What could be better than sitting relaxed on a train, letting the landscape pass you by and listening to the rattle of the wheels. Clearly, a train that travels as a rolling hotel! Traveling in northern Spain on the Transcantábrico, the Costa Verde Express, taking excursions in the region and falling asleep in your own suite in the evening – what an experience!
The story of the luxury train Transcantábrico (Costa Verde Express)
In July 1983, the journey of the first Transcantábrico began, named after the work of the same name by the writer Juan Pedro Aparicio. Inspired by the famous Trans-Siberian train, the latter told of his journey on the mythical Hullero train, which transported coal from León to the blast furnaces of Bilbao, picking up passengers on the way back.
In order to be able to realize the Transcantábrico, old cars that had reached their useful life were sought. Four old Pullman cars, commissioned by the Vascongados Railways Company in 1927 and originating from the British Leeds Forge, were restored into saloon cars and adapted to the requirements of a rail journey. In addition, seven metal cars and 5 other luxury Pullman cars were converted so that passengers could travel in a luxury train.
No sooner was the train on the track than those responsible continued to develop the concept of the train and the journey. Increasing numbers of travelers from all over the world took the Transcantábrico through northern Spain. Suite cars with double beds, modern at the time, and private bathrooms with showers were created. These replaced the compartments with bunk beds and shared bathrooms that still existed at the time.
Due to great demand, a second Transcantábrico train was built in 1999 and inaugurated in 2000. This is almost identical and is now known as the Transcantábrico Clásico. Since 2020, it has been called the Costa Verde Express. The first train was named “Transcantábrico Gran Lujo”.
For railroad fans it is something very special to travel with this train. It is a narrow-gauge train that can only travel on very few routes. A unique experience that for me has been one of the most beautiful trips so far.
Itinerary and program Costa Verde Express
The trip with the Costa Verde Express starts already at 10 am in Santiago de Compostela at the Hotel Parador de los Reyes Católicos. It is recommended to arrive already one day earlier and let the trip start relaxed.
After a brief introduction and bag drop, the day begins with a guided tour of the old town and lunch before heading by bus to Ferrol. There the Costa Verde Express is in the station waiting for its passengers.
As soon as you arrive on the train, it starts moving. While the staff is still being introduced to the train and a cheerful toast is made to the journey, the real train ride feeling already comes up. It jerks and rocks, the wheels rattle – actually, the only thing missing is the steam of the locomotive. Unfortunately, you have to do without that during the ride, the train does not have a steam locomotive, but a locomotive with a modern drive.
There is barely enough time to explore the suite before the train reaches Viveiro, where a short tour of the town takes place. In the station of Viveiro one spends then the first night in the train.
The second day of the trip is from Viveiro to Ribadeo. After a stop with excursions to the beach of Las Catedrales and Ribadeo, the train continues to Luaraca. Also here you will have the opportunity to participate in an excursion before the train makes the last leg of the day to Oviedo.
On the third day, after a hearty breakfast, we will take the bus to Gijón. Here you will first visit the impressive university building and then stroll through the old town. After lunch, the bus will take the participants back to the train station in Oviedo. From there, a sightseeing tour of the city will start. In the evening, the train will continue to Llanes, where it will spend the night in the station.
The next day begins with a bus ride into the mountains. It goes to the national park Picos de Europa. An adventurous bus ride on narrow roads, where every now and then a cow is on the road. After the following visit of Convadoga and Cangas de Onís the bus goes back to Llanes. After a short tour of the small town, the train continues to the train station of Cabezón de la Sal, where it stops for the night.
The penultimate day begins with a bus ride to Altamira. There we visit the museum to learn about the famous caves and their paintings. Afterwards we go to Santilla del Mar for a short sightseeing tour. Back on the train, the journey continues to Santander, where a tour of the city is made by bus. The last night will be spent in the train station of Santander.
The last day begins with a train ride to Bilbao. Here, at the last station, it is time to say goodbye to the train. After a short city tour there is still the possibility to visit the Guggenheim Museum. A last lunch together ends the journey with the Costa Verde Express around 4 pm.
How to sleep at Costa Verde Express
The train sways back and forth as I make my way from the lounge car to my suite after the greeting. There are 4 suites in each car, three of which are on one side of the aisle and one staggered on the opposite side. The corridors are narrow, very narrow, very very narrow… I can hardly walk straight without constantly bumping my shoulders on the walls and am just honestly glad that I do not have to carry my suitcase. This is already waiting for me in my suite – thank you!
The way does not seem to want to end, there I finally reach in the fifth “suite car” my room for the next 5 nights. The key with the 17 is in the lock and excitedly I open the door – what will expect me…
Admittedly, I am surprised when I look through the door into “my” realm. Everything I need is located in just a few square meters. The bed, in which I really slept superbly, takes up the entire width of the room. If you lie here or use it as a sofa during the day while driving, you can have an excellent view out the window. I loved looking out there at the passing landscape and dreaming.
The bed is not wide, but even two people can sleep really well here. Under the bed is enough storage space, here I also find my suitcase. I can hang some of my clothes in the small closet, but not much fits inside.
