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Castles in Spain and Beyond: Summer Days in Europe 2017

By Denis Bright

With the good currency conversions to the Euro and the British pound, some Australians will be looking forward to extended travel in Europe this year. Despite the inroads made into industrial awards, Australian wage-earners in permanent employment can still enjoy long service leave and retirement benefits to the fullest.

Fully escorted land and sea cruises are readily available in Europe. Use of such soft options is far beyond the limits of many budgets as shown by the sample of APT Tours for 2017 (refer main photo).

So much money can be saved with independent travel using affordable public transport by plane and train.

Others would detest these options and seek the use of hire cars and rental vans. There are uncertainties with overseas travel. The smarter move might even be to enjoy the travel in Australia and its immediate environs during our winter months.

Qualifications aside, let me pass on some options for economical travel to Europe.

Getting There

The long flight to Europe can be made a little softer with an overnight stopover en route. Extra airport taxes must be expected with every stopover. These costs are offset by a reduction in the jet lag from long flights.

With Emirates Airline, the stopover in Dubai on the outward journey from Australia is quite close to all the European destinations. There are reservation facilities for overnight stays in Dubai at the International Airport. First visitors to Dubai may prefer hotels in the town centre but more modest accommodation places near the Airport are quite comfortable and affordable.

Colombo in Sri Lanka can be a half-way stop on the return flight to Australia. Other stops in South East Asia are certainly closer to home. The cost of the return ticket will become really expensive if multiple stops are required. Some airlines regard tickets with multiple stops as a series of single journeys.

Emirates and Etihad have opened up varied European arrival points. Getting to arrival points like Lisbon, Nice or Athens once required time consuming transfers from major European air hubs.

Here are some samples of the thousands of options available to independent travellers.

First Night in Majorca

After arriving without jet-lag in Madrid from Dubai on an economy ticket from Australia, a pre-booked online ticket can take you onto the Balearic Island of Majorca for a cost of less than $A150 with Iberian Airlines or another local carrier. Some seasonal fares can be much lower in price.

Majorca is large enough to combine the usual tourist escapism with walks through historic precincts as well as visits to farming villages, the mountainous interior and rugged coastlines.

Palma de Mallorca is the hub of two lines of light rail services which both extend for almost 30 kilometres.

Palma’s Cathedral rises magnificently above an older residential district and has largely been rebuilt after an earthquake in 1851.

The Cathedral towers above a historic residential district. A free escorted walking tour for small groups is available from the tourist office near the Cathedral.

Local knowledge will fill you in on the best locations outside Palma de Mallorca on a large island which extends for up to 100 kilometres from west to east.

Ferry services are available to the Spanish mainland at Valencia. From here, the whole of Spain and Portugal beckon.

The Spanish railway system (RENFE) offers an innovative web site that supports this quest for adventure.

Spain and Portugal online

Spanish Railcards can be purchased online in Australia using forms in English from the RENFE site. The timetables and costs of RENFE tickets are easily checked out. A sample tariff from Valencia to Zaragoza is provided.

The cost of this journey from Valencia to Zaragoza is reduced from $A50 to $30 in Turista Class for holders of a senior’s card known as a Tarjeta Dorada in Spain. On a Youth Card (RENFE Joven), the cost is $36.50. The RENFE Joven is available to visitors between 14 and 26 years of age.

These concessional cards can be purchased at a nominal cost in Spain or by prior registration from Australia. The concessions are also extended to travelling companions from a different age category (example 1, example 2).

Fronting up to a RENFE station with your Australian passport seems to be the easiest option if concessional fares are being requested. Even with prior arrangements from Australia, tickets will need to be issued locally. Major stations in Portugal also offer concessional fares on presentation of Australian passports for overseas seniors.

There are some pleasant diversions even on this 355 kilometre journey from Valencia to Zaragoza.

Halfway between Valencia and Zaragoza, an overnight stop can be made at the hillside city of Teruel with its impressive towers and cathedral.

Local buses will take visitors from Teruel to nearby hillside towns.

