination”, is the message from the poem Ithaca, by the Greek Cavafy. This applies perfectly to the Transcantábrico train that started circulating along the Cantabrian coast forty years ago. 

The train journey, with Santiago de Compostela and San Sebastian as the starting or finishing point, takes you through the four autonomous regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Passengers are treated to fabulous views of landscapes, rugged coastlines and historic sites. Along the way, they are served the best dishes from the regional kitchens or join the best restaurants along the way. And if you, as a passenger, take your eyes off the window, you can enjoy the richly decorated interior. 

Luxurious train tourism 

Four decades after its inception, the train ride has become one of the most recognised on the international scene of luxury rail tourism. The Transcantábrico’s voyages were interrupted only during the pandemic years. In the forty years of its existence, the classy train departed 1,511 times with 60,510 passengers. Of these, 80% were foreigners. 

The train runs from April to October. This year, the season of the Transcantábrico Gran Lujo started on April 4. The trip cannot be booked in the winter months. The fact that the trip is very popular is evidenced by the fact that the first departure date to be booked is only July 15.  

Luxury suites and live music 

At the moment the train is composed of seven sleeping cars, four saloon cars and a kitchen car. The maximum capacity is 32 beds in 14 luxury double suites that can also be used as triple rooms. In the common areas, there is a dining room where travellers can have breakfast and taste the dishes prepared in the train’s own kitchen. There is also a Pub Lounge with live music performances every night and various parties. Finally, there is a bar wagon. 


As for the private areas, the 14 suites have a bedroom with a large bed (150x200cm), wardrobe and trunk, a small living room with TV, video, game console, stereo, computer with a free internet connection, cordless phone, dual air conditioning, minibar and a complete bathroom with hydromassage shower. 

All the comfort makes the Transcantábrico a luxury hotel on wheels. However, the luxury can not only be enjoyed indoors but certainly also outdoors. During the eight days of the journey, passengers enjoy the spectacular landscapes and interesting excursions in Green Spain. 


First trip 

The maiden voyage of the Transcantábrico was made in July 1983 between León and the town of Matallana de Torío. The name of the train is inspired by the work of the same name by the Leonese writer Juan Pedro Aparicio. He tells of a journey with the Hullero, the old passenger train that ran daily on the historic La Robla line between León and Bilbao. This line was originally built to transport coal from the Leon and Palencia coalfields to the Bilbao steel mills. 

Wagons of great historical value 

Old wagons were saved and rebuilt for the construction of the Transcantábrico. Some were of great historical value. Specifically, there were four Pullman wagons that the British company The Leeds Forge had built in 1927. In 1992, these wagons would bear the names of four of the communities they crossed (Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia). 

Night stops and visits 

On board the train, one of two meals of the day and an à la carte breakfast are generally served. The other meal of the day is enjoyed in the most renowned restaurants in the areas the train passes through. At night the Transcantábrico stops at one of the stations along the route. This offers passengers the opportunity to go out in the evening and at night. The advantage is that stations are always close to the city centres. 

From the train, travellers can make excursions under the professional guidance of multilingual guides. A luxury coach picks up travellers when needed. 

Related post: Asturias and the Costa Verde, hidden gems in northern Spain 

Would you like to go? For €15,000 you can temporarily occupy the large luxury suite for two for eight days and seven nights. If you travel alone, you pay €13,500 for this suite. That is a lot of money, but it includes all meals, service on board, excursions and even a Renfe train ticket to the starting point and from the finishing point. 

For more information, visit 

Baycrest Wealth

You may also like