Spain has never had as extensive a rail network as the other big Western European nations, partly because of its relative isolation and poverty in the 19th century. But in the 21st century the country is catching up fast - notably with the Madrid-Barcelona express line.

Spain has never had as extensive a rail network as the other big Western European nations, partly because of its relative isolation and poverty in the 19th century. But in the 21st century the country is catching up fast - notably with the Madrid-Barcelona express line.

Building of the nation's second AVE line (the first runs south from Madrid to Seville and Cordoba) has been fraught with difficulty; it will now not be finished until 2008. At present, the high-speed line runs for 447km to Lleida, at which point the train changes gauge and runs at a slower speed for 150km to Barcelona. But the six daily journeys cover the distance between Spain's two biggest cities in under five hours - a great improvement on a few years ago, when the trip could take most of the day. The one-way fare is €60.50 (£43).

Flights from Madrid to Barcelona and vice versa, currently take-off every 15 minutes at peak times, but this is likely to reduce drastically when the line is finally complete. Meanwhile, the high-speed line gives rapid access from the capital to the Pyrenees; from Lleida the mountains are a couple of hours away by connecting bus.

A couple of low-speed trains are worth considering if you're heading out of the capital or the Costa Blanca. The Tren de la Fresa - the Strawberry Train (00 34 902 228 822) departs from Madrid to Aranjuez Saturdays and Sundays at 10am, returning to Madrid at 7pm. It includes a visit to the beautiful Palace Royal in Aranjuez and the opportunity to walk around its exquisite gardens. The journey takes you past fields of strawberries and you can expect to be offered plenty to munch on. The trip costs €24 (£17.20).

The Limon Expres (0034 966 803 103; www.limonexpres.com) departs from Benidorm Tuesday to Saturday at 9.40am, returning at 1.45pm. The trip takes you past an abundance of lemon trees to the village of Gata de Gorgas where you visit a guitar factory and basket shops. On the return journey you will be treated to either complimentary champagne or fresh lemon squash. The trip costs €22 (£15).



Comments