Elipsos Trenhotel

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Elipsos Trenhotel

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Review of "Elipsos Trenhotel"

published 26/02/2010 | torr
Member since : 29/08/2002
Reviews : 402
Members who trust : 854
About me :
"The colour of truth is grey." (Andre Gide)
Pro A good travel experience
Cons But not truly a great one
Value for Money
Ease of getting around

"Is your journée really necessary?"

A dark start at the Gare d'Austerlitz

A dark start at the Gare d'Austerlitz

For many reasons – so many that they will have to form the subject of a separate review – I would always prefer to travel by rail than by air, time and money permitting. Unfortunately, they don’t always permit. Even when they do, there is often a balance to be struck between my preference for rail and the amount of time and money required to exercise it. In weighing up the options, distance tends to be the crucial variable.

Travelling to Paris or Brussels from where I live in Kent – or from London for that matter – I’d regard it as crazy to fly. The Eurostar train service is quicker (taking into account check-in times), more comfortable, much less hassle and generally no more expensive. For the south of France, flying loses a little of its craziness, but generally I’d still consider Eurostar+TGV to be a more attractive choice.

Northern Spain, Barcelona for example? The case becomes marginal. You can still do it by rail in a day from London, but the fares become a little less competitive, and it’s a long day, starting earlier than I usually care to be conscious. In order to set out at a more civilised hour, you can break the journey by staying overnight somewhere in France, but then you have to take into account the cost of a hotel, although you could of course regard that night as part of your holiday, for which you would in any case expect to pay.

Or you could consider the Elipsos Trenhotel.

The Trenhotel service

Elipsos is a company jointly owned by SNCF and RENFE, the national railway networks of France and Spain respectively. It runs overnight sleeper trains from Paris to Barcelona and Madrid. There are also services to Spain from Zurich and Milan, though these are likely to be of less interest to British-based travellers. You can join the trains at intermediate stops en route (for example, at Blois or Poitiers for Madrid), though these again are likely to be of less interest to passengers starting from Britain.

‘Trenhotel’, of course, translates simply as ‘train hotel’; indeed, some of the logos displayed on the carriages have it in the English version. ‘Hotel’ is perhaps a slightly pretentious description for what is really a straightforward sleeper service. Accommodation ranges from ‘Gran Class’ – private compartments with their own shower and toilet facilities – through four-bed cabins all the way down to reclining seats in a twenty-seat saloon car, but even at the top of the range the available space is used very sparingly. To me it was definitely a sleeper compartment on a train rather than a hotel room, or even “roomette” – as it is described on the Elipsos website.

Our journey

Having travelled in a leisurely way from Ashford to Paris at lunchtime and spent a pleasant few hours in the French capital in the afternoon, my wife and I joined the Barcelona train at the Gare d’Austerlitz just after 8.00 in the evening. There was (air travellers please note) no queuing, no baggage check-in, no hanging around interminably in departure lounges, no security searches or cross-questioning. We just walked onto the platform, located our carriage, gave our tickets and passports to the attendant and were admitted to our compartment. Everything in it was in order.

By the time the train drew out of the station half-an-hour later we were already sitting down to a glass of cava in the comfortable dining-car. As the southern outskirts of the city rolled by, we relaxed and discussed the menu. By Orleans, an hour down the track, we were eating a pleasant dinner. Another hour after that, somewhere south of Vierzon, we were back in our compartment to prepare for bed, the carriage attendant having transformed the seats into bunks in the meantime. With only a little jostling for position in the cramped space available, we were soon tucked up and being lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the rails. Presumably we stopped in Limoges according to schedule just before midnight, but if so I was unaware of it.

Dawn, illuminating a crest of hilltops to the east, found us in Spain. Dragging ourselves out of bed, we staggered back to the dining-car for breakfast just as we reached Girona, and from there we watched the sun rise over the awakening of the suburban towns on the run into Barcelona. On time, almost exactly twelve hours after leaving Paris, the train pulled into the Estació de França. The carriage attendant returned our passports to us and we walked out onto the concourse, without having to wait at any immigration control points or luggage carousels. From the station it was just a quarter of a mile to our city centre hotel.

Accommodation and facilities

The rolling stock used on the trenhotel all seemed newish, modern and well-equipped. The carriage interiors are clean, with gleaming corridors clad in pale pink plastic. Not tasteful exactly, but bright and functional.

We were travelling in ‘Gran Class’, and I would describe our compartment as acceptable for the price rather than luxurious. If you were thinking Orient Express, think again. When the seats are in position all seems spacious enough, but once adapted for sleeping, the room for manoeuvre is tight, even a little restricted. The luggage space is hard to reach; once your stuff is stowed, you don’t want to remember later that you’ve failed to unpack anything essential for the journey. Similarly, the person in the upper bunk needs to be fairly agile to clamber up and down during the night. The bunks are, though, a decent size; long enough for me to stretch out my full six foot and wide enough for comfort. Bedding was clean and cosy.

