Spain's tourist trains

Spain's quirky tourist trains provide an atmospheric start to a day out, says Angela Coffill
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The Independent Travel

The Strawberry Train

"The Strawberry Train" runs from Atocha station in Madrid in less than an hour to the quaint town of Aranjuez. It is hauled by an antique steam locomotive, along only the second railway to be built from Madrid.

On board, stewardesses are dressed in period costumes and offer dishes of Aranjuez strawberries. (The town is renowned in Spain for growing large, sweet and juicy strawberries, thanks to a benevolent micro-climate; located at the confluence of two rivers, the Tajo and the Jarama, Aranjuez is relatively low at 500m.)

The train is only half the treat, because it takes you to a location that is, in effect, Madrid's Versailles - a location where royalty escaped from the city and, with the help of the national coffers, created majestic confections.

Today, Aranjuez has a population of 40,000 - and a railway station that is set away from the main attractions. To help you make the most of them, a guide will take you to the Royal Palace - a magnificent building dating predominantly from the 18th century. Highlights include the hall of mirrors and the porcelain room. The museum located on the lower floor uses antique items to help replicate palace life three centuries ago.

The grounds are even more of a treat, rambling elegantly to the riverside and replete with statues. If you have time, check out the Casa del Labrador on the far side of town - smaller, and in a wilder setting.

This seasonal trip runs every Saturday and Sunday from April to June, departing from Atocha station at 10.05am and returning at 6.10pm. The adult fare is €20.50 (£16), while tickets for children aged 2-12 cost €13.25 (£10), including the guided tour and strawberries.

Tren de Cervantes

Each weekend, a train departs from Atocha station in Madrid at 11am and heads 35km north east for Alcalá de Henares - one of Spain"s most prominent Unesco World Heritage sites; the 10th anniversary of that accolade is celebrated this year. It is also the home of the author - and "national poet" - of Spain, Miguel de Cervantes. A statue of him stands in the centre of the main plaza, and you can visit the Cervantes home and museum to learn and sample more of his works.

Light entertainment is provided on the train by a group of city actors who perform some short comedy plays written by Cervantes, while stewardesses are dressed up according to 17th-century tradition, offering passengers a typical fresh pastry.

The trip allows for plenty of spare time to be spent in Alcalá de Henares, giving you the opportunity to explore its twisted cobbled streets - and elegant colonnades, particularly on Calle Mayor. You may also meet some of the many thousands of students who help to give the town a real vitality. And look upwards to see some of the storks who nest in the steeples and towers, and who the town has adopted as an avian emblem.

The Tren de Cervantes runs every Saturday and Sunday until 24 June and from 22 September to 9 December. Tickets cost €19 (£14) for adults and €13 (£10) for children. The return train leaves Alcalá de Henares at 7pm, arriving back in the city at around 7.30pm.

Tren de Cremallera de Montserrat

First, take a local train from Barcelona in less than an hour to Monistrol-vila. This is the lower station for a rack railway that rises to the Basilica of Montserrat, giving breathtaking mountainous views along the way. The original rack railway was at its most popular in the 1920s and closed in 1957. But as the excellent exhibition on permanent display in the old Monistrol-vila station building explains, a new rack railway opened in 2003. It takes you on a short 15-minute journey past the River Tortuguer, through the Tunnel of Ángel and across the Guilleumes Bridge before starting its uphill thrust to Montserrat.

Interesting walks can be taken through the mountains to find the cave where, in 880, a group of shepherd children were led by a bright light in the sky and the singing of angels in a nearby cave

The rack railway departs from Monistrol-Vila every 20 minutes. The fare is €6.50 (£4.65) return for adults, €3.60 (£2.60) for children; more information: 00 34 93 205 1515;