Spain's Northern Coast by Private Rail

  • Travel in style aboard elegant refurbished 1920s Pullman cars
  • Explore seaside ports, wild mountainscapes, and pre-historic ruins

Expedition Details


Climb aboard the brand new luxury Transcantábrico Gran Lujo near Santiago de Compostela and set off on a rail journey along Spain’s splendid northern coast. Passing through medieval hamlets and historic towns, the train traces the fertile tract between the Cantabrian Mountains and the scalloped beaches on the Bay of Biscay. Explore Basque country, Asturias, and charming seaside ports.

Trip Highlights

  • Travel in spacious, refurbished 1920s British Pullman cars on the elegant Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, remodeled in 2010.
  • Admire diverse architectural styles, from the pre-Romanesque gems of Oviedo to Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum.
  • Stroll amid emerald lakes, limestone peaks, and mountain meadows in Picos de Europa National Park.
  • Stay in a historic parador in Santiago de Compostela, and savor the region's cuisine and fine wines.

Itinerary - 11 Days

Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Depart on an overnight flight. Arrive in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and the ending point of the historic Way of St. James pilgrimage route. Check into our beautiful parador, considered one of the oldest hotels in the world. Gather for a welcome reception and dinner tonight.
Parador Hostal Dos Reis Católicos (D)

Day 3 — Santiago de Compostela/Ferrol/Viveiro

This morning, explore Santiago’s historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the middle of the city sits the majestic cathedral, allegedly the burial place of St. James and the destination of many thousands of pilgrims for the past thousand years. You may choose to stay and witness the weekly Pilgrims’ Mass at noon in the cathedral, a tradition that dates to the 11th century. After lunch, drive to Ferrol, where we board our train and continue on to Viveiro. Enjoy dinner and settle in for the night.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Ribadeo/Luarca

Our first stop this morning is the stately seaside town of Ribadeo. Wander beneath soaring rock formations at a magnificent beach aptly named Las Catedrales. Visit the ethnographic site of Os Teixois in Taramundi where we learn how, in ancient times, people of this region used the power of water to create tools and operate machinery. Enjoy lunch at the historic Parador de Ribadeo, a traditional Galician country home, and then board the train for the whitewashed fishing village of Luarca. After dinner, enjoy a live performance by a Spanish guitar player and a singer aboard the train.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Avilés/Cudillero/Oviedo

From the port city of Candás, travel to Avilés to visit the Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Center, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Later, enjoy a walk in the old town of Avilés before traveling to the picturesque fishing village of Cudillero. Marvel at the “hanging houses” and colorful balconies perched on steep cliffs around the port, explore the chapel of Humilladero, and venture into one of the many fishermen’s taverns if you choose. After lunch, continue to Oviedo, a city known for its pre-Romanesque Asturian architecture. Visit the church of San Julián de los Prados, a stunning example of this style and a World Heritage site.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,D)

Day 6 — Picos de Europa National Park/Covadonga/Llanes

Continue east through the Asturias region, tracing the coast as the Cantabrian Mountains rise along the southern horizon. Stop in Arriondas for an excursion into Picos de Europa National Park, where stony, snow-dusted peaks jut into the sky. Pay a visit to a mountainside cabin to sample traditional Asturian cider while taking in spectacular views. Venture into the village of Covadonga, site of the first victory of the Spanish Reconquest; and visit its basilica, an important pilgrimage site. Continue by train to Llanes for the night.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,D)

Day 7 — Potes/Comillas

Spend the morning in Potes, a beautiful village of medieval buildings and bridges nestled in the hills below the Picos de Europa mountains. See the Infantado Tower, a 15th-century bastion that dominates the village skyline, and wander the narrow cobbled lanes of the Old Quarter. Pay a visit to Santo Toribio de Liébana monastery, where monks have long venerated what is alleged to be the largest preserved fragment of the Lignum Crucis—the Holy Cross discovered by St. Catherine in Jerusalem. Stop to taste a few vintages at a local winery before continuing to Comillas. Here, visit the Capricho de Gaudí, one of the first two buildings designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Santillana del Mar/Santander

After breakfast, visit the Altamira Museum and learn about the prehistoric cave paintings found here. Continue to Santillana del Mar, one of Europe’s best preserved medieval villages. Have lunch at the Parador Gil Blas, a stunning ancestral home dating back to the eighth century, and then explore this enchanting village. Reboard the train for Santander, the seaside capital of Cantabria. Stretched out along narrow spits and scalloped beaches, Santander was a royal retreat in the early 20th century. This evening, sample Spanish tapas on a walk through town.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Bilbao/Villasana de Mena

Pull into Bilbao, a shipbuilding center and the largest city in the Basque region. Enjoy a city tour that includes the Guggenheim Museum, which houses works by Picasso and Warhol, but is better known for its cutting-edge design by Frank Gehry. Travel on to Villasana de Mena tonight.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,D)

Day 10 — San Sebastián/Hondarribia

After breakfast, disembark the train and drive to San Sebastián, the lively culinary capital of Basque country, just 12 miles from the French border. Stroll along the narrow lanes of the picturesque old town this afternoon before checking into our parador in nearby Hondarribia. Tonight, toast our Spanish rail adventure at a farewell dinner.
Parador de Hondarribia (B,D)

Day 11 — Hondarribia/U.S.

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your return flight.

Optional Extension

National Geographic Expert

Tim Weed

Tim WeedTim Weed is an award-winning author, outdoorsman, and independent explorer. A founding director of National Geographic Student Expeditions, Tim has lived and worked in more than twenty-five countries on every continent except Antarctica. Highlights of his long career in international education have included directing college semester abroad programs in Spain, Australia, and Venezuela; bringing some of the first American students to Cuba since the Revolution in the late 1990’s; creating and leading programs for writers, artists, and musicians in Spain, Cuba, Argentina, Italy, and Ireland; and trekking at various latitudes in the Andes cordillera in Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, northern Argentina, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. His articles on travel, history, outdoor adventure, and the writing craft have appeared in Talking Points Memo, Backcountry, Writer’s Chronicle, National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog, and many other magazines and journals. An undergraduate Spanish major at Middlebury College, Tim received master’s degrees from the University of California and the Warren Wilson College MFA for Writers program. He is the winner of a Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award and a Solas Best Travel Writing Award, and his first novel, Will Poole’s Island, was released in 2014.

Tim will join the following departure:

Sep 01 - 11, 2016



  • Sep 01 - 11, 2016
  • Sep 22 - Oct 02, 2016

Expedition Cost

Expedition cost:


Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single compartment, add $5,995.

International airfare to Santiago de Compostela and return from San Sebastián is not included in the expedition cost.

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