Train enthusiast Jeroen shares his story of the night train in Portugal and Spain. After describing his love of night trains and how he booked his cama grand clase, he tells Trip By Trip how the journey itself was.
“After very pleasant citytrips in Porto and Lisbon, I arrived at 8.30 PM at the old and quaint Lisboa Santa Apolónia railway station for the night train to Hendaye in France“, Jeroen recounts.
There are lockers for luggage for those who have to leave their hotel earlier. There is a Pingo Doce supermarket for food and drinks. You can even walk alongside the Tagus river to the city centre to have dinner. It’s only a few hundred meters. “
The white, low riding coaches await passengers at the platform. They look like an American metro train. There’s plenty of time to settle in. The cama gran clase coach has five rooms. “They’re also called trenhotel, train hotel. They use the word ‘room’ instead of ‘cabin’.”
The train was a Talgo 4, built in the 70s or 80s. “I have travelled in quite a few night trains but this was new. The interior in my coach was completely pink, with hard plastic walls. I felt like being in some sort of spaceship on television or in a science-fiction film. It’s all very kitsch.”
To enter his room, Jeroen received a keycard. “For such an old train, this is very modern.”
“The bed is narrow and has sheets and a blanket instead of a duvet. In the morning you can fold your bed to use two hard and uncomfortable seats without a tablet. The bathroom is small but practical. The toilet and shower are clean, but a little worn. There are enough fresh towels.”
Fresh water to brush your teeth is provided, as well as bottled water. Renfe includes a bag of toiletries with ear plugs, slippers, a razor, soap and shampoo, toothpaste etcetera. “It’s very different compared to the CityNightLine.”
The room has airconditioning, but it reads ‘chauffage / heater / calfacción’. “But it definitely is airconditioning.”
The train left on time. “I didn’t see the train guard anymore. Showing my ticket when boarding was enough.”
The first stop is Lisboa Oriente, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava Valls. He also designed Liège-Guillemins in Belgium. “When you go to Lisbon, don’t forget to visit this beautiful and modern Parque das Nações neighbourhood. It was redeveloped for the 1998 World Exhibition.”
There is also a cable car and the Oceanario aquarium.
The next stop is Coimbra, where passengers coming from Porto join the train. The train crosses the border between Vilar Formoso and Fuentes de Oñoro at 2.30 AM. “The night train is the only passengers train using this crossing. Don’t forget to adjust your watch, as Portugal is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and Spain on Central European Time (CET).
“The train as such is quite quiet, but there’s a lot of human movement. I can use the ear plugs. Surprisingly I only wake up at 9 AM.”
Taking a shower is a bit of adventure. Jeroen is 1.90m tall and the shower isn’t huge. But pressure and temperature are good. “The experience made me smile. It’s an odd thought, showering in a moving train somewhere in Spain.”
At this point, Jeroen reached Basque Country with stops at Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastián / Donostia.
Contrary to NightJet trains by the Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB), breakfast isn’t served in the room. You need to go to the buffet car yourself.
The train leaves Spain after Irún and arrives at Hendaye on time. There awaits the TGV connection to Paris.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t experience the changing of wheel width, as Hendaye also has Spanish gauge tracks.”
Now or never?
“The train wasn’t full at all and this night train has been on a ‘to cancel’ list for a while. It’s the Portuguese government which subsidizes the train. But for how long? There’s always a crisis and a debt to pay.”
Jeroen liked this adventure. He added Barcelona – Vigo and Barcelona – A Coruña on his wish list. Those night links are operated with Talgo 7 trains, with screens in the rooms.
Photos provided by Jeroen.