The first stage of the new AVE line between Madrid and Barcelona, on which trains are expected to travel at around 350km/h, is now set to open on 11 October, a year behind schedule. It will link the Spanish capital with Zaragoza in under two hours, and Lleida in under three. The complete line will not be finished for several years. An added complication is that the line is being built to the European gauge, rather than the wider gauge that prevails on most of Spain's conventional railways. But some sophisticated new rolling-stock is able to change gauge without stopping, and each day, seven of the new trains - branded "Altaria" - will continue to Barcelona, reaching the city in as little as four hours 35 minutes.

A TRAIN

The first stage of the new AVE line between Madrid and Barcelona, on which trains are expected to travel at around 350km/h, is now set to open on 11 October, a year behind schedule. It will link the Spanish capital with Zaragoza in under two hours, and Lleida in under three. The complete line will not be finished for several years. An added complication is that the line is being built to the European gauge, rather than the wider gauge that prevails on most of Spain's conventional railways. But some sophisticated new rolling-stock is able to change gauge without stopping, and each day, seven of the new trains - branded "Altaria" - will continue to Barcelona, reaching the city in as little as four hours 35 minutes.

The one-way fare from Madrid to Barcelona or vice-versa, in "Turista" class, is €59 (£43), bookable locally. UK rail agents do not yet appear to be able to access the new service.

The new line will enable easy, quick "open jaw" trips, flying out to Madrid and back from Barcelona, for example on easyJet (0870 600 0000; www.easyJet.com) from Gatwick, Luton or Liverpool.

A BOAT

The good news is that two people can get from Portsmouth to Bilbao, in northern Spain, and back for £78, including berths in a cabin with an en-suite bathroom, aboard P&O Ferries (08705 20 20 20; www.poferries.com). If you want to spend three nights at sea, aboard the Pride of Bilbao, this is the trip for you. Less good, for those who enjoy terra firma, is that you get barely four hours in the Basque capital. You leave Portsmouth on a Saturday or Tuesday evening, arriving in Spain at 8am on Monday or Thursday morning and leaving at 12.30pm the same day. And Bilbao's Guggenheim museum closes on Monday, and on other days opens at 10am, so there is time only for a lightning visit.

A PLANE

Britain's latest "new" airline is Rockhopper (01481 824567; www.rockhopper.aero), serving the Channel Islands from Dorset. Until last week it was called Le Cocqs AirLink. It flies from Bournemouth to Alderney for £93 return; to Guernsey for £100; and to Jersey for £103. You must book at least a fortnight in advance, and for Alderney you have to travel out and back from Monday to Thursday.

Comments