Essen­tials

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Rail Journeys -

The cost for two pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling from Lon­don to Lis­bon by train was £1,190. Lower fares can be found when booked fur­ther in ad­vance. Tip: book the Sud Ex­press tick­ets (from renfe.com or via loco2.com) be­fore ar­rang­ing the other con­nec­tions. Lon­don to Paris on Eurostar (eurostar.com) costs from about £60 re­turn, though more in high sea­son. First-class re­turn tick­ets from Lis­bon to Faro on the high-speed Alfa Pen­du­lar cost about £30; booked in ad­vance (cp.pt). seat61.com and railbookers. com are use­ful web­sites for train in­for­ma­tion and prices. A twin room at the Novo­tel Gare Mont­par­nasse (novo­tel.com) in Paris cost the au­thor £130.

There, as dusk fell, we joined the Sud Ex­press, the Night Train to Lis­bon, im­mor­talised in the novel and film of the same name and one of Europe’s last sur­viv­ing “train ho­tels”. We had, thank­fully, been ad­vised to se­cure a twin-berth cabin in Gran Clase, the most lux­u­ri­ous of the three classes, which af­forded us a three-course meal and rudi­men­tary break­fast and – cru­cially, I felt – our own en-suite loo and shower fa­cil­i­ties. This turned out to be handy as, once the train got into its wal­low­ing stride af­ter an early stop in San Se­bastián, it emerged that Emily wasn’t much bet­ter equipped for long-dis­tance train travel than she was for fly­ing.

Try­ing to sleep on a train is never easy, es­pe­cially when you are ly­ing across the di­rec­tion of progress, and a queasy Emily even­tu­ally worked out that she was most com­fort­able on the floor of the shower cu­bi­cle. Gran Clase in­deed. I too found the mo­tion of the train dis­qui­et­ing, but the bunk was snug and comfy.

From time-to-time dur­ing the night the train stopped at dimly lit lit­tle Span­ish sta­tions and sleepy trav­ellers ex­changed greet­ings and farewells on spooky plat­forms. As dawn rose we mar­velled at banks of cloud break­ing like pink waves over a dis­tant moun­tain range, and as the train passed into Por­tu­gal we shut­tled from cabin win­dow to cor­ri­dor win­dow, ex­claim­ing at each fresh view of tiny white­washed vil­lages and vast slow-flow­ing rivers.

We killed a cou­ple of hours munch­ing pas­tries in the sun­shine at Lis­bon’s star­tlingly mod­ern, San­ti­ago Cala­trava-de­signed Ori­ente sta­tion be­fore board­ing the Al­garve Ex­press for the three-hour run down to Faro. First-class tick­ets were a (cheap) treat and the train was mod­ern, clean, smooth and un­crowded. A taxi to the Dona Filipa com­pleted the out­ward jour­ney in a lit­tle un­der 48 hours.

On our re­turn the con­nec­tions were in our favour and we did not need to stay overnight in Paris, so with for­ward plan­ning (and kindly ad­vice) the jour­ney can be achieved in 36 hours or so. Emily and I en­joyed our­selves, but the nov­elty fac­tor and each other’s com­pany helped. Now if we can just per­suade the rest of the fam­ily to switch to In­ver­ness from the Al­garve for next year, I’ll get on with book­ing the Cale­do­nian Sleeper.

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