Al Andalus: An Unforgettable Experience Through the Heart of Andalucia

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Author:  Caroline

A luxury train transporting you through not only the most visited country in Europe but also its most popular region. This is Europe’s most beautiful train ride, yet somehow it remains a closely guarded secret. Until now! All aboard the Al Andalus in Spain.

After taking the Costa Verde Express through northern Spain last year, I truly thought I had peaked. Surely there was no other train ride in the world that could ever top this experience? Oh boy was I wrong! When the email came it to join a trip aboard the Al Andalus train, I did a quick Google search and nearly dropped my phone.

The Al Andalus is the quintessential train journey for the epicurious, slow traveler who likes a side of culture and a sprinkling of jaw-dropping architecture on his holidays. This lavish journey transports you across Andalucia in southern Spain: Starting from the sun-drenched beaches of Malaga, journey onwards to Granada, Cordoba, Ronda, and a smattering of other starlets of the region before coming to a halt in Sevilla.

Once aboard guests enjoy mouthwatering dishes in a dazzling dining cart, can curl up with a book in one of the four saloon carts, saunter off to their plush sleeping cabins, or partake in one of the many guided excursions to the highlights of the Andalucia including the Alhambra (Granada), the Mesquita (Cordoba) and the Plaza de España (Sevilla). This is sustainable travel, served on a silver platter.


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Al Andalus: Quick Planning Guide

ITINERARY

  • Day One: Malaga
  • Day Two: Granada
  • Day Three: Baeza & Cordoba
  • Day Four: Cordoba & Ronda
  • Day Five: Jerez de la Frontera
  • Day Six: Cadiz
  • Day Seven: Sevilla

PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS

  • Best Excursion: Guided visit to Alhambra
  • Prettiest Town: Ronda
  • Nicest Route: Cordoba to Ronda
  • Restaurant: Dinner on the train
  • Type of Room: Deluxe Suite

ROUTE: The train travels between Malaga and Sevilla, or vice versa. This particular article details the former.

BOOKING: Can be done directly online via the website of the Al Andalus train

WHAT TO BRING: Earplugs, sleeping mask, walking shoes, book, both casual and formal wear.

Al Andalus Train in Spain

What to Expect on the Al Andalus

This train journey runs between Malaga and Sevilla. One look at Google Maps might have you raising your eyebrows in confusion “How can a mere 211 km (130 mi) take 7 days to cover?”. The journey is in fact not linear but a languorous zigzag across Andalucia with an emphasis on the journey rather than the destination.

The beauty of the Al Andalus lies not solely in the lavish interior, but equally in the gastronomic delights it offers. Breakfast is served on the train with both a buffet and an à la carte menu, lunch and dinner are a four-course feast serving regional cuisine, paired with excellent local wines. Lunch is oftentimes held off the train, while dinner is mainly served on the train in the beautiful dining cart atop bespoke tableware.

What tends to surprise many first-time travelers on the Al Andalus is the short amount of time spent aboard the train while it is barreling through the Andalucian countryside. In fact, on this specific journey, the train will only ride a total of 5 times for a few hours each stretch.

Oftentimes the train ride is timed to coincide with mealtime. There is something extra special about watching kilometers of sunflowers flit past your window as you tuck into a delicious meal prepared by the onboard chef.
The rest of the time the train is safely tucked away in a quiet corner of one of the train stations for the city we visit that specific day.

GOOD TO KNOW | Andalucian cuisine is heavy on animal products. If you are a vegetarian or vegan make sure to make this clear when booking your trip!

Al Andalus Itinerary

As the Al Andalus barrels along the region, it makes various stops along the way. It ticks off the major highlights of the region – Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba- and manages to throw in a sprinkling of lesser-known cities including Baeza and Ronda for a very well-rounded experience.

At each stop along the way, we had the option to take an organized tour with our fellow travelers. Personally, I was super skeptical at the thought of a tour guide. For some reason images of colorful flags and brightly colored baseball caps (matching of course) spring to mind. Thankfully there was none of this nonsense!

