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.