TABLE 690 Porto – Lisboa

(Part 4)

For our final leg, we depart Entroncamento and our first station is Santarém. The town overlooks the winding Tagus River from its ridge-top position affording magnificent views of the district’s plains and river. The best view is from the popular Jardim das Portas do Sol – a garden encircled by the city’s medieval walls.

Our final stop is one of the oldest cities in the world, the capital, Lisbon. Full of diverse architecture with superb food and a fascinating history. There are two main railway stations; all services pass through the ultra-modernist Gare do Oriente which links to the city’s efficient metro, trams and buses and then it’s on to the more central and older Santa Apolónia.

Lisbon extends over seven hills so there are many wonderful panoramic views to be found from a steep hill walk through the narrow cobbled streets or on a gravity-defying tram ride.  There are plenty of attractions and activities here to fill several days and as the city is close to a stunning coastline, beautiful sandy beaches in resorts such as Cascais can be easily reached with a short bus or train ride. The delightful town of Sintra is also a 40-minute train journey away (Table 699) and makes a worthwhile day trip. Nestled in the hills above Lisbon, the town was the summer residence of Portugal’s royal family. The charming pastel-coloured buildings, extravagant palaces, opulent mansions and castle ruins can be easily explored in a day using a circular bus route running from the train station.

To extend your journey further, there are regular fast services to Faro on the Algarve (Table 697) or an overnight service across the border to Madrid (Table 45)

(Part 3)

Continuing from last week, we depart Aveiro, southbound to Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital and home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. The city is the halfway point between Porto and Lisbon so it’s a good stopping off point if you are breaking your journey. The city’s upper old town’s narrow streets are packed with impressive academic buildings, libraries and museums as well as the interesting 12th Century Old Cathedral. Coimbra also boasts the largest botanical gardens in Portugal with beautiful terraced formal gardens and many exotic trees.

From Coimbra, we follow the more scenic main line through the towns of Alfarelos and Pombal, dominated by its medieval castle. Next is the world famous city of Fátima, visited by millions of religious pilgrims each year particularly in May and October on the anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Even if you are not Catholic, there are some beautiful things to see in Fátima such as the shrine and basilica. However, the station is around 12 miles away from the city centre so a taxi ride would likely be required.

The next stop is Entroncamento, an important railway town whose name translates to ”junction’ owing to its development at the junction of the Northern and Eastern railway lines. The town is now home to the modern national railway museum. From Entrocamento there is the option of branching off to another scenic line, into the stunning mountain scenery to Covilhã (Table 691), ideal for those fond of hiking or skiing.

(Part 2)

A worthwhile side-track from Porto is the wonderful journey aboard the Linha do Douro Railway which runs through the Douro Valley to Pocinho (timings are shown in table 694). This journey is an ERT favourite, with the later section of the route between Pinhão and Pocinho considered to be one of the most scenic in Europe. There are regular daily departures from Porto (São Bento and Campanhã) with the entire journey taking around 3hr 30min, so it’s possible to make the return trip in a day if you take a morning train. During the summer months, there is also the option of a steam-hauled tourist train between Régua and Tua or you can combine your trip with a boat cruise.  Make sure you sit on the right-hand side of the train as you travel towards Pinhão and have your camera at the ready!
NB – There are currently engineering works on this line until the end of February 2019
Back to our main route and leaving Porto we depart south, passing the port lodges in the district of Vila Nova de Gaia and stopping at the seaside resorts of Espinho and Aveiro, dubbed the ‘Venice of Portugal thanks to its small network of picturesque canals and lagoons. The city offers a nice mix of historical attractions and attractive beaches making it popular with visitors. The canals are lined with a mixture of brightly painted art nouveau houses and are best explored by one of the ornate fishing boats or ‘moliceiros’. From the train, you may catch glimpses of the beautiful old station building, ornamented with blue and white tiles of regional scenes. It is currently fenced off and requires some much-needed renovation, but worth a visit by foot if you are exploring the city.
(Part 1)

This month we are focusing on a very scenic route from north to south along the coast of Portugal. This route takes in the country’s two largest cities and offers a number of interesting, worthwhile sidetracks to explore some of the country’s beautiful and dramatic scenery.

CP offers two standards of train service on this route; the cheaper Intercidades (Intercity) which takes around 3hrs 15 to complete the direct journey, and the faster, high-quality Alfa Pendular. Both require advance seat reservations.

Porto is a historic and varied city, famed for the production of Port, which is still matured in the vast cellars that stretch along the banks of the Douro River and with most of its old centre designated a world heritage site there is plenty to explore. Most high-speed trains depart from Campanhã station but its worth a visit to the more central São Bento station to admire its interior lined with elaborate blue and white tiles. Another icon of the city is the impressive arched Dom Luís I Bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. You can cross the highest section of the bridge either on the metro or as a pedestrian if you have a head for heights! To get a unique view of the bridge, ride the funicular down the steep cliff from Batalha to the quayside at Ribeira.

TABLE 672: Barcelona – Valencia

(Part 4/4)

On this final section of our route we leave Valencia passing through its other station Joaquin Sorolla, named after the Spanish landscape painter. Our first stop is the handsome town of Xativa where you are immediately met with views of the magnificent medieval castle. The station is just 10 minutes from the historic centre which has a wealth of gothic buildings and churches, museums and several ancient fountains dotted around. There are two 20-minute tourist train tours a day through the old quarter that include an ascent to the castle which has impressive views over the city.

