Fans of Michael Portillo's latest BBC series Great Continental Rail Journeys will have seen the vast improvements made by Spain's railways in recent times.
Spain now has more high-speed track — 3,100 kms to be precise — than any other country in Europe and new trains across the network have transformed the experience.
But until now there has been a problem in booking tickets. Most UK-based online agents have tended only to sell full-fare tickets and haven't had access to the cheaper Turista promotional tariffs which exist inside the RENFE (Spanish Railways) system.
In the past, intrepid travellers have tried dealing direct with Renfe but as Mark Smith, founder of rail fan website seat61.com, notes: "25 per cent of overseas travellers have credit card rejection problems when using renfe.com, especially Americans or Australians." Not only that, but renfe.com is quirky to use so it's advisable to read Smith's lengthy advice.
So the good news is that there's now a solution. UK rail agent loco2.com is plumbed into the Renfe system with its range of lower fares.
It means that a standard class ticket on the busy Barcelona to Madrid high-speed line, which would normally cost £60.50, might cost as little as £28.50.
Slower but scenic routes, like Barcelona to Alicante, which would normally be priced at £33, could be snapped up for just £15.50 when booking in advance. A further advantage is that tickets can be printed at home.
The move comes just as Spain begins to link itself directly to Northern Europe by fast daytime trains (see Platform, February 2014).
For example, Paris to Barcelona TGV services were introduced last December. Initially, services will operate twice daily but the intention is to go four times daily from the spring.
It means train travel has become a viable option and a number of our forum readers have expressed their wish to sample both these new international services as well as domestic Spanish rail.
Registered users of Loco2 can preview Renfe fares and book tickets. Full public access is available from February 18.