Last Updated on July 14, 2023 by Christian Heide
In July 2023 we visited a wonderful place about 350 km away from Barcelona: The old train station of Canfranc. It is located in a picturesque valley of the Pyrenees Mountains in Aragón at an height of 1200 meters above sea level. The train station was constructed in 1928 and after years of having been a ruin it opened as a luxury hotel in February 2023. This makes it a top destination for a mini break from Barcelona and a great starting point for hiking in the still rather savage mountains.
Hiring a car in Barcelona is easy and very affordable. All the major rental companies (Hertz, Europcar) are based all across the city – and all of them around the central station of Barcelona – Sants Estació. From here you will be easily outside the bustling city and traffic will quickly subside when you approach the iconic mountain of Montserrat. It is famous for its mountain monastery located high up on the cliffs with a history of 1000 years.
The motorways in Spain are generally in a good condition and recently many toll roads were abolished. Now you can drive free of charge. Be aware of the speed limit of 120 km/h. You need to plan in about 4 hours of driving to get to Canfranc Estación. Keep towards Lleida and then turn into the beautiful Pre-Pyrenees of Aragón. The moment you are close to ancient Jaca you know that it won’t be far anymore. Jaca is an old Roman town and was the capital of the Kingdom of Aragón in medieval times. The whole area was already settled by Romans about 2000 years ago and thus many places were named by them such as the mountain pass of Somport (lat. summus portus) forming the end of the valley of Canfranc. Today there is also a road tunnel with the same name leading though the mountains into France.
The Somport pass was of strategic importance in the old days as it formed a crossing of the Pyrenees in the middle of the mountain range. The other crossings were along the coast in Catalonia and the Basque Country. This was also recognised by the Spanish government in the early 20th century. An 8 km long tunnel was carved through the mountains between 1908 and 1915 but it the tracks were only inaugurated when the train station of Canfranc opened in 1928. Mostly goods were transported during a period of 50 years. After a train accident on the French side which killed many people and destroyed the major bridge France decided not to invest into a reconstruction. This way the railways lines lost their function and the station got into steady decline.
The government of Aragón decided for a rehabilitation of the station in 2013 and gradually it was restored with a major push when the Barceló hotel chain decided to install a luxury hotel in the former station building. In January 2023 the hotel opened its doors to the public.
We were able to spend a few nights in this hotel. The result of the restoration is impressive with a lot of love for many details. This is absolutely a recommendable destination for a short holiday in the Pyrenees. A ski area is not far if you love winter sports. The hotel offers ski lockers. In summer you are close to many hiking routes with all levels of intensity. The food in the beautiful restaurant was elaborated and creative. We will go back for sure!
How to get to Canfranc Station
Next to renting a car and driving there (approx. 350 km away from Barcelona) you can also plan a trip by train. Take the high speed train from Barcelona to Zaragoza and change to a local train that will cross an incredible landscape. Currently, the tracks to Canfranc will be restored and changed to European format so that international trains will be able to run from Toulouse to Zaragoza. This way the travel time will be reduced as well.
Activities in Canfranc
Hiking – There is a website called “Espacio Trail Canfranc” with 40+ hikes from beginners to very experienced and fit hikers. You can also download their app for free. Canfranc is definitely a great location if you love the wilderness in the Pyrenees where you truly have the feeling you left civilization.
Skiing – Astún is a modern ski resort just a few kilometres away from Canfranc. It offers 48 posts for all levels.