First published 02-03-2023
1. Weert -> Eindhoven Central -> Rotterdam Centraal (NS - Dutch trains)
2. Rotterdam Central -> Paris Gare du Nord (Thalys*)
3. Paris Austerlitz -> Latour de Carol (SNCF - French trains)
4. Latour de Carol -> Barcelona Sants (Rodalies de Catalunya)
5. Barcelona Sants -> Malaga Maria Zambrano (AVE)
6. *Trips from Malaga to Granada and El Chorro*
7. Malaga -> Estepona (Avanza)
*Thalys has been fully absorbed into Eurostar in a merger. When I traveled, Thalys was still supposed to be a separate service - but by the time I reached Estepona, it was no more!
We had arrived in Malaga around 10.30pm, so me and Laura walked to our hotel and went straight in for the night. Maria Zambrano station is a little ways south-west of the centre proper, and there are plenty of shops and hotels in the gap between. Malaga’s fairly small and new metro system currently terminates at the station, but an extension to the city centre should be opening… some time after 2023, probably.
Of course, this being Spain we could have gone out for the night and had dinner that late, but we’d been travelling all day and were happy to get some good sleep. In the morning, we crossed the empty river channel on the German Bridge (or Puente de Santo Domingo) and went in search of breakfast…
Even in January, Malaga was gorgeous and sunny first thing in the morning. Clean air, clean streets, and you can still sit outside if you wrap up warm. Bear in mind that locals told us this was an unusual cold snap for the area, and it was still far sunnier than the Netherlands we had left. At Casa Aranda, fresh churros con chocolate and cafe con leche were cheap and ideal for a pick-me-up.
We followed breakfast with a quick walk around the historic centre, drinking in the quiet January streets and Andalusian architecture (see the Train X Europe Instagram for more photos from that). Soon, it was time to head back to the bus station as we were already on the way to hit another Andalusian city - Granada.
The bus station is located on the north side of Maria Zambrano, and it's actually a bit closer to the metro if that helps you on your own visit. Be aware if you have to go to/from the airport, you’ll be taking a Cercanias train, not the metro (tickets approx. €2)
While no bus station is that glamorous, this one has proper departure info screens, lockers for bags, and even vending machines for ALSA buses - which is a first for me!
Before we head over to Granada on an ALSA bus, let’s sum up what else there is to say about Malaga.
While we weren’t there long enough to see every corner of the city, the centre certainly has a great range of shopping streets, historic buildings; a cathedral, the historic Alcazaba, and the Castillo de Gibralfaro. I enjoyed the range of cheap cafes and local beer. Sure, Granada has the Alhambra, but you can still experience a lot of Al-Andalus’ material heritage here. You can just walk up onto the side of Alcazaba, where these two photos were taken.
7. Granada, El Chorro, and Estepona (ALSA, Renfe, AVANZA)
Back to the bus to Granada . This took a straight 90 minutes, and the return journey cost only €20.29 per person. Coach travel in Spain is cheap as anything, and as I hope this shows, it's often very comfortable too!
The only disadvantage of taking a bus to Granada is that the bus station is a) separate from the train station and b) further from the city centre. However, the city has this covered, with a shiny new tram line. It might be one of the most scenic places to wait, and once you head into town (past the train station, which has also been renovated), you briefly go underground.
You don’t have to get off at Recogidas particularly - the tram skirts the edge of the centre, so there’s no one obvious stop to use - but this one worked well to explore the centre. It's certainly a straight line from this stop east toward the Alhambra, if that’s where you’re going. We walked up into town with a quick stop for pastries at El Dulce Angel (which has a few branches across the city), but I’d also recommend Café Pastelería López-Mezquita for some savoury options.
What would we do with a day in Granada besides going to the Alhambra? Well, we wandered scenic streets, had coffee, visited the Dobla de Oro… and took a bus out to the nearby town of Padul to see Liber Distillery. That got us these scenic roadside views of the Sierra Nevada - and if you’re interested in Spain’s first single malt whisky, you can read all about my visit to this distillery over on EuroWhisky.
The next day, we were off from Malaga again - this time up to the Caminito del Rey at El Chorro. While the train took us straight there, these Media Distancia services only run a few times per day, so you have to plan carefully to do the Caminito this way! The station is tiny, cut into a canyon wall and surrounded by tunnels. The 2nd photo below, taken mid-caminito, is actually pointed right at the trainline in the mountainside.
El Chorro station has orange trees growing right on the platform! Maybe more practically/sustainably, it has a little cafe bar which only serves coffee and a few basic things, but it's very welcome when waiting on the infrequent trains!
There are hundreds of people talking about the Caminito itself already, so to be brief, it's a via ferrata revamped in recent years, built on the route formerly used by hydroelectric power plant workers. We visited after watching Steve Marsh’s video on the place, and my main takeaway? The area north of the main ravine, the Tajos de Almorchón, was a lovely patch of unexpected green!
We got an AVANZA bus from Malaga down to Estepona, which (like the Granada bus) took 90 minutes. Tickets are €10-11pp one-way, and top tip - even without registering as a customer, you can change your booking very easily. After finishing the Caminito in good time, we decided to change our journey to an earlier bus, and it was very easy to do online. Very much appreciated!
Estepona is smaller than Malaga or Granada, but it's a calm destination on the Costa del Sol which has clearly put a lot of effort into retouching the waterfront. Best of all, the town is smothered in flowers, with many streets marked by colour-coded flowerpots. Despite the usual contingent of British immigrants, Estepona has by no means lost its Spanish inhabitants and character: it's not a tourist resort. Take a stroll to Plaza Antonio Guerrero, enjoy a cafe, and you’ll find it hard to disagree.
That’s it for this flight-free journey - Netherlands to Spain overland, every inch of it laid out for you on this blog. However, it's already time to move on - I’ll be heading to Denmark, Germany, and Belgium for another long trip overland in a few days! Keep your eyes peeled for that…