The guides we had on this trip were local and exceptionally knowledgeable. I managed to get through a whopping 3-hour tour of the Alhambra without an inclining of boredom. For someone with the attention span of a goldfish that is no small feat. In fact, it was my second time visiting many of the places, having embarked on a road trip through Andalucia a decade ago. The addition of a guide meant this time around I actually knew what I was looking at! There is hope for this cultural barbarian yet!

Below you will find a detailed description of the highlights we visited along the way. More practical information including cost, how to book, etc. can be found further down.

GOOD TO KNOW | Tours are entirely optional, as is disembarking for that matter. The onboard staff will provide you with a schedule for the day, the only fixed appointments are lunch and getting yourself back on the train in time for departure.

DAY ONE – MALAGA

Our journey starts bright an early as we meet in the Hotel AC Malaga Palacio. As we saunter up to the hotel, we are met with a sea of bright smiles and a flurry of questions “Name, passport number, diëtary restrictions…?”. The check-in for the Al Andalus is nothing if not thorough it would seem. I look around to find a few tentative smiles from my fellow passengers.

Administrative tasks taken care of, we are split into two groups and set off to explore Malaga with our local guide. Explore might be a smidge optimistic, it was more of a speedwalk truth be told. We visit the Alcazaba en a few of the surrounding streets while learning about the history of the city and the region, the beautiful castle perched atop the hill is not in the program alas due to time constraints!

After a copious lunch at the Hotel AC Malaga Palacio we get on the Al Andalus bus and are whisked away to Granada where our palace on wheels awaits us. As we step aboard this beautiful train I cannot help but feel like I have traveled through time to an era where plush velvet couches, tasseled table lights and white-gloved waiters handing out champagne were part and parcel of traveling.

We spend a few hours settling into our beautiful surroundings. For some it meant heading to their sleeper cabins to unpack, the bags have magically made it to our cabins by the time we arrive, for me it is running around like a headless chicken snapping thousands of pictures of every minute detail of this train. Have you seen those lampshades!

MUST SEE IN MALAGA: Alcazaba, Malaga Cathedral, Castillo de Gibralfaro, Malaga Museum
LUNCH: Hotel AC Malaga Palacio || DINNER: Aboard the train

TIP | Come a few day early and spend a night of two in Malaga. The city is absolutely brimming with things to do, tapas to try and sun-drenched beaches to work on your tan!

DAY TWO – GRANADA & LINARES/BAEZA

A hand-rung bell heralds a new day of adventures aboard the Al Andalus. After a copious breakfast, we set off in the direction of the Alhambra, a beautifully preserved Moorish palace set against the peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

Our itinerary reads “3.5 hours guided tour” which has me slightly nervous. That is a heck of a long time to be trailing after someone, especially if you have the attention span of a goldfish like yours truly.

I am happy to report my fears were wholly unfounded. Our wonderful guide has a knack for storytelling and weaves in little tidbits about the history and architecture of the Alhambra and Granada as we make our way through this stunning monument.

After a languorous 3 hour lunch we have a few hours of downtime. Many of my fellow travelers opt to take the Al Andalus back to the train and catch a siesta, me however I am brimming with energy and decide to walk down the cobblestone streets into the heart of ancient Granada for a bit of sightseeing.

MUST SEE IN GRANADA: Alhambra, Catedral de Granada, Albaicin, Royal Chapel of Granada, Mirador San Nicolas
LUNCH: Restaurant Carmen San Miguel || DINNER: Aboard the train

GOOD TO KNOW | The Alhambra is the most visited monument is Spain. It is extraordinarily busy which means you will be shuffling through rooms at a snail’s pace. Bring a pair of comfortable shoes for the excursion!

DAY THREE – ÚBEDA – BAEZA – CORDOBA

The next morning, as I peek out my curtains, rubbing the remnants of sleep from my eyes I notice we are no longer in Granada. The train rode through the night to bring us to our next destination, a little town called Baeza in the province of Jaén. Also known as the olive oil-producing region of Spain.

The latter becomes crystal clear as we hop on board the bus for our first visit of the day and endless rolling hills dotted with a sea of olive trees flit by the windows. Baeza is a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to the many beautifully preserved Renaissance mansions that make up the historical center. Get your camera ready, because this little town is picture-perfect!

