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  • Writer's pictureDiann Schindler, Ph.D.

The FEVE and Northern Spain

I somehow accessed an informative article on the internet about travelling the northern coast of Spain, by train, by the FEVE train, actually. This is a trip my physician back in the States raved about, although he drove a car and made no mention of any train. He insisted I explore the magnificant northern coast with cliffs, mountains, countryside, beaches, goats, cows, steer, farm houses, touristy cities, little known villages, and lovely, picturesque hamlets.

My British friends, John and Ann, have lived in Olivia, Spain for over twelve years. They also brought this journey to my attention. They hadn’t done it themselves but had heard wonderful stories, yet, knew little about the FEVE.

Aw, the Universe was signaling me, again!

The FEVE journey along the northern coast, is found in Galacia, Spain, with 1030 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Over half of the locals speak Galacian, closely related to Portuguese. The remaining speak Spanish.

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This area of Spain, the northern coast, is a popular vacation area for the Spanish. It's safe to say that few tourists have taken this FEVE journey on their own. Most go with a touring company. A mere four-day tour from Bilboa to La Coruna is over $4000! I’m confident it includes impressive and fabulously expensive high-end restaurants and hotels. I say, go for it, if you have the euros and the interest. I’m cut from a different cloth and, of course, that is what makes the world go around. Esta' todo bien!

My trip was fourteen days, from San Sebastain to Lo Coruna and I paid a total of $1,304,00 USD...and that includes a seven-day retreat in Loiba at a fabulous apartment. Cost for that week for $800. Subtract that from the total, now makes the cost of my FEVE journey, a mere $504. but read on to see specifics. You can do it nicely and perhaps for less!


The first thing, you simply must take the FEVE. Yes, you can bus, or drive and you can also, in some locations, take the updated Renfe train. But, I ask you: Why, when you can do it the most exciting and incredible way? Yes, it can be difficult, but that’s the fun. Besides, this article really does a lot of the work for you.


Railway transport was first developed in Northern Europe during the 19th century, spurred not only by rapid economic growth, but also by landscapes favorable to railway construction. It began in 1848 with the construction of a railway line between Barcelona and Mataró. In 1852 the first narrow gauge line was built and, in 1863, a line reached the Portuguese border. Meanwhile, Spain decided early on to build additional railways at an unusual broad track gauge (1.668 meters or 65.67 inches), reportedly to ensure incompatibility with France’s railway, thereby hindering a French invasion; or, as noted in other records, to allow bigger engines to climb the steep passes in the second most mountainous country in Europe.

Apart from the widespread broad-gauge lines, a large system of narrow gauge railways (1.006 meters or 39.6 inches) was built in the more mountainous parts of Spain, especially in the north coast of the country, where narrow gauge was the most adequate option.

The main-line network was roughly complete by the 1870s. Because of Spain's (until recently) relative lack of economic development, the Spanish railway network never became as extensive as those of most other European countries.

During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s, the railway network was extensively damaged. Immediately after the war, the Franco regime nationalized the broad gauge network, and in 1941 RENFE was formed.

Narrow gauge lines were nationalized in the 1950s, later being grouped to form FEVE: Ferrocarriles Españoles de Vía Estrecha, otherwise known as the Spanish narrow gauge railways.

Created in 1965, the FEVE organization started absorbing numerous private-owned narrow gauge railways. At the center of this system is a line which runs for 650 km (404 mi) along the entire length of Spain's north coast and, since 1982, it has connected cities of San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo, to Ferrol. Also, there is a line from Bilbao, southwest, to Leon.

This helps to explain the two different systems, different because of the width of the train tracks and also because of the winding and beautiful FEVE line along the countryside, mountains and the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Renfe Company is responsible for FEVE scheduling; therefore, one would think access to the Renfe website or chatting with the Renfe clerks at the various train stations would reveal the actual train junkets and schedules. Yes, one would.

But, Renfe clerks know nothing about FEVE. At least, that is what I found during my excursion. The Tourist Offices, located at the train stations, do know about FEVE. However, too often, information is incorrect and/or incomplete. And, note, FEVE stations and/or information windows are often near and sometimes inside the Renfe station, but not always.

Clerks speak little English and some, none. Fear not! Practice your "please's" (por favor) and "thank-you’s" (gracias), be persistent and use lots of non-verbal language: point to your watch, to the schedule, count on your fingers, etc. And, do NOT walk away if you are not clear, because you can waste precious time and even miss a connection. Be persistent. You can do it!

We were able to determine the junkets through a variety of websites having little to do with FEVE. We called the Tourist Centers at each stop, learning the duration and then, only, how to get to the next stop. No one knew more than how to get, say, from San Sebastian to Bilboa; not how to get beyond Bilboa, only that the FEVE does, indeed, travel there.

Anyway, I know you don’t want to be an ugly American. Therefore, as always, let us embrace the Spanish culture and forge ahead, learning to love whatever challenges come before us.


Click HERE for details of my trip, including costs.

Click HERE for incredible pictures. The pic above Estaca de Bares (the northernmost point of Spain). That's the lighthouse. It was incredible! Windy, cold and meters and meters above the Atlantic Ocean.


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