Railways played a huge role in the development of Spain. However, the country was mostly covered with narrow-gauge tracks. One-metre gauge rails were used to transport passengers and cargo in the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia, Navarra and Castile. When in other European countries narrow-gauge railways were put into liquidation, the Spanish decided not to change the gauge of rails. Moreover, railway routes in these autonomous communities were combined into a more than one thousand kilometre line on which El Transcantabrico was put into service in 1983. It was one of the world’s most luxurious trains. In 2011, the travelling conditions were adapted to the highest standards.
The train is operated by a state-owned company, FEVE, in charge of Spanish narrow-gauge railways. The longest journey takes eight days and travelling comfort is ensured by rail carriages designed and built in the Belle Époque style with a level of luxury surpassing that of the Orient Express. Two-passenger compartments have excellent soundproofing, bathrooms (with showers and hydro massage units), storage cabinets, safe boxes, telephones and writing desks, and individually controlled heating, air-conditioning, lighting and public address systems. The windows are wraparound.
Passengers have their meals in a restaurant carriage and can smoke cigars in the club compartment equipped with a TV and DVD. Another carriage contains a reading room where newspapers and books are available.
El Transcantabrico offers two separate classes of train. The trains depart from different stations. The train departing from León Classico takes 54 people in 26 suites, whereas Gran Lujo, starting its journey in San Sebastian, carries 28 guests in 24 one hundred metre plus suites in Pullman carriages (made in 1923). Both travel to Santiago de Compostela. The journey is split into one-day-long stages between which the carriages are put away to calm sidetracks. Each of these stages includes a local sightseeing tour by coach. The local amenities consist of the Gugenheim Museum in Bilbao, Altamira cave paintings, the medieval city of Santillana del Mar and the National Park Picos de Europa. Wine tastings in Oviedo complement evening dancing parties in the entertainment carriage. Every day El Transcantabrico offers buffet breakfast with fresh fruit juices, coffee and tea. During the trips travellers are invited to restaurants located, for example, by a picturesque lake, inside a medieval monastery building or in the cellars of a wine-bar. All the sites share one characteristic - they employ the best Spanish cooks preparing the meals using local produce.
The journey on a five-star hotel narrow-gauge train through the greenest regions of Spain, filled with numerous attractions is certainly an unforgettable experience. Despite fares being rather high, reaching thousands of Euros, tickets must be booked well in advance. So, narrow gauge tracks do not need to be dismantled for melting in ironworks. On the contrary, they can contribute many benefits to the national economy and enhance the development of tourism.