Some things are well thought-out: hangers for clothes, for example, and lighting, once one has figured out the switches. My wife, who hates any hint of stuffiness, was alarmed to find that the windows could not be opened, while the ventilation control is odd, allowing one to adjust for heat but not airflow. However, she survived the night unsuffocated. The bathroom basin has a hot water tap, but no cold; since the water was merely warm this was no great problem for washing, and we had bottles of mineral water from the restaurant car (at no charge) for teeth-cleaning. The shower was merely warm too, but sufficiently so to avoid shivering. The loo was clean with aircraft-style suction flush.

Similarly, airline-style washkits were provided, with toothbrush and paste, disposal razor, flannel, shampoo and soap, making us regret having kept our spongebags in our hand-baggage. Finally, an amusing if corny touch, a little dual pack of two tablets of chocolate was on each pillow, the wrapping enquiring “what mood are you in tonight?”, and inside offering you the alternatives of “sexy” or “tranquillity”. For someone who has always preferred plain choc, it was gratifying to see on opening that this was cast in the role of “sexy”.

Sneaking a look at the four-berth compartments, we thought these looked well-appointed enough but distinctly cramped: not perhaps so much when empty, but visions of the game of Twister came to mind when one imagined four people trying simultaneously to organise their luggage, change for bed or use the wash-basin. We didn’t see the saloons with the reclining chairs.

Food and drink

The restaurant car on the trenhotel is well-furnished in contemporary style without being sumptuous. The food can’t be described as sumptuous either, but it’s perfectly edible and even tasty given the limitations of a mobile kitchen, and the prices are tolerable.

A three-course dinner, booze to go with it, and breakfast are all included in the fare for those travelling Gran Class – one reason that we were doing so. From five options for each course, we chose: (i) a salad with smoked salmon and nuts (too little smoked salmon, in my opinion, but otherwise satisfactory) as starter; (ii) a steak and an escalope as mains (both okay and cooked as ordered, but slightly short on accompanying veg); and (iii) crème caramel (good) for pud. Had we been paying separately, this would have cost us 27.80€ each, not wonderful value but I’ve certainly had worse elsewhere. Similarly, a glass each of cava and a bottle of decent wine would between them have been another 22€ (incidentally, it’s not made entirely clear on the menu whether the wine is included as well as the cava; in fact it is, so if you’re travelling Gran Class, go for it). There is also a children’s menu at 10.20€.

Breakfast was very much of the continental variety: juice, a rather minimal dish of fruit, toast, croissant and pastry. And coffee, of course, plenty of coffee. I understand that a cooked breakfast would have been available if we’d asked, but the continental version was as much as we wanted in any case. List price for the continental breakfast is 6.90€; rather like the dinner, it was acceptable enough but nothing special.

Service was friendly and efficient; perhaps a little slow at times, but hey, we weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere. The cabin attendant was also polite and helpful, though speaking only Spanish, which is the main language used on the train. You can get by in French or English in the restaurant car, though.

In addition to the sit-down restaurant car there is a bar selling drinks and snacks.

Frequency and fares

The Trenhotel timetable is simplicity itself. The trains run nightly, one each to Barcelona and Madrid from Paris, and of course one each the other way.

Fares range from 71€, one-way per person, upwards; if you book today via www.raileurope.co.uk, the UK agents for the service, you will find this base price equates to £66.50. Depending on class of service, time of booking and cancellability, this can escalate into several hundred. For our Gran Class extravagance my wife and I paid £149 each, certainly not the cheapest way to travel to Barcelona, but it did include food and drink and – you could say – the price of an overnight stay. And it was in itself an interesting and enjoyable experience.


Maybe the appeal or otherwise of the Trenhotel is essentially a matter of how you like to spend your time: whether you regard a day spent en route as a day lost or a day of enjoyment gained. If you’re a devotee of arrival rather than hopeful travelling, you may view it as anathema. To me, it was a bonus.

To those of similar outlook, I would cautiously recommend the Elipsos Trenhotel service. It wasn’t one of the great, grand railway journeys, but it was a good one. In a way it may have been all the better for not being grand, in that it was unpretentious and relatively economical. I suspect it would be even better in summer, when the long evenings would allow more French scenery to be seen while one dined. Or Spanish scenery, if one were travelling in the opposite direction.

Talking of which, for speed and to use up some Air Miles, we flew home from Barcelona. Compared to the outward journey on the train, it was a horrible experience.

© torr 2010

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Comments on this review

  • Mildew82 published 16/08/2013
    Excellent review - I wish my daily commute was like that!
  • wazza115 published 15/07/2013
    Great review!
  • lights84 published 28/06/2013
    Shame it was so awful.
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Product Information : Elipsos Trenhotel

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Listed on Ciao since: 06/02/2010