In a small closet I discover a refrigerator. The water is free and refilled daily. There is also a mini safe, but more than ID and wallet does not fit inside.
Next I enter my own bathroom with a large shower, sink and toilet. I am curious how the water supply in the train works. If everyone showers at the same time in the morning, will the water be warm and also have enough water pressure? What will it be like to shower when the train is moving? Can you shower well or should you rather wait for a stop.
This much is revealed – it does wobble and you should be somewhat stable, but it is quite possible to shower during the ride. The water was also always nice and warm and the water jet pleasant.
The suite has air conditioning, which really cooled very well. However, I preferred to open the window. In the bathroom, this was only slightly possible, but the large window by the bed could be opened very wide. During the ride, however, you should be very careful when looking out. Again and again branches hit the carriage, there is a narrow tunnel or there are pillars at the edge – so it is better to keep your head inside the carriage! However, I found it wonderful to look out of the window on the open track during a short stop or in a station. The landscape was so green and varied. I especially liked the view when the train ran directly along the coast.
Except for one night, when the train is unfortunately not in an ideal station at the moment (but they are working on getting a new station), I slept really well. Once I already fell asleep while the Costa Verde Express was still on the way to the night location, at the steady rattling of the wheels, a soothing sound that I would have liked to hear much more often.
Excellent food at Costa Verde Express
While traveling on the train, I did not have to miss out on the delicacies of the region. A team of chefs working in a special kitchen car spoils all travelers with excellent food. Many a restaurant cannot compete with the quality of the food.
I took a seat at any covered table for two in one of the three saloon cars on four evenings. Sometimes we had already arrived at our “overnight station,” sometimes we were still driving through the beautiful landscape of the Spanish north coast. It was these evenings that I personally enjoyed the most. The train rattled along the tracks and swayed slightly back and forth, the landscape outside the window passing us by. For me, that’s a train trip just as I had imagined it.
Eaten on the train at a rather untypical time for me, which is completely normal in southern countries. Shortly before 9 p.m. an announcement reminded of the beginning of the meal and too much time should not be allowed, because the evening 4-course menu is finished and served at the same time for all travelers. Of course, the “latecomer” also gets his meal.
The dishes served are adapted to the regional conditions and, as far as possible, made with regional and seasonal products. So there was a lot of fish and occasionally meat on the menu. I could read the menu sequence on the small menu card. What I found particularly good, one could also swap once relatively spontaneously a course and change for example to the vegetarian dish. Of course, vegetarian and vegan variants or special meals for food intolerances are also offered. Here my compliments to the staff on the train. Although we sat at the tables every evening in different places and in new combinations, they knew exactly who got which dish.
What was there to eat…
The wonderful flavorful dishes can not all be enumerated. Here is a small selection:
- Corn cake with Emberzo (regional black sausage)
- Devil crab pate
- Eagle fish fillet
- Salmon fillet Riberena style
- Beef tenderloin from Asturian “de los Valles
- Milhojas (regional puff pastry cake)
- Asturian cake
- Galician almond cake
Since I love to eat fish, it was a dream for me to be able to eat so many different dishes. So fresh and excellently prepared I get fish very rarely.
With the meal we were served white wine and red wine, but on request there were also other drinks from the bar of the train. Each meal ended with a schnapps or liqueur and of course a coffee.
For me, dinner on the train was one of the highlights of the train trip. We sat comfortably together, talked and laughed, enjoyed and reviewed the experiences of the day. What could be more beautiful!
What else should you know?
At 8 o’clock in the morning, an employee walks through the train with a bell. At the latest then one should get up. There is an announcement about 10 minutes before arrival at the station and before departure before the excursions.
Every morning there is an excellent breakfast on the train from 8 am. Lunch is eaten together in the restaurant. Dinner is on the train 4 nights, one night in the restaurant. The meals and the excursions are part of the booked train trip and are included in the price.
If you don’t want to take part in an excursion, you can of course stay on the train or go on your own. The only important thing is to be back on the train in time before departure. The Costa Verde Express can not wait, because the travel times are fixed on the rail. Since everyone travels on their own responsibility, there is also no check to see if everyone is back on board.
There is a musical program on the train on two evenings and a farewell party on the last evening.
A highlight is the meeting of both Transcantábrico trains. For about 5 minutes they stand on a platform. The crews greet each other and a quick photo is possible. Then a short warning call follows and there is just time to jump on the train. Those who are not good on foot should rather watch the meeting from the train window.
Of course, there is also the possibility to travel from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela with the Costa Verde Express.
Would I ride the Costa Verde Express again?
I really enjoyed the train ride. I got to know nice people. The short excursions made me want to discover the area in more detail. The service on the train, the staff and the train itself were just great.
I would take the same route again and then maybe skip some of the guided city tours and explore the places myself to see something else.
Very much I would explore other routes on a luxury train, because I like that way of traveling. In Spain, for example, there is still a train with a similar offer in Andalusia. And who knows, maybe the opportunity will arise to discover this route.
Do you want to travel with the Costa Verde Express? Then there is the possibility of booking not only in the travel agency of your confidence, but also online on the website of the Costa Verde Express.
The trip took place as part of a press tour.