Travelling from France into Spain is seamless, and the journey through ever more southern-feeling landscapes is one to savour.
Catalan Coast by daytime services
Considering the distance you’ll be covering over the course of the day, you start at a very civilised hour, with a mid-morning Eurostar departure from London to Paris. In the French capital, you collect your luggage from the racks and follow the signs to the RER (there are no passport checks to go through), which will take you from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon, a ten-minute journey. From the Gare de Lyon, you travel the 600 miles to Catalonia in 6 hours 15 minutes (by the end of 2013, it won’t even be necessary to change trains). You arrive at your hotel at around 9pm, just as dinner service gets underway!
Unless you are keen to keep the travelling to one day, changing in Paris is not the only option. You can also travel via Lille, with an overnight stop either in Lille itself (where you can stay for up to 24 hours without it impacting on your fare) or in the Roman city of Nîmes (where there is no maximum stay). On this route, the TGV Duplex whisks its passengers at 186mph across verdant countryside, past Lyon, and down the scenic Rhône Valley, repeatedly crossing the river on spectacular viaducts (including a particularly impressive one just north of Avignon, from which you can glimpse the famous papal palace). It then travels across the rolling hills of Provence to Nîmes. You slow down to 125mph to catch fleeting glimpses of the Mediterranean coast , before joining the new high-speed line again at Perpignan for the last half an hour of the journey through the Pyrenees and into Spanish Catalonia.
Catalonia, including the Pyrenees, by sleeper train
The Jean Miró, one of the high-quality Elipsos Trenhotel fleet, travels the Paris to Barcelona route, covering the 1,140-kilometre journey in just over 12 hours. The glass of cava with which you are greeted on arrival sets the tone and is followed soon after departure by a three-course dinner with wine, coffee and liqueurs included. By the time you return to the restaurant car the following morning for breakfast, the landscapes through the window look distinctly Mediterranean. You arrive at Figueres or Girona shortly after breakfast, feeling suitably refreshed for the taxi journey to your hotel.
However, if you would like to explore the Catalan capital, you can continue to Barcelona at no additional cost. The train pulls in just before 10am, giving you several hours in this vibrant city before catching a local train (inexpensive, payable locally) north again to Figueres or Girona for your walking or cycling holiday.
Castile & Andalucía by sleeper train
Travel in style to central or southern Spain by the high-quality Elipsos Trenhotel. The Francisco de Goya operates on the Paris to Madrid Chamartin line, taking 13-and-a-half hours to cover the 1,450 kilometres between the French and Spanish capitals. After what should, all being well, have been a good night’s sleep, you sit down for breakfast on the approach to Madrid, with views across the plains to the distant mountains.
For holidays in Castile, you change at Madrid Chamartin for a 30-minute high-speed train to Segovia, where your taxi will meet you for the transfer to your hotel.
For holidays in Andalucía, you should cross from Chamartin to Atocha (three metro stops), which is the hub for Spain’s fantastic high-speed AVE services. If you have time, you can wander through the old station concourse which, since the construction of the new terminal, has been turned into a huge tropical garden. You then board the direct AVE service to Seville, which crosses the plain and then cuts through the rugged mountains of the Sierra Morena on its way to Andalucía.