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Spain's Northern Coast by Private Rail

  • Trip Type: Train
  • 11 Days | Santiago de Compostela to Hondarribia
  • Group Size: Max 23

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,L)

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,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

Fiona Dunlop

Fiona DunlopTravel writer Fiona Dunlop has explored Spain extensively for 30 years, writing numerous articles about its culture and gastronomy. She is the author of the National Geographic Traveler guidebooks for Spain and Portugal as well as the critically acclaimed book New Tapas (recently republished as Real Tapas), which explores Spain’s evolving food culture. Fiona contributes to numerous national newspapers and international magazines, and she has written more than a dozen guidebooks and food culture books, including The North African Kitchen and Mexican Modern. Her world travels have taken her from Burma to Syria, Cuba to Libya, always with a keen eye for local culture and cuisine. In addition to living for long periods in France, Italy, and London—her hometown—she has long favored Andalusia in southern Spain, where she frequently retreats to her house in the olive groves.

Fiona will join the following departure:

Sep 22 - Oct 02, 2016


  • Sep 22 - Oct 02, 2016 (waitlist only)

Expedition Cost

Expedition cost:


Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $4,995.

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

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