Trenhotel Update 2016
Based on the RENFE site, the overnight Trenhotel between Barcelona and Granada has been discontinued. However, the Trenhotel I took between Barcelona and Leon in September 2014 as part of my Camino de Santiago is still running and you can read all about my second trip in a separate post. The Barcelona-Granada route has been replaced by daytime trains: a mid-range Media Distancia train or MD plus local bus. The overall journey has been reduced to 7-8 hours.
When planning my first trip to Spain, I narrowed down my preferred destinations in Spain to specific areas: Barcelona, Andalucia, and Madrid. Flying in to Barcelona and out of Madrid meant I had some options for getting from A to B. To hit all of places I wanted to go, a long-haul journey between Barcelona and Granada was inevitable. The train seemed the best option to see a lot of the country, enjoy relative comfort, arrive in the centre of town, and move around freely during the journey.
At the time, RENFE, Spain’s national railway, had a couple of options: travel all day or travel all night. It would be pricey, but not a budget-buster. I learned three things through research:
- A small portion of tickets are nicely discounted if you buy them online in advance.
- RENFE’s website is painful to use, though much better after updates in 2015.
- TripAdvisor has a very helpful, thorough guide for buying tickets online through the RENFE site. Following every step to the letter, I bought tickets for each of four trip legs without a single problem, some at 50% off of the regular price.
Having already experienced an 18-hour train journey upright (Montreal to Halifax) and finding one such experience enough for a lifetime, my budget permitted an actual bed on the “Trenhotel,” RENFE’s long-haul night trains. In a berth of either two or four beds (a “Cama Turista”), it was 92€ for a 10-hour journey (2011). Considering the trip was just under 1,000 kilometres, that seemed a fair price.
When I went to buy my Trenhotel ticket, there was a discounted online ticket for a private room the next class up, a “Cama Preferen,” for the incrementally higher price of 100,10€ (CAD$140.82 at the time). The regular price was 115€, the difference being the large part of a day’s food budget. Sold!
The departure from Barcelona was not without drama. A couple of days earlier, I noticed signs in Catalan and Spanish vaguely alluding to periods of labour disruption over the next week, including two of my train journeys. Lacking the language capacity to explore the intricacies of Spanish labour relations (hint: they’re like the French, except they only strike for a few hours a day, instead of the whole day), I took my chances and went to the train station.
If there was a strike, no one within the RENFE system was particularly bothered by it. Asking questions only yielded “No problem” answers, so I got in line for security, not entirely sure what was going to happen next. After the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Spain takes train security very seriously. Bags are scanned, people are scanned, but, unlike air travel, you get to keep all of your clothes on and no one shouts at you.
I was directed to the Cama Preferen boarding area, then walked to my little room, provided with a brief overview of the journey, and given a personal wake-up time. The car’s attendant was beyond delightful, listening politely as I mangled a few sentences in Catalan and Spanish, then conveying all of the necessary information in perfect English, while poking fun at my questionable multilingualism. She reiterated the most important rule about the Trenhotel: take the key everywhere because the doors snap closed behind you.
I explored my little area, opened up the amenities package and made the most of the experience by taking a shower on a moving vehicle.
It was already pitch-black, so there wasn’t much to see or do, so I settled in to read, and promptly konked out for nine hours.
Truthfully, I saw very little of the country between Barcelona and Granada. I left in the dark, and the sun rises rather late at that time of year, almost 8:oo am. The only thing I actually witnessed was the sun rising over the Andalusian countryside, which was stunning. My new neighbour friends and I stood in our hallway, sharing the one really clean window while oohing and ahhing over this amazing sunrise.
The trains in Spain are really something to behold. Clean, efficient, and timely. None of my four trips were more than a minute or two late, and for something like the Trenhotel, it’s good value for dollar. It was certainly cost- and time-competitive with taking a bus – but far more comfortable – much easier than dealing with a flight, and a rather interesting way to spend an overnight in the Spanish countryside, hurtling through the night at approximately 150 km/h.
I loved the experience, would definitely recommend it for those whose time, budget, and interest permits, and would certainly repeat it the next time I’m in Spain. If you have questions about Trenhotel, please ask in the comments!
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