Last December I found myself catching Eurostar at St Pancras for Paris Gare Du Nord, crossing Paris by metro to Gare St Austerlitz and from there taking the overnight Trainhotel to Madrid. Trainhotel sounds evocative and conjures up images of glamorous Europeans quaffing champers whilst assorted agents rush about enigmatically. I expected to encounter at least one heiress travelling with her poodle, or perhaps a group of sophisticates playing bridge in the dining car, and I imagined being interviewed by Interpol! The cabin brought me back to earth – it was comfortable and functional.
The Trainhotel to Spain is operated by a joint Spanish rail (RENFE) and French rail (SNCF) organization called Elipsos. The trains are named after Spanish painters like Francisco de Goya or Joan Miro, although strangely no Salvador Dali (the mind boggles)!
There are several seating options available: a simple recliner, one berth in a 4-berth cabin, two sharing, or sole occupancy. Whilst the recliner is only a bit cheaper than a berth, the two or one per cabin options are expensive so I chose one berth in a 4 berth cabin (price £189 return not including the Eurostar leg). There is a bar carriage selling light snacks and drinks and a fancy dining-car where you can eat in style (vegetarians must book ahead). A peek through the door revealed no poodles so I settled for a cerveza plus sandwich in the bar.
Back in the cabin, I settled in and chatted with the other passengers. They were going all the way but there are stops in Blois, Poitier, Vittoria, Burgos and Valladolid before Madrid (the Barcelona Trainhotel stops in Limoges, Perpignan, Figueras and Girona). At about 10pm the guard comes around
collecting passports (so you don't get woken at the border) and also to convert the seats to bunks and then it’s lights out. Whilst the bunks are tight (anyone over 6 feet will struggle), I got to sleep fairly quickly and the next thing I knew I was in Madrid ready for breakfast. The total journey time from Birmingham was 20 hours.
Everything was on time and hassle-free for both the outward and return trips and, with similar
overnight trains running to other parts of Europe like Italy and Eastern Europe, I'd have no hesitation travelling this way again.