After a quick guided visit through Baeza we head to an olive oil tasting across town and speed back towards the train for lunch on board. As we dive into our gourmet 4-course meal the train barrels towards Cordoba. As lunch draws to an end, our beautiful train pulls into the station of Cordoba.

Dinner is had inside the historical center of town, which is a 30-minute walk from the station. After all the food and wine I guzzled down the last few days, it seems only befitting to stretch my legs and explore the patchwork of history that is Cordoba. This is one of my favorite places in all of Andalucia!

MUST SEE IN BAEZA: Baeza Cathedral, Plaza del Populo
MUST SEE IN CORDOBA: Cordoba Mesquita, Alcazar, Ermita del “Socorro” church, Patios
LUNCH: Aboard the train || DINNER: Restaurant Casa Rubio

GOOD TO KNOW | Between the train arriving in Cordoba and sitting down for dinner you will have a couple of hours of free time. This is the only time available to explore the stunning town of Cordoba, I highly recommend making use of it and foregoing the siesta!

DAY FOUR – CORDOBA – RONDA

Our day starts in the best possible way: A guided visit through the UNESCO World Heritage site that is the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. Chances are high you might have stumbled upon pictures of candy cane-colored arches when searching for Andalucia. These are in fact part of the Mosque. Many people however do not know that in the very heart of the mosque lies … a cathedral.

Although the itinerary says you will get a guided visit of Cordoba itself, it is really mostly about the mosque. There is not sufficient time to explore Cordoba, unfortunately! Lunch is once again held onboard to the swaying of the train as it hurtles us to Ronda.

The city visit to Ronda is a bit quick for my personal liking. I opted to skip visiting the bullfighting ring and instead peel away from the group to spend some time strolling through the little streets and hunting down the famous viewpoint of the bridge (pictured above).

MUST SEE IN RONDA: Historical Bridge of Ronda
LUNCH: Aboard the train || DINNER: National Parador of Ronda

PRACTICAL TIP | The beautiful vantage point over the bridge of Ronda can be found by typing in “Mirador Puente Nuevo de Ronda”. As you walk down the gorge, there is one viewpoint along the way which requires you to pay €5. Ignore this tourist scam, and simply continue heading down the path for a free and much better viewpoint

DAY FIVE – RONDA & JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA

In the wee small hours of the morning, the train makes the 6-hour journey from Ronda to Jerez de la Frontera. I wake up to the gentle rocking of the train and glance out my window to find the world rushing by. Nestling in a little deeper into the comforting embrace of my warm bed, listening to the clickety-clack of the train I soon succumb to sleep once more. When I wake up we are in Jerez de la Frontera!

As we walk through Jerez de la Frontera it seems like every one in four buildings is a bodega. It seems only befitting then that our very first outing is to visit one of these bodegas and by 10.30 am I have downed two sherries and my head is spinning ever so slightly. That’s what you get for skipping breakfast!

After the sherry tasting my fellow train mates head off to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art for a show while I politely decline and choose to head into Jerez de la Frontera to explore the town. The Alcazar de Jerez offers spectacular views over the city and was most definitly worth visiting!

Lunch is held in a restaurant with a magnificent view over the sea. This is quite possibly the prettiest setting we have for lunch, although not the tastiest, that is reserved for our very last day! We hop back on the bus and spend a relaxing afternoon on the train.

MUST SEE IN JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA: Alcazar de Jerez, Cathedral of Jerez, Iglesia de San Miguel
LUNCH: Restaurant Casa Bigote || DINNER: Aboard the train

DAY SIX – JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA & CADIZ

On our penultimate day we head to the small peninsula in the south-west of Andalucia, to the town of Cádiz. This little coastal town has some of the best beaches in Andalucia and is cute as a button! We have a breezy guided visit after which we are rewarded with one hour of free time to explore!

