This year I decided to travel more or less ecological. And this means trying to avoid using the aircraft, if possible. Traveling to the south of Spain was since longtime on my bucket list. And this time I managed it: from my hometown Brussels to Seville, the hot town in Spain’s deep south. Come and take with me the train to Andalucia!
I really apologize myself to my Spanish friends for writing this, but I grew up with flamenco music in Holland. For years on, I heard the melodies from Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla in the house where I lived as a teenager. Since I was 17 years old, the region of Cádiz was already on my bucket list. And now, 17 years later, I managed to do it! Finally!
The decision of traveling by train was quickly made. For a couple of years, Brussels and Seville are pretty well connected by several high-speed lines. However, this said, it’s still somewhat challenging to book a right route as this connection crosses three different countries: Belgium, France and Spain. You have to deal with three different railway companies as well: IZY / Thalys, SNCF / RENFE and RENFE.
On a cold Saturday morning in April I took my backpack and left Brussels by IZY train to Paris-North. IZY is a quiet interesting connection between this two capitals because it’s fast and cheap. It doesn’t use the high-speed railway in France, but the old tracks between Arras and Paris. Meanwhile I red a couple of pages from my 800 pages book in French.
Changing stations in Paris
In the French capital I needed to change railway stations. I took suburban train RER D (the green line) between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. This is a pretty fast connection. I noticed that people were wondering what a guy with a huge backpack did on a suburban morning train.
At the time of writing, the Gare de Lyon was in renovation proces. Finding the right tracks was somewhat challenging with typical French detours. As one of France most important railway stations, prices for coffee and food are quiet expensive. But franchise bakers as Brioche Dorée can keep your daily average budget low. For example: a coffee for 3 euros and a sandwich for 4 euros (I now, these are Parisian prices). And at the main part of the railway station are power sockets, free Wi-Fi and a piano for the musical talented fellow travelers.
In the afternoon, my next train for Barcelona departed at a somewhat hidden part of the railway station for international connections to Spain, Italy and Switzerland. My train was not a modern TGV Inoui, but just a normal TGV without Wi-Fi. It left Paris at the right hour.
Paris – Barcelona: a fantastic railway
Personally, I think that the TGV Paris – Barcelona is one of Western Europe greatest connections. It allows persons from the UK, The Netherlands, Belgium and the Rhine Ruhr Area (for example Cologne) to travel to Spain in just one day. The fantastis thing is that this bi-level carriage high speed train doesn’t stop between Paris and the south of France. In just two hours I was able to enjoy (or not) the housing estates in Paris’ suburbs, the somewhat mountainous region of Morvan in Burgundy and the snow covered Alps near Valence.
After a short stop in Valence TGV, this fast train became a Mediterranean high-speed stopper, with calls in Nîmes, Montpellier, Sète, Béziers, Narbonne and Perpignan. Places with nostalgia for me. As a teenager and a student, I went often to the south of France. A region full of history, extravert French people and stunning architecture.
In this year 2019 the high-speed line between Brussels and Seville (!) is interrupted in the French region Occitanie, between Montpellier and Perpignan. This allowed me to enjoy my beloved cities Sète (I know, a stunning and weird harbor) and Béziers (yes, really beautiful, but weird too). In between the train drove next to the Mediterranean Sea. With my book and a good bottle of wine from RENFE / SNCF I was really happy to observe the waves of this legendary sea.
An overnight stop in Barcelona
But… The most interesting and wrongest attraction on this 6 and a halve hours journey is Muammar Gaddafi’s personal airplane, at the Perpignan-Rivesaltes airport. For those who forgot him: he was a dictator in Libya, a North African country at the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. And now, years later, you can still see his airplane next to the railway.
After Perpignan the train entered Spain via a new tunnel through a mountain range of the Pyrenees. And after two short stops in Figueras-Vilafant and Gerona, I reached my final destination for today: Barcelona-Sants. As the new high-speed line Perpignan – Barcelona runs through a lot of tunnels, I wasn’t able to enjoy the Catalan countryside and cities.
