The Alta Velocidad Espanola, better known as the AVE ('bird' in Spanish), is a high-speed train capable of travelling at 350 kph (220 mph) - the Spanish super-equivalent of the French TGV. AVE trains have been running between Madrid and the south of Spain since 1992 but, until recently, it still took more than six hours to get to Barcelona, Spain's second most important city. Although construction ofthe high-speed line to Barcelona was a priority and started years ago, engineering problems caused by repeated land sinkage kept delaying its completion.
The Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona line was finally inaugurated in February 2008 with seventeen trains in each direction per day. It is one of the world's fastest trains covering a distance of 660 km (410 mi) in just 2 hours 38 minutes. This brand-new self-driving, high-speed train may well live up to its acronym and make air travel obsolete. The AVE takes hardly any longer than the plane once you include check-in times and the journey to and from the airport, and is far less hassle and much more comfortable.
Madrid's Atocha Station looks more like an airport terminal than a station, its huge central atrium decked in palm trees. The AVE glides away from the platform and is soon whizzing across the beautiful countryside of Aragon and Catalonia. But it goes so fast, the view from your window is a blur; you are more likely to pass the time reclining in the luxury of your swivel seat, relishing the Michelin-starred food that is served on board, and playing with the audio, video and internet technology at your fingertips. Before you know it, you are at the World Heritage city of Zaragoza and only a little while later pull into Sants Station in the vibrant heart of Barcelona.
WHEN TO GO
TIME IT TAKES
2 hours 38 minutes
Madrid - Prado Art Gallery
Zaragoza - Cathedral of San Salvador
Barcelona - Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia Church both designed by Antoni Gaudi.
Barcelona - Las Ramblas and Barri Gòtic - old city centre
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Spain is aiming to have more high speed train lines than anywhere else in the world by 2010. Travelling by train creates four times less pollution than air travel.