Make sure to climb to the top of te Cathedral for the very best views over the city, seconded only by the views from the Torre Tavira from which you can see the aforementioned Cathedral in all it’s splendor. We managed to squeeze in both in the short window of time before heading back to the bus. Unfortuantely we got struck with a bout of bad weather when we went so my pictures do not do Cadiz any justice I am afraid!

After lunch we head back to the train where it is time to start packing our bags as tomorrow morning we will be saying goodbye to our little slice of heaven. Luckily a delicious dinner and a fun goodbye party await to take the sting out of our impending departure.

MUST SEE IN CADIZ: Catedral de la Santa Cruz de Cadiz, Torre Tavira, La Caleta beach, Plaza de San Juan de Dios
LUNCH: Restaurant Em Faro de El Puerto || DINNER: Aboard the train

DAY SEVEN – SEVILLA

For our last morning we wake to the train gently meanding from Jerez de la Frontera to Sevilla. We arrive at our last stop just in time for breakfast, on the train of course! I am super happy that our train ride ends in Sevilla as this is one of my all-time favorite cities in Europe. There is a ton of things to see, do and experience so it is well worth booking a few extra nights if it is your very first visit.

Our Sevilla itinerary starts with a super quick visit to the iconic Plaza de España. When I say quick, I mean 20 minutes. Truthfully, the small amount of time to explore and lack of guide feels like a bit of a missed opportunity as there is so much to see on this extravagant square.

The blitz visit is followed by a passionate flamenco show at Casa de la Memoria, which doubles up as a little museum delving into the history of this beautiful traditional dance. Next we are sheparded off to visit the Alcazar of Sévilla. Madre Mia what a spectacular piece of architecture! When I grow up, I want my house to look like this (better start saving up I guess).

Lunch is served in the prettiest Hotel Alabardero and it is the best meal we had the entire trip, aside from the train! This is our last stop on the trip so after lunch it is time for heartfelt goodbyes and to pick up our luggage. If you are planning on spending a few extra days in Sevilla, it is worth checking out the prices of the hotel and simply booking your stay here. It will mean a lot less lugging around cobblestoned streets with your luggage!

MUST SEE IN SEVILLA: Plaza de España, Royal Alcazar de Sevilla, Catedral de Sevilla, Setas de Sevilla, Palacio de las Dueñas, Casa de Pilatos
LUNCH: Taberna del Alabardero || Dinner: Not included

GOOD TO KNOW | Accommodation for day seven is not included in the train itinerary. The program ends around 05.00 pm, consider booking at least one night in Sevilla to explore a bit more of the city.

Al Andalus Spain

Onboard Amenities and Services

Sleeping Cabins Aboard the Al Andalus

The Al Andalus can sleep 60 guests spread out across 32 suites in 7 sleeper carriages. The train has two different types of rooms: The Grand Class Room ( twin beds) and the Deluxe Suite Room (one double bed). Both rooms have an en-suite bathroom and ample storage space for your luggage.

DELUXE SUITES: The images below are of the deluxe suite. These rooms are slightly larger and they have an additional closet to store your clothing.

WAKE-UP CALL: Each morning we are awakened by the sound of a school bell, vigorously being swung by a member of the crew diligently walking the full length of the Al Andalus.

TURN-DOWN SERVICE: As we tuck into dinner, the staff makes their rounds and ensures our rooms are ready for us to slide into bed. The curtains are closed, the AC is turned on (or off) and a handful of complimentary chocolates magically appear on our pillows.

ADDITIONAL AMENITIES: Safe, minibar with complimentary (soft) drinks and water, air conditioning, slippers, telephone with an outdoor line. Wi-Fi reaches the rooms, although it is spotty when the train is moving.

En-suite bathrooms on the train

The private bathroom has a hydromassage shower/steam sauna, a hairdryer, a complete toiletry kit, and a bathrobe. Towels are refreshed daily.

GOOD TO KNOW | to ensure maximum comfort the beds in the cabins are turned into a sofa during the day (see image above). This ensures you have ample room to walk around your cabin. The staff will then simply transform your sofa into a bed during turn down service.

