Is Elipsos nearing the end of the line? This time last year, the rail operator still ran regular overnight services from Spain to a number of European cities: Paris, Turin, Milan, Geneva, Berne and Zürich. The trains to Italy and Switzerland were withdrawn in late 2012, leaving Elipsos with just two routes: from Madrid and Barcelona to Paris.
We used the Madrid to Paris train last year, and it was certainly a very fine journey. The train is called the Francisco de Goya and we rate it as one of Europe’s best overnight trains — especially if you splash out on first class luxury (where dinner and breakfast are included in the ticket price). With an early evening departure from Madrid, there is time to relax before dinner — which is served late, for this is a train that runs to Spanish biorhythms. On the run north from Madrid, the train skirts El Escorial with engaging views of one of Europe’s finest Renaissance palaces. Then it takes to the hills, climbing steeply up through the Sierra de Guadarrama. This is a scenic prelude to a relaxed dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Wake to the Loire Valley, breakfast on board and arrival in Paris sometime between nine and noon, depending on the day of the week. This summer, engineering work on the French part of the journey has meant the Francisco de Goya has had a famously complicated timetable, the precise route and timings varying by the day. That has surely not been good for business.
So perhaps it is no surprise to hear that Elipsos is scaling back further. From 15 September, both overnight trains from Spain to Paris will run just thrice weekly. Departures from Madrid and Barcelona will be on Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings. The southbound runs from the French capital to both Spanish cities will be on Friday, Sunday and Monday nights.
Whether the Elipsos overnight trains will survive the eventual introduction of direct TGV services from Paris to Barcelona is anyone’s guess. Those new fast daytime services might well be launched this autumn (though that is far from certain). We feel that many travellers might then favour the new fast daytime option. So if you want to ride Elipsos, better to do it sooner rather than later.