Located by the Ebro River, Zaragoza is another architectural gem in a surprisingly large city of about one million inhabitants.

Consult the free online guide to the city which can be downloaded from Zaragoza Turismo.

Panorama of Zaragoza

Travel options do not end at Zaragoza.

The opening of the Trans Pyrenean Railway in 1928 brought Zaragoza onto a new main trunk railway route from Paris to Madrid through the Samport Tunnel at Canfranc. Canfranc Station became a major international rail terminal at the break of gauge between the French and Spanish rail systems.

Following a fatality-free rail freight accident in 1970, a major bridge installation on the French-side of Canfranc was damaged beyond repair. The famed Trans Pyrenean route ceased to exist. The remnants are now used for local passenger traffic with the exception of a missing link of 33 kilometres between Bedous and Canfranc.

Canfranc International Station

Regular international buses now follow the international road route from Canfranc to Bedous for visitors who want to make a nostalgic Trans-Pyrenean Journey.

From the recently reopened line to Bedous, it is just 64 kilometres to Pau on the main trunk line across Southern France.

Detailed timetable connections across Europe can be checked on the Deutsche Bahn (DB) online timetable as well as the local national online rail site. DB is more geared up to cross-Europe travel destinations.

French Rail Cards are also available at a cost of $70-105. A discount is offered on all tickets purchased. The fee for the purchase of the card varies for the different age categories. Even with the high purchasing costs, the French Rail Cards are more economical and more convenient than one country Eurail Passes.

Long Plane Hauls to Greece

High reservation fees on some long distance rail services, justify the use of air travel particularly on long hauls to Greece. Holiday time is limited and it is sometimes better to compress a week’s travel time into a few hours.

There are some great deals on travel within Europe especially with the safe but more economical airlines like Olympic, Aegean, Meridiana, Air Malta and Iberia. Olympic and Aegean are particularly good airlines because of the range of connections in Southern Europe. Numerous budget airlines like EasyJet ply these tourist routes and may offer lower fares.

Waterfont at Naxos

Travel around Greece can be completed on local ferries from the island hubs to avoid costly overnight sea crossings from Piraeus.

Emirate’s connections back to Dubai and Australia are available from both Athens and Larnaca in Greek Cyprus. Larnaca is served by some domestic Greek air services. Travel in Greek Cyprus is made easier by the excellent motorways which use left-hand drive because of the long history of British settlement.

A range of online guides are available for travel in Greece and coverage of the options is hardly necessary when specialist advice is so readily available.

So make the most of this coming summer in Europe if it is your time to travel. There is no pressure to go. Winter holiday destinations abound in Australia and its environs are equally appealing. The choice is yours.


Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

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  1. townsvilleblog

    Alright for some, my family and the other three million Australians who are living below the poverty line will be lucky to get a hot meal, I have never met anyone in this bracket who could afford to travel overseas or for that matter even have a holiday, who are this so called ‘middle class’ working class people who think that they are just a tad better than the rest of us, after all they have to get out of bed 5 or more days a week like the rest of us to put food on the table, only they may be paid good money where we are not. I don’t see that that makes them any better than the rest of us, do you?

  2. king1394

    I worked casually in a state high school in NSW for many years held back by family obligations . It was a great joy to have the teachers bring in their photos and souvenirs and gifts also sometimes when they returned from overseas trips. But one of the things that always puzzled me was why they headed out to other parts of the world when there is so much to see and do in Australia. The answer was often that you could travel and tour overseas more cheaply than you can do in Australia.

  3. The Union Forever

    Let’s stay with unionized industrial awards to make exotic travel options available to all.

    Seems like this LNP wants its servants to rent unaffordable housing units working longer for less in a stressful competitive workforce to please supervisors.

    Travel within Europe is about the same price as travel in Australia and an air ticket to Europe is that extra $1,500 on an interstate fare to the next sporting event.

    Why would nurses and teachers want to give up their industrial awards that provide real holidays and long service leave?