Al Andalus Train

Onboard Meals and Drinks

Breakfast and dinner are always served on the train (aside from the dinner in Cordoba and Ronda). The culinary team works with local suppliers and providers to source ingredients from the diverse environments the train travels through. In practice, this means there is always something new to try!

Meals are served in one of the three luxurious dining cars. Although no specific dress code is applicable, guests tend to adhere to business casual. The last evening guests are requested to don their finest attire for a goodbye party held in the bar car.

BREAKFAST | Breakfast is usually served between 08.00 am and 09.30 am, although this depends on the daily schedule. Aside from a buffet, various dishes are available à la carte (eggs, breadbasket, …).

DINNER | Many of the dinners are served on the train, and frankly these were some of my favorite meals. The extraordinarily talented chef managed to transform the regional specialities into beautifully crafted dishes. Be weary of the selection of freshly baked breads, they are so good it is tempting to fill up on bread before your 4 course meal has even started. Trust me on this one! I speak from experience.

DRINKS | Dinner is paired with a great selection of local wines and digestifs, ensuring the experience is to be enjoyed leisurely and at length. All drinks served during the meal are complimentary. Drinks served outside of mealtime are not included.

FOOD ALLERGIES | Make sure to mention any dietary restrictions or food allergies before booking. I am a vegetarian and was served different dishes throughout the journey.

Practical Information For Travelers

DAILY ITINERARIES: After dinner, a member of the crew will provide you with a daily itinerary detailing exactly what activities are planned and what clothes to pack with you for the excursions.

WHERE DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT: You sleep on the train in your private cabin. As previously stated, the train does not ride through the night. It usually stops right after dinner is finished and does not leave again until the next morning. It pulls into various train stations along the way, make sure to bring earplugs as some of these can be pretty noisy.

LANGUAGE SPOKEN ON THE TRAIN: The staff onboard speaks a variety of different languages including French, Spanish, German, and English. Announcements are made in English, German and Spanish.

EXCURSIONS: Excursions are voluntary e.g. there is no obligation to join. The only true obligation is to make sure you meet up at the pre-arranged time & location. At the beginning of the trip you are provided with a headset, through which the local guides provide information during the excursions.

PETS: Pets are not allowed aboard the al Andalus.

SUSTAINABILITY: The Al Andalus does have a few kinks to work out to live up to her full, sustainable, potential. The use of plastic bottles versus glass bottles, and a more versatile offering for vegetarians at lunchtime are a great starting point.

Al Andalus Renfe Andalucia

Price of the Al Andalus and Bookings

There is no denying the Al Andalus is a luxury train and this is clearly reflected in the price point. Prices for a single Grand Class Cabin start at € 9,500 (US$ 10,200) while a single Deluxe Suite will set you back € 11,700 (US$ 12,650).

WHAT IS INCLUDED | This price includes full-board (e.g. three meals a day), excursions with a local guide, complimentary toilet kit, and entrance fees to all museums and activities. It also includes free regular Renfe train tickets to the starting point of the trip and back from the end point of the trip.

BOOKING | Tickets can be booked directly on the Al Andalus website.

Is the Al Andalus Worth It?

If you are looking for a truly unique way to see Andalucia, away from the crowds and in relative luxury then a journey with the Al Andalus is the way to go. This once in a lifetime experience is the perfect journey for travelers who love slow, intentional travel and love spending ample time savoring the culinary highlights of the places they visit. But, there is no beating about the bush, the experience does come at a rather lofty price point.

Al Andalus: An Unforgettable Experience Through the Heart of Andalucia

MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING SPAIN AND SURROUNDINGS

SPAIN: 4 days in northern Tenerife
SPAIN: 12 Unmissable things to do in Asturias
SPAIN: A journey on the Costa Verde Express
EUROPE: 20 Most scenic train rides in Europe
PORTUGAL: Roadtrip through unknown Central Portugal
ITALY: Northern Italy one to two-week itinerary

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Al Andalus: An Unforgettable Experience Through the Heart of Andalucia
Al Andalus: An Unforgettable Experience Through the Heart of Andalucia

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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! My name is Caroline, and I am a full-time writer & photographer. With this blog, I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism, and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. Adventure awaits!

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