Next is the popular holiday city of Alicante. This lively, easy-going city attracts lots of tourists eager to walk its pretty marble tiled waterfront promenade. The city has plenty of attractions for visitors including its hilltop castle, interesting old quarter, and Mercado Central, the main market hall which is a feast for the senses. There is also the usual mix of sandy beaches, good restaurants and interesting shopping streets and plazas to explore. There are also daily boat trips to the nearby island of Tabarca which gives great views of the coastline

The railway line now veers slightly inland to Murcia where passengers can either continue west onto Lorca or head back towards the coast to the historical naval port of Cartagena. Catagena’s layers of Roman and Carthaginian history mixed with modernist architecture make it a fascinating city. Most places of interest are contained in an area enclosed by the city walls – long stretches of which are still intact. There have been several new attractions opened in the city in recent years, bringing in tourists to view its varied historical treats, such as the recently restored Roman theatre and Museum of Underwater Archaeology. There is also an elevator to the castle, the highest point in the city.

(Part 3)

Travelling south from Tarragona the first stop is the huge theme park and resort of Port Aventura. If rollercoasters are not your thing then it’s a short hop to the next station, Salou.  A popular resort with families and young Brits, Salou also has some fine, tree lined streets, lovely beaches and parks. The line continues through the popular seaside destination of Vinaròs which has a beautiful promenade, a working port and some much quieter beaches. The town is particularly well regarded for its prawns, so there are a great number of fine seafood restaurants here, they even hold a festival dedicated to their seafood in August.

The next stop is Benicassim, a lovely seaside town with some spectacular mountain scenery. The town is most famous as the venue for Spain’s top music festival which takes place annually in July when the population of the town can swell by up to 50,000. Along the town’s historical La Ruta de las Villas are 51 wonderful 19th century villas built for wealthy families by important architects of the time. Nearly all are now privately owned but they can be admired from the outside and tours can be arranged which explain their history.

Continuing, we arrive in the fine modernist masterpiece that is Valencia Nord station, the first of two main railway stations in the city. Valencia combines an amazing old quarter, with its spectacular medieval castles and towers, with the stunning modern part of the city with a string of striking futuristic buildings, combine this with great shopping, great food (it is the home of Paella) and clean beaches, and you have a destination where you could easily spend a few days exploring. One of the city’s more controversial claims to fame is that it has what is claimed to be the Holy Grail in its cathedral. It is also worth a climb to the top of the Miguelete bell tower to admire great views of the city.

(Part 2)

Barcelona has direct railway links with a number of important cities, including Paris and Madrid as well as southern and eastern Spain. The city has excellent rail, bus and metro links ensuring that visitors can get around all of the main tourist sites and further afield without any difficulty. Our route begins at Barcelona Sants, the city’s main transport hub with most high-speed services and airport trains terminating here. Sants has eclipsed the much older França Station in terms of visitor numbers, however, França is worth a visit in its own right as it is agreed to be the city’s most attractive station. Its buildings are a mix of classical and modern design with marble floors and Art Deco decoration.

As Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and with its irresistible combination of history, excellent food, nightlife and Mediterranean beaches there is something to suit all tastes. As you would expect it is packed with outdoor markets, restaurants, shops, museums, and churches and it is a fantastic city to walk around. The city will be extremely busy this weekend (11th – 13th May) as it plays host to a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Last year over 47,000 people used the regional train service over the three day period. The most famous landmark and must-see attraction in Barcelona is La Sagrada Familia, the incomplete church and world heritage site designed by Antoni Gaudi but there are plenty more amazing buildings and streets to discover away from the queues of tourists!

The next major stop south along this line is the port city of Tarragona. The biggest lure in this medieval city is its wealth of Roman ruins which include a mosaic-packed museum, Colosseum and a seaside amphitheatre. All of Tarragona’s sites are within walking distance of the railway station; a stroll through the old town near the cathedral is definitely worthwhile or take a panoramic tour through the streets in the city’s tourist train.

(Part 1)

For May we are going to be looking at Table 672 in Spain which connects the vibrant cities of Barcelona and Valencia along the Mediterranean coast and onwards to the popular holiday resort of Alicante.

This Table covers a total of 679km starting in Catalonia from Barcelona Franca through to terminus stations in either the major naval town of Cartagena or Lorca in the region of Mercia in south-eastern Spain with some wonderful coastal vistas to enjoy en-route. The stops along this route offer travellers a wealth of history to explore, with many fine examples of Roman architecture, ancient walled towns and stunning cathedrals. There are also opportunities to extend your journey with possible connections to some of Spain’s AVE high speed lines which can transfer you onto Madrid and Seville, or options for ferry crossings to the nearby Balearic islands from Barcelona and Valencia (shown in Table 2510).

Journey times and ticket prices can vary enormously on this route as there are several options for train types and carriers as can be seen from the size of table 672. Tickets can also be purchased in different classes, Turista which is second class, Turista Plus, a premium second class option which has a more spacious carriage layout or Preferente which gives access to the Sala Club lounges at the major stations and also offer reclining leather seats and a hot meal. All of the services are reliable and comfortable and frequent throughout the day (between 8-12 a day) but travellers will need to bear in mind that whether you choose the high speed operators or the regional trains, most will require advance seat reservations as carriages can sell out during peak times.