Friday, January 30, 2009

Take the train

Are you concerned about your carbon footprint when you fly? Or maybe you'd like to get there slowly, taking advantage of sights along the way. Helen Ranger investigates travelling by train to Morocco ...

The excellent website Man in Seat 61 gives information on train travel in all sorts of countries, from the UK to Russia to South Africa ... and across Europe to Morocco. You can do London to Morocco in just 48 hours, in comfort and safety, without flying.

"And what a journey!", says the Man in Seat 61. " Take Eurostar to Paris, grab a beer in a Parisian café and board the excellent 'trainhotel' sleeper train to Madrid. Enjoy a meal with wine in the restaurant car and a nightcap in the bar before retiring to your sleeper for the night as the train speeds south across France, then wake up to breakfast as the sun rises over distant Spanish mountains. Spend a day in Madrid, visit the Prado Museum or soak up the atmosphere in the Plaza Santa Ana before taking an afternoon express across Andalusia to Algeciras on the Straits of Gibraltar. Next morning, take the ferry from Europe to Africa, the Rock of Gibraltar close on the port beam and the African coast getting slowly nearer."

And the trainhotel is pretty nifty:

the trainhotel's smart restaurant

couchettes are made up while you're at dinner

Ferries from Spain to Morocco
There are various options. The journey from Algeciras usually takes around three hours, or you can take a fast ferry from Algeciras or from Tarifa, this one around 40 minutes.

the fast ferry leaving Algeciras for Tangier

Moroccan trains
Travelling by train in Morocco is easy, safe and very cheap, and the trains are usually punctual. There are refreshments on board (coffee, tea, soft drinks, snacks, croissants in the morning and, it has to be said, somewhat stale rolls with chicken or cheese).

1st class carriage in Morocco

The trains have recently been upgraded and are very comfortable and air-conditioned. Seats are reserved in first class, but not in second class, where there are eight plastic-covered seats instead of the six plush seats in first. Fom Tangier, you can travel to Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Oujda, or to Casablanca and Marrakech. Onward journeys to Essaouira or Agadir are taken by bus.

So train travel is cheaper than flying, right? Well, actually, no. It does cost more, and of course takes more time, but the advantage is that you can stop off on the way. A day or two in Paris, or a visit to the Prado in Madrid, exploring Gibraltar, windsurfing in Tarifa or hanging out in a Tangier cafe are all options. Here are some costs:

London to Paris by Eurostar: Return fares start at £59 2nd class, £149 1st class.

Paris to Madrid on the trainhotel: 4-berth tourist class sleeper, return, £204

Madrid to Algeciras by Altaria train: normal return fare 98 Euros

Ferry from Algeciras to Tangier: 84 Euros return

Train from Tangier to Fez: 1st class one-way £9
from Tangier to Marrakech in a first-class couchette, one-way: £23

Atlas Blue Gatwick to Fez: from £160 return
Royal Air Maroc Heathrow to Casablanca: from £1256 return

with thanks to the Man in Seat 61



Anonymous said...

I've seen that site, and always wanted to try the trip, but always had to get somewhere quicker/cheaper than it would end up being. Ah well, someday.

Jillian said...

Wow, the new 1st class cars look fantastic! A big change from the old ones, which were virtually identical to second class but had two fewer seats.

You neglect to mention the pitfalls of Moroccan train travel - I've been on TWO trains where rocks thrown by kids at the train have injured someone (in one case, the driver, leaving us stranded outside Mohammedia for two hours while another was brought in). And if you choose second class, you risk being stuck in the aisle or near the bathroom for the whole trip (has happened to me on more than one occasion).

Anonymous said...

On this trip now. Its worth noting that ferrys from Algeciras arrive in tangier-med which is 45 mins outside the city and rail station. if you end up in Algeciras, instead of tarifa, you can easily catch a coach provided by the ferry companies to tarifa one hour before your ferry departure from the port in Algeciras. this trip is really worth doing, my suggestion is do it one way and fly back. you save on return fares, accommodation and get to spend more time in each place.