Tag Archives: Andalusia

The Al-Andalus: Whirlwind Tour Through Southern Spain

9 Jun

IRT writer Angela Walker and traveling companion Shawn Bidwell enjoy dinner on board the Al-Andalus.  IRT photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Embarking on the Al-Andalus for the first time from Seville was a bit of an adventure, as my traveling companion Shawn and I had to feel our way around the Santa Justa station in lieu of proper signage. But once on board, the train was a welcoming and luxurious oasis that was well worth the initial confusion.

View of the Alhambra from our wonderful local restaurant in Granada. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Al-Andalus passenger Shawn Bidwell disembarks the train in Granada. IRT photo by Angela Walker.

After being welcomed with champagne in the lounge, we settled into our Superior cabin, equipped with a lovely golden couch – which folded into a comfortable and roomy double bed at night – a writing table and chair, a spacious closet, and a full en-suite bathroom. The modern touches, such as vacuum toilet and individually controlled air conditioning do not take away from the beautiful Belle Époque design – striking sconces accentuate the carefully crafted inlaid wooden flower designs throughout the train.

Most of the Al-Andalus sleeping cars were built in France in the late 1920s, as were all four public cars: lounge, two diners and bar car, which are as comfortable and beautiful as the sleepers. The dining and bar car is lovely in tones of red and gold, while the lounge car is a more muted gray with large welcoming couches.

We could have spent a week enjoying the comforts of the train alone, but the many stops along the way – Cordoba, Baeza, Ubeda, Granada, Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez, Sanlucar, and Sevilla – provided an exciting and whirlwind six-day tour through southern Spain. Granada’s stunning Alhambra, built by the Moorish rulers in the 14th century, was among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites we took in on our journey, as was the famed Seville Cathedral – third largest in the world.

The staff of the Al-Andalus is always at the ready with hot coffee and tea during daily breakfast on board. IRT photo by Angela Walker.

Some stops were difficult to navigate with a group (the small and winding streets of Cordoba, for example), but the Al-Andalus guides did an excellent job of keeping everyone lively and on track. Most travelers on our departure were Spanish-speakers – but not to fear. As we were two of only three English-speakers on board, Mercedes, our fantastic translator employed by the train, became our de facto personal guide. She was patient with any questions we had and made us feel quite at home.

For Part II of Angela Walker’s adventures on the Al-Andalus, please click here.

Al-Andalus: Palace On Wheels Rides Again

5 Mar

One of the lovely dining cars on the Al Andalus.

Story written by Regina Winkle-Bryan

In Spain, and especially in Southern Spain, citizens understand that “good things come to those who wait.” Time seems to move without hurry on the Iberian Peninsula, where patience is a virtue and a survival skill. We’ve been waiting for eight years for the Al-Andalus train to make an appearance on the rails once more, and spring of 2012 marks the end of its hiatus. Now managed by FEVE and Renfe, the renovated Al-Andalus will be presented in Cadiz March 17, 2012, at the bicentennial celebration of the 1812 Spanish Constitution. Following this official launch, the Al-Andalus will begin touring on May 6, and will make several trips each month until early December.

Dubbed a “Palace on Wheels,” the luxurious Al-Andalus is outfitted with a bar, tearoom, and two dining cars, all decorated in ‘Belle Epoque’ style. Up to 64 guests may lodge in the train’s 20 Superior and 12 Standard all en-suite cabins. The Al-Andalus cuts through some of the country’s most celebrated landscapes and visits a history-rich area of Spain where Judaism, Islam and Christianity collided. This is heart of the robust Spain we know from books and postcards, the Spain of hand-held fans, sunshine, flamenco, siestas, tapas and macho bullfighters in elaborate dress.

Once on board the Al-Andalus, everything is included in the rate, from your evening glass of dry Jerez sherry to the many village tours offered during the six-day expedition. Riders set out from Seville, the largest metropolis in the south of Spain, popular for its vibrant Feria de Abril festival and Royal Alcázar. From Seville, the Al-Andalus proceeds to Córdoba where guests are offered a city tour taking in the Mosque, Cathedral and Jewish Quarter, followed by dinner in a typical Cordobés eatery.

The following five days on Al-Andalus provide similar opportunities in the towns of Baeza, Úbeda, Granada, Ronda, Cádiz, Jerez, Sanlúcar and Doñana Park. Click here for the full itinerary. Highlights include a stopover at Jerez’s Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre for a dressage show as well as a tour of Granada’s mind-blowing Alhambra, one of the country’s most legendary monuments.

The Al Andalus traversing southern Spain.

Al-Andalus is the newest of Spain’s numerous tourist trains. High-end lines such as El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, and El Transcantábrico Clasico, tour Spain’s rugged northern coast and Basque Country. However, Al-Andalus is the only train of its kind in the south.

Getting There: Fly to the Spanish capital of Madrid on Delta or Iberia. From here you could fly on Iberia to Seville, but taking Renfe’s high-speed train AVE will get you there in two and a half hours while allowing you to glimpse more Spanish scenery. AVE leaves from central Madrid’s Atocha station dropping you off in downtown Seville.

The Society of International Railway Travelers can take care of all details for your trip — from train reservations to hotels. For a full itinerary, along with dates and pricing, visit The Society of International Railway Travelers’ website.

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