I decided to cut my journey in two days. It’s technically possible to travel from Brussels to Seville in one day, but I preferred to stay at night in Barcelona. I opted for Easy Sants Hostal at walking distance from the central railway station Sants. I payed 60 euros during the weekend for a private room with a private bathroom. The guy who works at the desk, explained me where to find great bars in the neighborhood.
Barcelona – Seville: a super fast high-speed train
How ugly the railway station Barcelona-Sants might be, the quarter around this station is worth a short or longer visit. For example, at the Plaça d’Osca you won’t find that many tourists and you can enjoy tapas and local beers. And local kebab cafeterias do serve alcohol as well.
After a good night, I had a cheap Spanish breakfast next to the station: a café con leche (coffee with milk) and a croissant for 1,75 euros. Early on a Sunday morning, I passed the security controls at Barcelona-Sants. Around 9 pm my train to Seville left the Catalan capital.
I thought that Paris – Barcelona was fast, but the AVE Barcelona – Seville was even faster, because it uses only high-speed railway lines. It called in between in Tarragona-Camp, Lérida-Pirineos, Zaragoza-Delicias, Ciudad Real, Puertollano and Cordoba.
While traveling, I noticed a cultural difference between France and Spain. In France travelers were talking quietly, in Spain really loud. Children ran through the carriages, while playing and talking. And this seemed to be completely normal. As a primary school teacher, this was not a problem for me.
In five and a half hours this AVE (Alta Velocidad Express, or high-speed expres) brought me from the north of Spain to the Andalusia. In Catalonia the landscape was really green and Mediterranean, in the Castilian mountain ranges around Madrid trees started getting leaves. But, Andalusia seemed that green in April as Belgium and The Netherlands are in July.
While seeing olive trees, vineyards and mountains passing by, I had the impression of using an infrastructural marvel with huge bridges, long tunnels and a railway around Madrid for gaining time.
After having travelled 2400 kilometers by train in two days, I realized that this experience is way more interesting and relaxing than a fast aircraft service. I rad a couple of hundred pages in a book, sipped Spanish and French wine by 300 kilometers per hour and enjoyed the landscapes passing by.
I realized that this way of traveling is way better for the climate. My ecological footprint was not that huge as taking an airplane. Just one side note: French high-speed train TGV doesn’t run on green electricity, but on nuclear power. It’s possible to discuss hours about this issue.
And… I promised myself to avoid the airplane as much as possible within Europe, because we have great railway services on our continent!
And… How much cost this?
I challenged myself as well by opting for train deals that are cheaper than a direct aircraft form Belgium to Seville. And I managed to find it! How? By booking my trains for months in advance. Here I try to explain how I dit this.
- Brussels-South/Midi to Paris-Nord: I opted for the low-cost high-speed train IZY, which I booked 3 months in advance. I payed 29 euros for a single fair, as I was charged 10 euros for taking my big backpack on the train. This journey takes 2 hours and 28 minutes, as this train uses in France the normal tracks instead of the high-speed lines (but yes, in Belgium, it does).
- Changing railway stations in Paris: Paris-Nord and Paris-Lyon are pretty well connected by suburban train RER D. No need to book in ahead. This is a 7 minutes journey.
- Paris-Lyon to Barcelona-Sants: it was possible to make my reservation 4 months ahead. I payed 39 euros for an Essential ticket. This journey takes 6 hours and 27 minutes. It uses mostly high-speed lines, except between Montpellier and Perpignan.
- Barcelona-Sants to Sevilla-Santa-Justa: once per day, there is a direct high-speed connection between these two cities. I booked 3 months in advance and payed 35,35 euros for a Turista ticket. This AVE-train uses more or less only the high-speed railway and does the journey in 4 hours and 32 minutes.
- So, the total amount of these single fares is 103,35 euros. This is 206,70 euros for a return tip, several euros cheaper than a airway ticket during Spanish Semana Santa or Holy Week.
How to book? For Brussels to Paris via Thalys or IZY, for Paris to Barcelona via SNCF or RENFE and for Barcelona to Seville via RENFE.