Considering how long Spain has been a major tourist destination, its magnificent hinterland has remained remarkably undiscovered. There is no better way to see the interior of this beautiful country than catching the train from the lovely city of A Coruña, on the Galician coast, to Madrid – a 740-km (460-mi) scenic journey that takes you through a sparsely populated rural backwater of historic hill villages and ancient agricultural landscapes with breathtaking Mediterranean and Alpine views.
Leaving the dramatic coastal cliffs and bays of A Coruña behind, the train travels through the lush valleys and verdant woodlands of Galicia, up to the desolate romantic moorland around the city of Ourense on the banks of the River Miño, and through the virtually uninhabited borderlands of Spain and Portugal towards Zamora, across a mountain wilderness of rugged heath and forest where wolves still roam. Passing through countless tunnels, you cannot help thinking about the forced labour that built this section of the railway – half-starved Republican political prisoners of the 1940s and 50s, hacking their way through the mountain rock in pitch-darkness.
From Zamora, known as a ‘museum of Romanesque art’ for its 12th and 13th century churches, the railway meanders through the vineyards of the fertile Duero Valley and cuts across the ancient farmlands of the Tierra del Campo. The last leg takes you up past olive and citrus groves, oak and pine forests into the highlands north of Madrid. Finally you descend to the plain of Castilla-La Mancha and arrive at Spain’s impressive capital city, by which time your head will be full of splendid scenic impressions and your appetite whetted to explore more deeply into this world away from the usual hackneyed tourist itineraries.
WHEN TO GO:
April to October
TIME IT TAKES:
Ten hours minimum
Tower of Hercules, A Coruna – the oldest lighthouse in the world, dating from the 2nd century with magnificent views from the top.
Castle of Medina del Campo.
If you have the time, this journey is interesting to do in stages, stopping off at Ourense and Zamora on your way