  4. Shona

    It is said that travel broadens the mind and this applies whether it be to places far afield or those much closer to home. If you are in the fortunate position to be able to travel, you can take the opportunity and hopefully come back refreshed and ready to contribute with new energy and outlook to your community.

  5. Leila Smith

    Great article Denis, makes me want to get on the next plane to Europe
    Travel broadens our horizons and helps give us renewed energy in our daily lives

  6. Johno

    Travel also melts the arctic !!

    According to researchers in the United States and Germany, 3 square meters of summer sea ice disappear in the Arctic for every metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) that a person directly or indirectly produces.
    How can one person produce 1 metric ton of CO2? That’s about a roundtrip flight from New York to Europe per passenger. Or, a 4,000-kilometer car ride.

    Bon voyage.

  7. Jasper

    I like the Spanish travel theme. Good to learn that such trips are affordable with the new rail cards. Thanks Denis

  8. Rubio@Coast

    Hold back on those extra drinks and joints to ride the waves at Sagres, Portugal before your get too old to go. This is a very surreal place in the European summer when beaches in Sydney get a bit windswept and wet. Definitely try the Youth Hostel at Lagos and someone will take you down the road to Sagres where the two Oceans meet.

  9. gettingstrongweb

    Ahh wow! Some really good ideas Denis! Such a beautiful place!!

  10. Salam

    Nice article Denis. I would love to visit these places one day.

  11. Pat

    Travel overseas gives Australians fresh ideas. The sounds of the future are not simply written on subway walls and tenement halls like the old song tells us. Let’s take the best from everywhere.

  12. Matters Not

    Travelling overseas? If you like, visit travel agents like Flight Centre, Hellowworld and a whole host of others that reside in shopping centres and surrounds. Get ideas, have discussions, listen to suggestions BUT don’t buy from same. Generally speaking, these agencies receive a whooping 20% commission from Trafalgar, Insight, Cosmos, Kompas and a whole range of other ‘companies’ (that are usually interrelated) and offer ‘tours’. They need that income to pay for expensive overheads such as rental, advertising, commissions and so on.

    You can get a much better deal if you deal directly with companies that don’t have these overheads like Costless Travel who, while getting the same commission, are prepared to give you a 10% discount. Same tour but for 10% less.

    Also travel insurance can be another rort. Agencies make a motza out of travel insurance. You can do much, much better over the net. And if you check, these companies are also backed by one of the major companies. (But make sure you don’t travel overseas without travel insurance. If you can’t afford the insurance, then you can’t afford to go.)

    While large travel agencies might guarantee lowest airfares, you can usually get cheaper by going directly to the airline concerned. Just give them a ring with dates, times, ‘class’ preference’ etc and ask for the options. (Although, I have used agencies like Costless when wanting to use some Middle East connections which I couldn’t readily access.)

    These days, we organise our own program, except when it comes to places like Russia which is a real pain when it comes to visas and the like. Accommodation can be organised by any number of online companies. We use because they claim to get the best deal. And even after we’ve paid and find that a better deal was available elsewhere, I just send them a ‘screenshot’ and they match the lower price.

    More important than anything else, travel with an open mind. Understand that ‘things’ will be different Might be lots of rats in Penang, lots of insects on the menu in Asia generally, and … and …. Don’t become an ugly Australian! There’s enough out there already.

  13. paul

    Wow sounds like a great trip! Thanks for sharing possible options!

    You can certainly learn a lot travelling – not just about the destination but also yourself.

    Fresh perspectives, new ideas, appreciation for other cultures and your home environment.

    If you can’t get abroad, travel locally and look at things with a beginners mind – who knows what you might discover!

    There is an old saying – If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

    Happy travels all!

  14. Hisham

    I have been wanting to go to Spain for such a long time!
    Thanks for this. I hope I get time off work soon.

  15. Maria

    Denis, thanks for your inspirational travel ideas. I will have to plan my next trip. Australia has some great options too.

  16. Harquebus

    International travel and luxurious holidays are the types of things that must be abandoned if we are keep within our 2degC warming limit.

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