Al Andalus
flickr image by Trenes2000

Al Andalus Review

Al Andalus is perhaps the most elegant and spacious train in the world, truly a luxury hotel on rails. Crafted in France for British royalty during the boom years of the 1920s, lovingly remodelled and refurbished, the sleeper cars, saloon, and lounge cars possess a distinct Art Deco ambiance. In March 2012, these delightful carriages came out of retirement, and they have only bettered with age: Al Andalus seamlessly combines the pinnacle of early 20th-century locomotive craftsmanship with modern technological amenities. Guests have access to wireless internet throughout the train, and independent climate control in the suites. The bathrooms are less the cramped, awkward affairs found on many other luxury trains. There are two classes of suites, although most amenities are common to both, the superior suites are considerably more commodious than the standard suites. That said, the standard suite compares favourably in size with first-class accommodations on many other luxury trains. The four common area cars–the lounge, bar, and two dining cars–ensure passengers will not spend the journey cabin-bound.

Al Andalus France

flickr image by rapidoelectro

Gastronomy on-board Al Andalus samples the specialities of Spain, such as gazpacho, oxtail, and roast lamb, Castillan-style. Vegan, vegetarian and other travellers with special dietary demands should alert  the chefs will craft a menu to any taste. The schedule, on the other hand, is not as flexible. Breakfast is served between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., continental buffet-style–eggs, bacon, fruit, yoghurt, toast and so forth. Though there is no formal dress code, dinner starts at 9 p.m. sharp and is typically a two-hour affair with as many as eight distinct courses. Passengers should expect to be a few pounds heavier after an excursion on Al Andalus. The four dining cars, built in France between 1928 and 1930, transport guests into the sumptuous aesthetic of the Belle Époque. Although period costume would not be out of place in this ambiance, there is no strict dress code and dining is a relaxed, festive, and lengthy adventure in true Iberian-style. The gracious stewards are always on hand to assist rosy guests back to their cabins at the end of the night.

Al Andalus has been described as a palace on wheels, and, entering the cabins, it is not difficult to see why. Redwood panelling, spacious beds, and a distinctly old-world feel suffuses the carriages.

The selection of itineraries in the current season is impressive, exploring the most charming regions, cities, and sights of Iberia with the aid Mercedes and Carolina, a crack duo of multilingual guides. Excursions are for 3, 4, and 5 nights. The Camino de Santiago tour explores northwestern Spain, taking guests from Leon through Asturias and Galicia to the ocean at A Coruña. The Andalusia Tour circumnavigates southern Spain, with stays in Granada, Cordoba, ending in infamous and opulent port city of Cadiz, the final destination of the Spanish treasure fleets.

Every trip has its associated stops and tours; passengers are free to join the guided day-trips to museums, cathedrals, cloisters, and monasteries, or strike out and explore on their own, rejoining the tour in the evening for a sumptuous, all-inclusive dinner at a local restaurant. There are some destinations that no guest will want to miss, such as a day of thermal baths at the River Mino near Ourense on the Andalusia Tour, or a stroll on the lavender-lined walkways of Marqués de Riscal winery in Miranda de Ebro on the Iberico Tour.

Journeys on Al Andalus cost anywhere from £1000 to £2500. The schedule is limited, at most a dozen trips per season per itinerary, and reservations can be difficult to get. It is recommended to reserve in advance via a reputable travel agency.

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