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 — Cudillero/Oviedo

From the port city of Candás, travel 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 UNESCO 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

Journey to 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, and venture along 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. Continue by train to Villasana de Mena.
El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo (B,D)

Day 10 — San Sebastián

After breakfast, disembark the train and continue 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 hotel. Tonight, toast our Spanish rail adventure at a farewell dinner.
Hotel Maria Cristina or Parador de Hondarribia (B,D)

Day 11 — San Sebastián/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 and educator with more than two decades of experience developing and leading educational travel programs abroad. A founding director of National Geographic Student Expeditions, Tim played a key role in developing new photography, archaeology, and wildlife conservation programs in Iceland, Peru, Ecuador and the Galápagos, Spain, the Yucatán Peninsula, Alaska, and Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks. After majoring in Spanish at Middlebury College, Tim earned master's degrees in international affairs and creative writing, and lived internationally for several years directing college semester abroad programs in Spain, Australia, and Venezuela. From 1999 to 2004, he headed up a series of pioneering educational programs for American students in Cuba, including a Havana-based program focusing on music, film, writing, and Spanish, and a four-week mobile writing workshop that traversed the island from Santiago to Havana. An avid outdoorsman, fly fisherman, and backcountry skier, Tim's essays and feature articles on travel and the outdoors have appeared in many national magazines, including Backcountry, Cross Country Skier, The Morning News, and Yale Angler's Journal. His short fiction collection, The Camp at Cutthroat Lake, was a finalist for the Lewis-Clark Press Discovery Award, and his essay “Embargoed Brothers: An American in Off-Limits Cuba” won a 2012 Best Travel Writing Award from Traveler’s Tales.

Tim will join the following departure:

Sep 17 - 27, 2015



  • Aug 13 - 23, 2015
  • Sep 17 - 27, 2015

Expedition Cost

2014-2015 Gran Lujo Departures


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

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